Building a Disciple: The Six Basics

Never underestimate the power of peer influence in the life of a college student. Many times the only reason they will go somewhere and do something is because of who’s there or even more significant, “because it’s fun!” All of us are like that; we want to be part of a group that gives us direction and affection; a group that meets felt needs as well as real needs; and finally, a group we can be proud to identify with and bring our friends to. As you seek to help establish young believers, try to get them coming to a regular large group meeting of college students, a small group Bible study, and weekend conferences and retreats.

A. Large groups

Of course the most critical large group you need to get young believers involved in is a good local church, and most college towns have several excellent ones to choose from. Introduce your friends to the church leadership, get them enrolled in a Sunday school class, find out what the procedure is for joining and getting publicly baptized, and find a place you can give some of your time and funds. It won’t be long before they start to benefit from the nurture and stability that congregation provides. For years, H. D. McCarty and Jonathon Beasley have been discipling thousands of students through their Sunday-morning gatherings at University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They’ve even designed a worship service for the eight hundred plus students who come each week, complete with a praise band, testimonials, and excellent Bible teaching. Many of the parachurch ministries on the campus bring their students to UBC to be encouraged and ministered to.

Greg Matte has done the same thing through the Breakaway Ministry at Texas A & M, where up to thirty-five hundred students gather midweek to hear relevant topics creatively preached from the Bible. These leaders, and others, in church and parachurch ministries across the country know that students like to gather, socialize, genuinely worship, and discover meaning and direction through God’s Word. Chi Alpha, Reformed University Fellowship, and Baptist Student Ministries are a sampling of denominational campus groups that do an awesome job planning and pulling off high-impact weekly meetings for students where relationships are built, but more importantly, values are formed. Large group meetings are not to be a substitute for small group and one-on-one discipling but rather a supplement, a created environment that reinforces what they’re wrestling with in their small groups.

B. Small groups

This is the backbone of your ministry. In some respects, the large group meeting is a storefront for what’s really going on behind the scenes. If your goal is ultimately to raise up disciples, disciple makers, and reproducers, then the large group meeting can be an introduction to your ministry funnel, while the small group is a narrowing of it, continuing to raise the level of commitment to see who is interested. Much of Jesus’ discipleship took place in the context of a small group. Whether you call it a growth group, vision group, discipleship group, action group, or just plain ‘ol Bible study, it needs to have a few essential characteristics:

1. A designated leader

Someone will have to take the lead in planning, recruiting, and leading the small group study. Don’t think you have to have a seminary degree to do it; the essential ingredients are a love for those students and a love for the Word. Why not ask another laborer on your campus to assist you in your effort? It may be the first time they’ve ever had a chance to hop into the discipleship process with someone. Remember your goal is not as much to lead and direct as much as it is to serve and facilitate. Don’t view yourself as a teacher but more of a recruiter, challenger, discussion leader, and most of all─friend.

2. Designated participants

Pray by name for each of the contacts, new friends, new converts, and investigative (i.e., evangelistic) Bible study participants you have been spending time with. Determine which students have shown the most interest and have responded to you and/or the truth you’ve presented them thus far. Don’t make the small groups for just anybody, but create a set number of spots, usually between three and twelve, that you are specifically selecting and inviting certain students to. If possible, start small groups among people who know and like each other and have things in common (i.e., they live in the same dorm, are part of the same team, are all freshmen, are all internationals, are all off campus, are all education majors, etc.).

3. A predetermined purpose

Your goal is not just to have Bible studies but to be moving them along the growth process toward becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you want, give your group a creative name that will help everyone understand what direction you’re headed in. Whether you choose relevant topics or fill-in-the-blank Bible study materials or just take on a chapter a week from a book of the Bible, make sure your time each week is centered around the study and discussion of the Word. Don’t teach or preach during these sessions. Instead come prepped with awesome questions that you and your assistant proudly open up one at a time, like beautifully wrapped Christmas presents, and watch with excitement as they devour each question, each topic, each passage.

4. Standards

You’re trying to “up the ante” at each level of commitment to find out who really wants to follow Christ and make a difference for Him. Dependent upon where they are in their hunger and faithfulness, a growth group for believers can have standards anywhere from come every week for an hour and prepare in advance for thirty minutes and memorize a verse to come every week for two hours, prepare three hours before you come, and memorize two verses each week. It won’t take long to see who is going to be faithful to come, to prepare, to participate, and to apply what they are getting in the group. Progressively setting higher standards at each level not only challenges the students but gives you a way to select which ones you really want to invest in.

5. Beginning and ending point

Always let the students know how many weeks or months the study will last and what time each week the study begins and ends. At this stage of development, I would encourage you to make the study not less than six weeks and not more than a semester, not less than an hour a week and not more than two. Instead of exhausting them (and yourself!) with massive yearlong commitments or open-ended studies that seem to go past midnight every week, it’s better to make them shorter, more dynamic, and exciting each time, making them wanting to come back for more the next study.

6. Transition to the next level of commitment

Always be planting what I call “vision seeds” in the minds of your participants. During the group discussion, casually insert, “You’ll need to know this when you share the gospel,” or “This will be helpful when you lead a study” is letting them know that you believe (and expect!) they will take what you’re giving them and pass it onto others. As this study winds down, be thinking about what kind of a group you want to invite the faithful ones to. Give it a different name, with higher standards, with an always growing commitment to an outward focus of taking personal responsibility for the Great Commission.

C. Conferences and retreats

Billy, a full-blooded native American, enrolled at West Virginia University and immediately began to study all the other world religions to prove that Christianity could not be true. When Billy attended a weekend retreat with other Indians, many of whom were committed Christians, he finally admitted his desire to know God, his belief that Jesus was Lord, and his love for other students. His roommates were completely dumbfounded at the change. A couple of years later, Billy attended a conference sponsored by Great Commission Campus Ministries, where God clearly spoke to his heart about pursuing full-time ministry. By the end of the event Billy concluded, “If this is my passion and desire, why not? Why wait? I don’t want to miss out on the adventure God has for me!” Even though Billy had some lucrative job offers after college, God used these two events to confirm in his heart the direction He had for him. Today, as a GCM staff person, he is influencing many campus leaders, always bringing them to retreats, knowing that the Lord will impact those students’ lives just like his was.

This is the reason I try to recruit every student I can to these kinds of Christ-exalting events, because they serve as incredible spiritual milestones in young believers’ lives! During the conferences and retreats I attended in college, I was exposed to speakers, topics, materials, and most of all, other students whose radical commitment to Christ motivated me to go to the next level. If it is a prayed-for, well-planned, momentum-gathering event, it will not only take each student to a higher level in their Christian walk, but the whole campus movement as well. As the students from your school come in contact with others students on your campus or other campuses, the melting, shaping, and sharpening begins. They will come back to school with all kinds of new visions, ideas, and plans for their own lives and ministries.

Start at the conference or retreat by asking: What are you learning? What questions do you have? How are you going to put it into practice? How can I help you apply this to your life or ministry? These kinds of questions can be asked individually or as a group and be accompanied by prayer and planning, seeking God’s blessings as you all head back to campus with specific personal and ministry strategies and changes to make. As you know, events like this are notorious for lifting students to a spiritual high ,only to crash and burn back on campus. Don’t forfeit all that God did in their lives by neglecting to capitalize on the momentum created. Stay focused the first ten days after the event, meeting with students and helping them to carry through with the specific applications and decisions they made.

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