Commit yourself for the long haul. Be patient, since discipleship is not a linear process, and real and lasting change occurs gradually over time. Keep in mind that discipleship has four dimensions: seeking, learning, influencing, and investing. Remember, too, that there’s no one-size-fits all approach to discipleship, since people with different personalities respond best to different types of discipleship experiences (from mentoring relationships to service projects or mission trips).

Make sure that your group resonates with real life.Establish a rhythm that reflects the culture of your church and surrounding community, as well as the demographics of the people in your group. Feel free to create a group that’s different from any other that has ever existed at your church.

Regularly evaluate and change the structures, systems, and processes you use for your small group. Don’t let your small group become stagnant; keep it fresh by constantly considering how you make it better and making changes to it often, as God leads you.

Practice hospitality. It’s crucial for you to practice hospitality if you’re trying to disciple people, because hospitality is about creating safe environments where people can hear the dangerous message of the Gospel and encounter God in their midst. Open your home to the people in your group, inviting them to come over for meals, fun activities (like games or karaoke), or simply to talk. If you can, invite people who temporarily need a place to stay to stay in a guest bedroom or sofa bed in your home.

Deal with the messes you make yourself. When, as a leader, you make mistakes that create messes in your group, take responsibility, humbly learn from the experience, and do your best to repair any damage that may have been done to relationships in your group.

Adapted from Community is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry, copyright 2012 by Heather Zempel. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.,  

Heather Zempel is the discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and the author of Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship.Visit her website at:

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a contributing writer and the editor of’s site on angels and miracles, at: Contact Whitney at: send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer