Multiplying Discipleship: Growth at NSCBC

Our vision to see a gospel movement on the North Shore will only become a reality if we saturate the North Shore with transformed disciples who multiply by investing in other disciples. In this short blog series, we’ll explore the necessity, the mindset, and story of multiplying discipleship at NSCBC. You can read the first three posts here, here, and here.

One of the main—though by no means the only—vehicles we’re using to help people practice multiplying discipleship have been our “discipleship groups” (or “D-Groups”). What exactly is a discipleship group? You can read about their purpose and practices in more detail here but in a nutshell: D-groups are groups of 3-4 men or women who join together for about a year’s time to grow more intentionally as Jesus’ disciples. They do this by saturating themselves in God’s word, spurring one another on to respond to Jesus in concrete obedience in an environment of relational openness, and praying for each other to witness to the gospel in their daily lives and relationships.

D-groups are unique in their organic, “non-programmed” feel, as well as in their explicit aim to multiply after about a year’s time. Unlike other “official” ministries of the church, D-groups, at least up to this point, have no sign-up form, no standard meeting times, and no curriculum (outside of the Bible!) While we provide some shepherding, training, and prayer to our D-group leaders, the impetus to start and multiply groups, and the creativity to lead them comes entirely from the leaders themselves.

One of my greatest encouragements from my time at NSCBC so far has been to witness the growth, both in depth and in size, of these groups. What began in late 2018 as 4 discipleship groups—most of us stumbling through the motions of how to really invest in people’s growth, then release them into multiplication—has grown in about two and a half years to around 20 groups, and an increasing sense of confidence, experience, and grit in investing in disciples and raising them up to multiply.

This is not to overstate where we are now, nor to say there aren’t many times when discipleship group leaders feel inadequate (myself included), but it is simply to say that we’re growing together.

In late 2018, when four of us, two men and two women, sought the Lord for a simple tool that would help us more intentionally invest in our people’s growth as disciples, and felt led to venture in to starting D-Groups, it was out of a conviction that “leaders should go first.” We felt that we shouldn’t call people to try what we hadn’t tried ourselves. At the end of that year, we launched four “trial” groups with 11 people in them in total.

After a little over a year, our four groups multiplied into eleven groups with thirty-five people taking part. This was a small milestone, but a meaningful victory to celebrate, as our first “generation” of participants multiplied and stepped into leadership themselves. It was a bit nerve-wracking, figuring out how to actually “pass the baton” in real life, but it felt right—a moving from “sounds good in theory” to “it seems like we’re actually doing this.” It was a joy to see people practice, many for the first time, what it was like to prayerfully cast a vision for discipleship, invite someone into a discipling relationship, shepherd them to count the cost, and then venture into a new experience together.

During this second year, one of the compelling dynamics was watching our eleven groups become simultaneously more diversified and more unified in their approach. On the one hand, with a multiplication of leadership came a multiplication of giftings, personalities, and backgrounds leading these groups, resulting in each of them having their own distinct “feel”. At the exact same time, these diverse groups really seemed to coalesce—largely uncoordinated—around the simple “basics” we’d sought to honor from the start…Bible, Obedience, Openness, and Mission: they all read a lot of the Bible, they all sought to obey it, they’re all open, honest, and prayerful, and they all spurred one another on to live on mission.

At the end of the second year, people seemed to be gradually increasing in their confidence (perhaps more than they even noticed) in discipling others. This was true both of those original leaders who now had two years under their belt, but also of those who only had one year, but who had grown under the leadership of others who were “hitting their stride.” With increased confidence, however, there was the increased challenge of multiplying once again into an ever-growing circle of people. And yet once again, we saw God’s faithfulness in empowering our leaders to multiply once again.

At this time, at the start of our third “generation,” there are around twenty discipleship groups at NSCBC (that we know of), with about eighty people involved in them. While this still represents only a fraction of our church, it does mean that a meaningful number of people are more saturated in the Scriptures than they were before and more intentional in their investment in each other’s lives.

Some of the less “quantifiable” growth has been just as encouraging. We’ve noticed a growing hunger for God’s word, church-wide, as well as a growing boldness and fruitfulness in evangelism. (In each of these first two years for example, we’ve been able to point to people who have been brought to faith through the witness of D-group members). In addition to this, we’re now starting to see the first examples both of new believers (including two who were led to faith from previous discipleship group members), and of people from other churches on the North Shore—typically neighbors—brought into groups, in the hopes that together they can plant a seed for multiplying discipleship in their own church.

No ministry tool—D-groups or otherwise—is a “silver bullet,” and to draw that from reading this would be a mistake. D-groups are just that—a tool—something that we hope can help us walk more faithfully and fruitfully in our calling to make disciples who make disciples. And yet I have the sense that the Lord’s hand is upon is in a special way, with the Spirit-enabling power that Jesus promised when he said “behold, I will be with you, always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

May God continue to give us grace, grit, and power, as we seek to honor him through our patient investment in each other, and our willingness to step out and multiply.