Starting your first disciple making group is a milestone. You found someone willing to read the Bible with you. They’ve invited friends or family members and you begin. It’s exciting! That is why it can be quite disappointing when that group falls apart or discontinues. What do you do in this situation?
It is not uncommon for this to happen. Not every group that forms will grow into a strong reproducing group of obedient disciples. If it is a seeker group (Watson’s DBS approach) it’s normal to have a significant number of new groups dissolve. With the T4T approach, where they first commit to following Christ, it’s a bit less but still happens. Find out more about these two approaches here.
Its commonness doesn’t make it less disappointing. How we handle this set back is important!
Groups discontinue for a number of reasons.
Remember Jesus’ Parable?
This Parable In DMM Language
A disciple maker shared their testimony with many people in their community. Some people ignored their words and showed little interest. Others listened and wanted to hear more. We invited them to read the Bible together, they were always unavailable. Our team talked to them a few more times, but nothing came of it.
Another family seemed very open. The husband even prayed a prayer to receive Christ and a new Discovery Group was started in their home. For the first few weeks it went great. Maybe this is a Person of Peace, we thought. But his wife started pressuring him to start a new business and he got busy with that. Other friends and relatives put pressure on them not to follow Jesus. They experienced some persecution. Soon, they started avoiding our phone calls and the group stopped.
There was another couple though who we invited to read the Bible with us. They were so hungry and responsive! When we asked them to invite others, they did. This couple faithfully shared the Bible stories with others in their circle.
We soon saw big changes happening in their marriage and lives. They both learned to share their story and God’s story and did this often. Within a few months, they had several they’d shared with who wanted to follow Jesus. They wanted to bring them to our study but we said no, you start a new group with them. So they did! The second-generation group had been born!
As we see from the two stories above, not all people and not all groups will be sustainable. Jesus told his disciples this parable because He didn’t want them to be dismayed when groups fell apart or people lost interest. We need to persevere and keep sharing. Continue to start new groups with those who are interested or responsive.
Reasons Groups Fall Apart
1. People get busy or realize what you are asking for and initial interest wanes.
As people realize you are asking them to make a commitment to obey, and share what they are learning, some groups will stop. They were interested, but it was a casual interest, not a serious one. In the midst of busy lives, learning more about Jesus is a low priority.
Sometimes, there is a financial motivation in their desire to connect with you. When they realize you are not going to give them a job or help them with money, they lose interest. This is okay and the sooner it can be identified the better for you as the disciple maker. Keep loving them but move on!
2. Pressure from family or community makes them afraid to continue.
If people are from an unreached people group, this is quite common. As their family comes to know of their interest in Jesus, they put pressure on them to avoid you. Threats are made if they continue. Overt persecution can begin. Sometimes it is less direct (like shunning or shaming). Fearful, they decide it is not worth the risk to continue to learn.
3. External circumstances cause difficulties.
There might be economic pressures. Someone has to work long hours to make ends meet. They simply don’t have spare time to give. For a farmer, they may not be free during harvest or planting seasons.
It might be an issue like the COVID 19 pandemic which makes it difficult to meet in person and the members don’t want to do this online. Weather can also have an impact on groups, especially if they meet outside.
4. The disciple maker realizes these people like to meet but aren’t interested to obey Jesus’ commands.
They close the group down and decide to invest elsewhere.
At times, as the disciple maker, you need to shut down a group. Don’t invest your time for years and years in those who want to meet but don’t want to obey or share with others. While getting to know the gospel can take time for some, you at least want to see them taking some steps of obedience. They may be baby steps. If there is little willingness to apply God’s Word, you may want to graciously close down the group.
What to Do About It
Depending on why the group fell apart, you respond differently.
A. If it is reason one or four above, it’s unlikely the group is worth trying to re-start again.
Keep an eye on these people and stay in a relationship but don’t keep giving them the majority of your time. Occasionally, check-in and see if their interest or circumstances have changed. It may take a crisis in their lives before they are ready to pursue a life of discipleship.
B. With reasons two or three, it’s a bit different. In these situations, continue to pursue the relationship without the meeting. Find alternative ways to encourage them. You could think of sending them a scripture from time to time and asking them what they think of it. Keep praying for them regularly and asking God to work.
If they are experiencing persecution, you may need to be careful about publicly contacting them for a while. Or, you may need to assign another person to follow up with them more discreetly.
God Waters the Seed and Causes It to Grow
Rest assured. God is at work. His seed will not return to us void. It will bear fruit in its season. Don’t be discouraged when groups fall apart. Keep sharing with new people. Continue to invite them into disciple making relationships and reading God’s Word together.
What do you do when groups fall apart? The short answer – start new groups!
Have you had a group start but discontinue?
Share about it in the comments below. Or join the DMMs Frontier Missions group and discuss this with your peers.