Small Group Ingredients

What to do and why

Every discipling small group has its own distinct style and flavor depending on the leader, the students, the setting, the time of day, and the main focus of learning. And each gathering of the same small group will be slightly different from every other gathering depending on who's there, everyone's attitudes that day, season of the school year, how everyone's week has gone so far, what Bible passage you're reading, and the leader's degree of preparation.

It's a bit like baking: five people can follow the exact same chocolate cookie recipe and have five distinctly different results depending on what brand of flour they used, what kind of chips they used, how precisely they measured, whether they sifted or not, whether they melted or just softened the butter, what kind of mixer they used, how long they mixed, how fast they mixed, what kind of oven they used, how accurate the oven's thermostat is, what elevation they baked at, and a thousand other things.

But in the end, there will still be five batches of delicious cookies, and all is well with the world.

You can lead a small group exactly the same way week after week and it will always take an unexpected turn. You can lead a small group exactly the same way as your friend leads their small group, and it won't be anything like theirs. You can follow a planned structure each and never veer from it, and things will still surprise you.

Small group discipling is both an art and a science. But mostly it is a gift and a joy that is worth every moment of your own preparation and participation.

Small Group Big Picture

An ideal discipling small group consists of a leader and student(s) being together, reading the Bible together, talking and learning about Jesus together, praying together, and growing together. The ultimate purpose is to learn from the Bible in order to become more like Jesus.

Small Group Ingredients (in no specific order)


Optional, but always a good idea. Don't stress about it. The best plan is to serve exactly the same treat, snack, or meal each week. It becomes a tradition, and traditions create a sense of stability and belonging. Bake, barbecue, or buy yourself, or ask someone else to do it for you. Eat together. It's a good thing.

General Conversation

Check in with each other. Catch up on life. Be present and attentive. This serves as a way to reconnect each week and to make people feel seen, known, and welcome.

Guided Conversation

This helps move things toward learning. It can happen both before, during, and after reading the Bible.


This can be a main focus or a single element. At the very least, always pray before reading Scripture and to end your time together. Thank God for his Word, ask him to be present while reading, ask him to reveal his truth, and ask him to guide people through the coming week.

Bible Reading and Engagement

This should be the main focus of discipling small groups: allowing God to teach and speak to everyone through his sacred Word.

Reflection and Discussion

Spiritual formation happens when there is an event or experience (whether intellectual, contemplative, or active) and then an opportunity to process by asking questions, sharing observations, being challenged, and hearing from others. Skipping the process step is like pouring a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and walking away, hoping that somehow or other they will turn into a cookie on their own. ​


This does not need to be an application point or an action step, though those are fine. It's simply a time to bring closure to the group by identifying one or more of these things:

  • something new they've learned about Jesus
  • something they want to keep learning about
  • something they want to do differently in their lives
  • something they sense God nudging them about
  • something they've learned about becoming more like Jesus and following him faithfully

Optional Add-Ins

  • Worship
  • Service
  • Extended prayer
  • Games and play
  • Silence
  • Journaling
  • Teaching videos
  • One-on-one talk-and-turn

What About Phones?

Totally your call. If they're a distraction, have a phone basket or box where people (including you) can safely leave devices. Some leaders build in an incentive for this. If there are ways to make use of digital engagement during a small group, that's OK. But maybe don't make it the norm. After all, a small group might be the only place where people are given the gift of digital freedom.


Reflect - Discuss
  • What small group experiences did you have when you were a younger follower of Jesus? What things do you remember the most and why? What things impacted you the most and why?
  • What does your current small group do now? Are there things you want to add or try? Why?
  • What's one thing you can do to tighten up your small group time by giving it more structure and focus?
  • What's one thing that you need to spend more time preparing for the small group(s) you lead?