Participation: How to Make Disciples by Getting Everyone Involved

By Joel Comiskey, free teaching videos on leading small groups, May 2021

I’m coaching one pastor who recently said to me, “Joel, God has been convicting me of my unwillingness to release people in small group ministry. For a long time, I thought I had to do everything, not trusting the Holy Spirit in others. I now realize that the only way people will grow as disciples is by allowing them to step out.” I’ve been coaching this pastor to trust the Holy Spirit to work through all believers.

Releasing members to become ministers (and allowing them to fail in the process) is a key step in making disciples who make disciples. Yes, it will be messy but that’s how people learn. Jesus practiced this concept with his own disciples. They often failed as they stepped out, asked questions, or tried to walk on water. They grew as they practiced Christ’s teaching, rather than sitting passively. Cell ministry is designed with this in mind.

John said, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6). Each of us is a priest of the living God. Are we practicing this truth in the cell group?

Empowering each member to minister was a key principle in the investigative study that Jim Egli and I undertook, embodied in the book Groups that Thrive. In fact, if there was one health factor that was the most important it would be empowering each member to minister.

Negatively, one statement correlated with unhealthy groups: “I like to lead the entire small group meeting myself.” This is a death warrant for small groups. It turns members into passive hearers, expecting them to sit in yet another meeting. The leader grows as he or she ministers, but the hearers don’t have a chance to exercise their spiritual muscles. But when the group shifts to our group, everyone takes ownership and works to help the group thrive and grow.