Getting Started in Covenant Discipleship Groups
Covenant Discipleship groups are a proven way for congregations to live into the mission of The United Methodist Church: "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Covenant Discipleship groups are adapted from the early Methodist class meeting. The weekly practice of mutual accountability and support for living the way of Jesus in the world is the method of Methodism.
Because Covenant Discipleship is a contemporary adaptation of the method of Methodism, it is not a program. It is an ongoing ministry that is designed to help the congregation live into its mission of forming members into faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who live as his witnesses in the world. Covenant Discipleship is designed to be an integral part of the congregation’s disciple-making system. Its goal is to form members into leaders in discipleship for the congregation and the world.
Covenant Discipleship groups are open to everyone in the congregation who is ready to be accountable for their daily walk with Jesus Christ in the world. They are for persons who are willing to show up every week for one hour to give an account of what they have done, or not done, to witness to Jesus Christ in the world and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The groups are like a church choir. In most churches the choir is open to all members. The only condition is that they must be willing to take on the responsibility of regular attendance at weekly rehearsal and helping to lead the congregation in worship. Covenant Discipleship groups are open to everyone in the congregation who is ready for the discipline of a weekly one hour meeting, being intentional about following the way of Jesus in the world, and serving the congregation as a leader in discipleship. Members of Covenant Discipleship groups understand that their mission is to build up the body of Christ by watching over one another in love.
Introducing Covenant Discipleship groups to your congregation will require much preparation, prayer, and perseverance. The natural impulse will be to treat Covenant Discipleship like a program and simply offer the groups as one group among a menu of others. If you want your congregation to form the needed leaders in discipleship, this impulse must be resisted. You will need to gain the support and help of your pastor(s) and other key leaders. We urge you to follow the process for introducing Covenant Discipleship to your congregation found in Chapter 4 of Forming Christian Disciples: The Role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the Congregation by David Lowes Watson.
Where to Begin
The first step to take is to get copies of Forming Christian Disciples: The Role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the Congregation and Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation through Mutual Accountability by David Lowes Watson. These books provide all the information you will need to lead the Covenant Discipleship ministry in your congregation. The books will help you understand what Covenant Discipleship groups are and their role in the congregation’s life and work. They are filled with useful information that explains:
- the General Rule of Discipleship
- how to introduce the ministry to your congregation
- how to form groups
- the purpose of the group covenant
- how to write a covenant
- how to lead a Covenant Discipleship group meeting
- how to support existing groups and add new groups
- the role of the Convener
- how to add new members to existing groups
- answers to commonly raised questions and objections
Every leader involved with the ministry and each Covenant Discipleship group should have a copy Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation through Mutual Accountability.
Another useful resource is Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household by Steven W. Manskar. This book will help you understand the Biblical, theological and historic origins of Covenant Discipleship groups. It is ideal for small group study. You will gain a much deeper understanding of the groups and their role in the mission of the church after studying this book. A helpful group study guide is Lay Speakers are Accountable Disciples. While this is an advanced Lay Speaking course, it may also be used as a leaders guide for group study of Accountable Discipleship. This is an excellent way to introduce prospective group members to the ministry of Covenant Discipleship groups.
You will need to gain the support and participation of your pastor(s). We know from years of experience that Covenant Discipleship takes root and flourishes best when the lead pastor participates in the first group. When the pastor is actively taking part in a Covenant Discipleship this communicates the importance of the ministry to the rest of the congregation, especially the key leaders. The extra benefit of the pastor’s involvement is that the Covenant Discipleship group will help him or her become a better pastor because they will learn about discipleship from the laity.
Thank you for leading this important work of leading your congregation into the ministry of Covenant Discipleship. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or 877-899-2780, ext. 1765.
To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.