Why Individualistic Disciple Making Will Keep You Stuck in Addition Growth

start groups

Western culture is very individualistic. “Every person has a right to make their own decision,” we say. My passport culture places a high value on individual rights. Individualism is deeply embedded in the American worldview. The impact of the West on the way we do evangelism and disciple-making around the world is significant. It’s a hindrance to starting movements. If we want to launch DMMs, we must shift our mindset and actions toward always starting groups.

This will cause the movement to spread rapidly and exponentially. A focus only on individual discipleship will multiply much more slowly.

Failing to focus on groups instead of individuals is one of the most common mistakes people make in disciple-making.

How Many Cultures Make Decisions – A Story

My friend was a lawyer, an advocate. Well educated, she was single and about 35 years old. She was the breadwinner in her household and lived with her younger sister, a teacher, and her mother. We became friends through community development work my team started in her area. I visited her home often and our friendship grew.

She was interested in travel. When I planned a trip to Nepal, I invited her to join. She thought that would be great, but surprised me when she said, “I need to ask my mother first.” What? Why would a thirty-five-year-old lawyer need to ask her mother’s permission to travel?

In her culture, major decisions, even like this, were not made alone.

As I pondered this, I realized its implication on my sharing of Jesus. I needed to share not only with her but with her household. If we were to study scripture, it must be with her house/Oikos, for they would together make decisions about following Christ.

Jesus Called Groups to Follow Him Together

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matt 4:18-22 NIV.

This passage talks about Simon, Andrew, James, and John leaving their fathers and businesses behind. We should note though, that they followed him together. Jesus didn’t call only Simon (Peter). He called him and his brother. The Lord didn’t only call James, he also called his brother John.

The Concept of Oikos/Household

When we train disciple makers we use the term Oikos. Oikos is a Greek word that means your household. It’s your extended family and friend circle. In ancient Greece, it included not only family members but also slaves.

In the New Testament, it is often translated as house. This word is used 117 times in scripture. A classic usage is in Luke 10:5. Jesus instructed the disciples, “When you enter a house, say, ‘Peace to this house.’” An Old Testament reference of the same concept is in Joshua 24:15 “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

It is scripturally clear that while individuals choose to follow the Lord, it is also common for a household to make that decision together.

Do a study on your own. Consider the Philippian jailer as a further example. There are many others.

What Does This Mean For Disciple Makers Today?

We have established that group disciple making is both culturally and biblically sound. Let’s consider its application to our DMM efforts.

1) Invite groups to follow Jesus together.

When we have a spiritual conversation and someone expresses interest, it is natural to ask them if they would like to meet again. “Would you like to meet together next week to learn another story from the Bible that has changed my life?”

That’s a good question to ask.

A better question is, “Would you and one of your brothers like to meet with me and my wife next week to learn another story?”

Even if you are working in a Western context, you can invite groups to learn and follow Jesus together. While the family/household network may not be as tight, friend circles often are. Who does that person work with? Who do they go to the gym with? Could you invite them and one of their co-workers to study scripture together?

2) Focus not only on individuals but on them and their friends and family circle.

My organization, Youth With A Mission, has it in its Foundational Values. “Value the Individual.” There is nothing wrong with that, but I am glad that the very next value is “Value Families.”

It is possible to value individuals, while not being overly individualistic in our disciple making. God loves each and every person. God also loves families and groups. So must we.

Get started by asking about the families and friends of those you are sharing with or discipling. Could they be included or invited into the relationship? Do you pray for them as well as for the individual person?

3) One on one discipleship has value, but so does group discipleship.

If you want to see churches multiply and grow, recognize the value of group discipleship. Is there a way you could invite someone to join who is already part of that person’s friend circle?

Pulling together groups of strangers and building community is hard, and time-intensive. When you start with a group that knows each other already, this speeds up the process.

This mindset shift applies to many areas, especially as we think of the Oikos.

It applies to coaching. Do you only coach individuals? Why not coach in groups? Is there a way to include a wife or husband as you train? A son or daughter? A cousin? Someone who is part of their business? We do not have slaves but we have co-workers and employees. Could they be included?

4) Learning together takes us far.

When we learn together in groups that already have relationships, we go far. Like Simon and Andrew, James and John, there is natural friendly accountability built-in. This is especially true as we now have so many virtual relationships. It is very hard to observe what is happening in the life of someone you only meet with once a week online. But their spouse knows what they are doing! Their children know. Encourage them to invite their other family members into the disciple making process. Not only will you see greater multiplication growth, but the depth of transformation will increase as well.

Identify Key Needed Changes

As I’ve been writing about this, I’ve thought of some areas I need to make adjustments to. Have you?

What will you do this week to focus on starting groups, rather than only discipling individuals?

Let us know in the comments below or on the DMMs Frontier Missions Facebook Group.


  1. Devdass Anjan

    It is marvellous.The explanation relationship especially in the Western world but in Asian lifestyle the family is closely knitted.Even we are grown up but the responsibility and sharing is always there.Unless the family is separated from some other reason.Even the culture of ‘balik Kampung ‘ among the Malays is there when it comes festive season.They will visit the older people in the village.Even they working in towns and cities..So do the Indian and Chinese who reunion dinner and the Indians who very culture bound .Family connection are equally important than reaching out single

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