How to establish intentional disciple-making church small groups

What this webpage gifts you

This webpage has a few gifts for you as a local church or small group leader.

  • The first relates to mobilising outreach through church small groups.
  • The second relates to making ‘disciple-making disciples’ through church small groups
  • The third is links to a few other resources.


The early church met in the synagogues, and from house to house. This is to say, Christianity started as a ‘house church’ movement. Later at the time of Constantine it became the state-sanctioned religion. From then onwards the larger gatherings became the focus — like they still are in the West today. What is of note is that the Church thrived when meeting only in small groups – while it did not thrive well at all when meeting only in large groups. Large and small groups both have value – but we are unwise to overlook the significance of small groups.

The mission of the Church (to make disciples of non-disciples) is not only the mission of the local congregationl  it is also the mission of every church small group!   In addition, God always intended that Christians connect relationally for encouragement. We call it ‘fellowship’, and it’s key context is the small groups because the 50 or more ‘one anothers’ of the New Testament could not be applied in any other context!

  • God’s vision for our churches had our church small groups near the centre — not as an extra.
  • The inclusion of our mission as a focus in our church small groups is a perspective that has often been overlooked. Let’s change that – and simply!

Gift #1: Outreaching Culture — for small group leaders

This 16-minute video for small group leaders in local churches (also at /ATConsulting) explains the habits through which small group leaders could also work to equip and mobilise church members as everyday conversational witnesses. Through these habits they have the power to AMPLIFY the pastors efforts through the ‘outreaching culture’ strategy explained above. The stated goal is to ‘reinsert’ the mission of the church small group into these groups – in recognition that many groups are already serving other good purposes.
A notes sheet, with discussion questions to go with this video can be downloaded here. This explains a ‘paradigm’ of leadership that can see members sustainably mobilised.

Gift #2: Intentional disciple-making through small groups

Introductory message on the important of church small groups

A stirring 40 minute message on the importance of church small groups if the Church is to more fully become what God intended it to be in this world.

In this message Dave traverses history and Scripture to present a compelling challenge, principally suggesting that the goal is not that we have churches with small groups, but instead become churches of small groups.

  • Notes for a pastor preaching this: Here
  • Powerpoint content (no design or image): Here

The philosophy / thought behind this training

From Dave

This ‘wordy dropdown’ is written to summarise the thinking behind the leadership and training approach below. It is an approach discovered through a process of trial and error – with measurable RESULTS by way of individual maturity and also numbers as the goal. When I became a pastor the ‘shoes were on the other foot’. I was no longer a community worker in outreach. I was also blessed to be in a larger church by NZ standards, in Singapore. The need for many church small groups to care for and disciple members is heightened in larger churches. Upon not discovering a small group culture in the church at that time that I believed could generate growth / discipleship health I started reading and also visiting small group training (and house church planting courses) further afield.

The goal that undergirded my eventual approach to small group leadership came from a belief that Christian leaders are supposed to be ‘intentional disciple-makers‘. Disciples are made, not born. The goal was therefore that small group leaders be helped to deliver RESULTS by way of (a) measurable GROWTH IN INDIVIDUALS each year and (b) NUMERICAL GROWTH by way of friends who come to faith. The approach therefore needed to be clear-thinking and yet also very simple – valuing people first (knowing everyone is busy), while helping them to become INTENTIONAL in the way they led.

To achieve this, numerous dynamics needed to be within the CULTURE and VALUES of the groups to have health (which creates growth). But these values needed to applying in PRACTISE also by way of how the groups were led and managed – otherwise it was all just words. This speaks to the need for matching HABITS, that inculcate VALUES with specific SKILLS that apply the. (These things go together!) I therefore became a student of church small group practice – with the privilege of quite a few groups to practice on. Within that I was blessed to have 4 small groups that become 23. The difference was that I was fully released in that sector of the church to shape the CULTURE of those groups via their leaders. This opportunity sat alongside the concurrent opportunity of guiding other groups – with whom the same freedom did not exist – enabling comparisons. What resulted I initially labelled the ‘lounge chair model of small group leadership’ initially – because it was so slow paces in contrast to the leadership styles I learned various small group principles from.

The below videos (with ‘participant notes’)  is the ‘new leader training’ that resulted – each lesson being something I REQUIRED that each new leader learn and apply. (I note that most things ever taught to a leader are forgotten soon after – and never applied – or only briefly applied). To achieve the actual application we had to set up workable systems to ‘INSPECT’ how they were going (‘intentionally visit, see, remind and encourage), to aid application – because this was actually about ‘CULTURE’.

What is most easily missed in this training is that it is principally about VALUES AND PRINCIPLES – not merely the VERY PRACTICAL SKILLS it appears to be about at first glance. This takes some reflection to perceive – and more words to explain that I see any merits in typing here. I am therefore directly suggesting that there is ‘more than meets the eye’ in what might otherwise seem to be ‘8 cheerful and practical bits of leadership training’. This is about establishing a CULTURE of INTENTIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING, and inclusive of the outreach dynamic.

The challenge of applying this training is therefore in the CONSISTENCY of leadership focus coming from the pastor / overseeing leader. I suspect that maybe 1 in 100 churches will actually apply this – desiring ‘a church WITH small groups’ rather than a church through which members grow and are multiplied THROUGH the small groups. For the leadership principle involved here: There is a saying, ‘we cannot expect if we do not inspect’. If we do not follow up with people, to see what they are doing and to intentionally encourage – to both establish and sustain a standard – we won’t get the results!

To this day, my experience of outreach through small groups remains the most exciting thing I have ever touched in outreach.

I would also add that, if the senior leader(s) do not really see the vision it is unlikely a ‘sub-leader’ will succeed in building this kind of culture in the small groups – or it won’t last long if they do.

There is a difference between a “church with small groups” and a “church made up of small groups that also has a Sunday service.”

30 min small group leaders training (1 of 3)
— with Dave

The above audio is an introduction to the importance of small groups.

The video here is the first of three — summarising 8 key areas of training, to enable small group leaders to deliver measurable results. The goal is disciples who make disciples.

Download student notes for all 8 sessions (3 half hour videos) here.

All within 30 minutes — this first video concisely articulates:

  • Three key goal areas — and how to achieve them through simple ‘fringe’ habits (because habits are what builds culture);
  • Programme flow and priorities;
  • Discussion leading tips — Part I.

30 min small group leaders training (2 of 3)
— with Dave

The text next to the first video explains what is being gifted here.

Download student notes for all 8 sessions (3 half hour videos) here.

This second of three videos covers:

  • The essentiality of small groups to the function of the Church;
  • Small group life-cycle;
  • The essentiality of annual goals to life-changing small groups (including outreach goals);

30 min small group leaders training (3 of 3)
— with Dave

The text next to the first video explains what is being gifted here.

Download student notes for all 8 sessions (3 half hour videos) here.

For this final session — also download the sample ‘calendar’ (as a editable Word doc) here.

This third of three videos covers:

  • Discussion skills — Part II (group management)
  • Planning (putting it all to practice — to deliver measurable results).

Gift #3: Some other free resources


  • Download Chapters 6 and 7 of ‘Elephant in the Room’ by Dave Mann here or purchase the book via our shop.
  • Read chapters 12 and 13 of ‘Because we care’ by Dave Mann. Purchase here.
  • Read ‘Generations for Life’ by Tony Collis (half of this book is about small group ministry —


You will find a chapter by Dave Mann on how to lead a ‘cell’ ministry (Chapter 5 of ‘The What and How of Youth and Young Adult Ministry — Singapore version’) here.

Please freely discuss your small group vision and strategies with Dave Mann and Tony Collis. Both have had significant experience in bringing leadership to small group ministries / small group movements.