BP Toolbox

Rhythms of Healthy Small Groups


In this short article series, I hope to help cultivate—or, perhaps, restore—your hope for biblical community and your heart for local church small groups ministry. (In these articles, I’m using the phrases “small groups” and “community groups” interchangeably.)

I want to do this by helping you answer two questions for your context:

  • (1) How will our small groups cultivate mature disciples of Jesus?
  • (2) How will our small groups grow and multiply to sustain a healthy church?

Both questions will mean moving past small group as mere fellowship and Bible study. They must become the primary place of discipleship. But what do I mean by discipleship?

Discipleship is the life-giving process of being with Christ and becoming like him together by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Discipleship to Jesus involves these multiple elements:

  • Process: It is not an immediate or overnight transformation; it’s a long, slow process of growth
  • Being with Christ: The goal of discipleship is nearness to Jesus
  • Becoming like Him: The process of discipleship involves increasing conformity to him
  • Together: We don’t conform to the image of Christ alone; as relational beings, we grow best in community
  • By the Holy Spirit: Discipleship is a Spirit-initiated and Spirit-led process; when we welcome the Spirit’s presence and role in our lives, our process of growth is quickened and multiplied

If all this is true, then one immediate implication is that our small group rhythms matter greatly for our personal and community formation. How so?

Why Our Rhythms Matter

Let’s acknowledge with a depressing reality: While the message of Jesus is clear, life changing, and wholly rooted in everyday life, it has largely become disconnected from American church experience. Why?

Of course, disobedience and rebellion have deep roots in our hearts. But could we also be missing the immense power and practicality of Christ for our moment-by-moment lives? I believe our vision of the new life with God is lacking, and as a tragic result we Christians and churches are largely powerless.

What we need is two-fold: We need a fresh vision of Christ and our life in him (discipleship), and we need the practical habits to develop new behaviors and rhythms of life in the church to make discipleship stick.

To quote Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart, “The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life.” We can do this!

In order to grow in our conformity to Christ, we need to embrace new rhythms of life. We need new habits.

As many researchers have shown, we can only develop new behaviors through the repetition of practices reinforcing those behaviors. To be a great musician, time must be spent studying sheet music and practicing chords. Often, a mentor is needed to make the most of practice—and a supportive community to provide encouragement and accountability.

We all have some vision of a better life, and our habits reveal exactly where our desire lies. If we want to become like Christ, we have to set our eyes on him, create rhythms of life that reinforce that desire, and remove any old ways of life that work against our new vision.

So what rhythms will best cultivate discipleship in Jesus? What habits can our community group embrace to spur one another toward conformity to Christ?

The three discipleship rhythms are: Word and Prayer, Fellowship, and Hospitality. To put it another way, to grow in Christ, we embrace the habits of:

  • (1) Word and prayer—Connecting with God
  • (2) Fellowship—Connecting with one another
  • (3) Hospitality—Connecting with outsiders

I deeply believe that following Jesus’s patterns will transform the way we do small groups and ensure that our discipleship is effective. These four rhythms—also discovered in the life and ministry of Jesus—give us the necessary habits to make disciples in our community groups. Like Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, think of these are your “Three Habits of Highly Effective Community Groups.”

Please hear this: The point is not whether you meet weekly or bi-weekly, whether you meet in a home or a coffee shop, if you discuss the sermon weekly or monthly. But whatever form it takes, we encourage you to do life together, apply the Scriptures, meet with God in prayer, and create space for outsiders.

How you contextualize these three practices is up to you. But in my experience, a community group that neglects one of these four rhythms will struggle to be and remain healthy and life-giving.

I hope you find this series to be life-giving in your noble effort to lead others into maturity in Christ through community groups.

May God bless your sacrificial service more than you could ever ask or imagine!

    About the Author

  • Jeremy Linneman