Small Groups: From Worship to Discipleship
This resource is meant to be used in connection with the worship resources for Pentecost Sunday. Each session uses the same Scriptures and themes as the previous Sunday’s worship service. The preferred pattern is for participants to experience the worship service first, followed by group study during the week that follows.
The subtitle, “From Worship to Discipleship,” is intentional. By deliberately connecting the themes and Scripture from corporate worship to the small-group experience, participants will be more fully formed into disciples of Jesus Christ. People learn best when they are in conversations with others.
The role of the group leader is not to be the “answer” person or the person with the most biblical knowledge. Instead of providing the “right answer,” a good facilitator helps the group members ask the right questions. Facilitators should familiarize themselves with the format, questions, possible answers, and background information ahead of time.
Other group dynamics to consider:
- Group size should consist of six to eight people. If there are more than eight participants, consider adding more time for the group to meet and/or more groups. Each person added to the group will create more relationship dynamics to be managed; each person might not have enough time to share.
- If the group is larger than eight participants, it is advised to split into even smaller groups within the group as needed so that all participants get a chance to talk. This will also keep one or two voices from dominating the discussion.
- It is highly advisable to use a group covenant to provide expectations of participants’ roles and manner of speech. Specific items to include should be confidentiality and speaking only for oneself. Another idea to foster dialogue is the “three-before-me” rule. That rule states that participants must wait until at least three other participants have spoken before they can speak again. For examples, see Sample Guidelines.
- A proper learning environment can often be judged by whether all participants are willing to risk sharing their perspectives, no matter how popular or unpopular.
- If your group meets in a church building, be sure the chairs are soft and the group is set up in a circle. Use tables for food only. If participants meet in a home, make sure there are plenty of seating areas and be sure to limit distractions, such as pets. If your group is meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant, be sure the space will be comfortable and quiet enough for conversation.
Introduction to the Format
There is a pattern for each week. The times are suggestions and are loosely based on an hour timeframe. The times should be modified, as needed. Each session will consist of the following elements:
Fellowship – Snacks or a Meal (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes). Each session will begin with an opening question to foster dialogue and help the participants settle in to the theme for the week. These questions are meant to be done in micro groups of two or three people.
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes). This guide does not include a lot of questions. The intent is for group dialogue and not merely giving the correct answer. During the dialogue sections, you will see guidance and possible answers to the given questions with brackets [ ]. These are only possible answers and are not meant to be exhaustive of other answers. It is a helpful practice to allow participants plenty of time to process these questions internally. Don’t be afraid of silence.
Prayer (10 minutes). Allow each participant who would like to do so to lift up a person or situation he or she would like the group to be in prayer over. Following each request, the leader will pray, “Lord, in your mercy…,” and the participants will respond, “Hear our prayers.” If the situation is warranted and if the participant is willing, surround the participant and lay hands on him/her and allow those who are willing to do so to pray for this person and/or situation.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). Ask for a volunteer to send the group out with the printed blessing; or read the prayer in unison.
Fellowship – Snacks or a Meal. (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes). In pairs, tell a story of when you were in physical danger or felt out of control (like riding with someone who was driving dangerously).
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
Read Acts 2:1-21
- As a group, list the ways the church and your congregation make a positive witness to God’s love in the world. [Disaster relief, support groups, nurture and pastoral care, founding schools and hospitals, food banks, soup kitchens, micro loans, scholarships, offering reconciliation and hope, and so on.]
- What might it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4)? What would it look like in your life?
- Where in the passage are there images of violence or power? [v. 2, “howling of a fierce wind”; “tongues of fire”] Where in the passage are there images of order and justice? [speaking and hearing of native languages to community, vv. 4-5, 11; God’s Spirit poured out on all persons regardless of age, status, or race, vv. 17-18.]
- Optional exercise: If your group consists of participants who speak different languages, for as many different languages as are spoken, have them read the first two verses of this passage at the same time. How is this experience? We often focus on the speaking in different tongues. How might the miracle of this story also include the ability to hear among the chaos and confusion (v. 8)?
- How did the disciples change following Pentecost? As a group, highlight the ways in which the disciples changed pre- and post-Pentecost. [Prior to Pentecost, they often misunderstood Jesus; for example, asking to be the greatest instead of seeking the way of servanthood; and they were hiding in fear following Jesus’ crucifixion. Following Pentecost, they preach boldly, heal in Jesus’ name, witness in distant lands (Acts 1:8), and are willing to risk their lives for the gospel message.]
- How does worship contain both order and dynamism or power? [Order: There is usually some preplanned flow or order to a worship service. There might be bulletins or even a printed order of worship. There are pre-written prayers and liturgies. Sermons are usually organized and planned ahead of time. Dynamism or Power: We hope to encounter God through and beyond our planning. While music is often rehearsed, there is a dynamism when it is performed within a worship service and the congregation is present. Though the sermon is pre-written, we freshly encounter the Word of God.]
- Why might our worship services be considered too tame? [We might overemphasize the orderly at the expense of the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.]
- Why might worship properly be considered a dangerous event? [We are encountering the living God!] What difference would it make if we approached the next worship service we attend with an attitude that reflected this level of apprehension about what God might do in us and through us?
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). Ask for a volunteer to lead the group or read the following prayer in unison:
God of new life, you have chosen us and have instructed us to be priests who glorify you in all that we do and say. May our lives radiate your glory and be pleasing in your sight. Amen.
The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice by Mark Labberton
Discipleship Ministries, www.umcdiscipleship.org