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How to Format Groups for Obedience

We’ve all been there before. You’re about reading to jump into leading a new small group or lead a disciple making discussion. One of your biggest fears/concerns is simply, “How do I fill the time with meaningful content?” This is where the search for small group curriculum usually begins. And then every 6-8 weeks, your fear and dread sets back in because now you need a new book, new content, something to keep the group happy, content and coming back again next week.

All groups, especially disciple making groups, should be intentional and lead people toward obedience. If a disciple hears God’s voice and obeys, then the group’s setting and format should lead people to do exactly that. So it isn’t new content that should be taking up our time, the search for the next book study, but actually quality time meant to help people hear God’s voice in their life and to walk in obedience to Him.

That’s why I use a format called “Three Thirds” in all of my group settings.

“Three Thirds” utilizes an Up, In and Out approach to groups. We look “Up” to God for what He is doing in each person’s life. How He is at work in their fishing and following. We also look “Up” to God in worship and casting the vision for reaching lost people each week. We look “In” as we dive into a new lesson, tool or Scripture to discover what God has for us and we seek to internalize what we discover. Last we look “Out” to keep an outward focus on reaching lost people. Everything leads us to a place of reproducibility and reaching others. Groups should never become holy huddles where Christians gather but no lost people are reached.

With that said, here’s what “Three Thirds” looks like.

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Up |

Member Care/Socialize

Part of looking up to God is seeing what He is up to in each member’s life. We want to start our disciple making trainings or small groups time by asking what God is doing in each person’s life. We often ask what each person is thankful for or something they are struggling with. This helps us to know how to pray for each person.


Then move into a time of worship and prayer. This can be meditation on Scripture or worshiping together through song. Get creative, but keep the groups focus up toward God, who He is and what He is up to. Then open your group or training with prayer.

Loving Accountability

You will develop a list of accountability for each person as they set goals for themselves (below). We hold people accountable lovingly, not with judgment or criticism. For instance, when a disciple sets a goal to read one chapter of the Bible everyday for a week, I will ask them how that went. If they say, “I was in Scripture five days this week,” I’m going to celebrate that because the work before they weren’t reading at all. But I will lovingly encourage them to aim for seven days the coming week. This accountability is done with all following (abiding in Christ) and fishing (reaching out to lost people) goals.

Vision Casting

Every time I meet with disciples, I want to remind them why we do what we do. We are meeting to hear God’s voice and obey. Maybe it’s a walk through John 10 to remind them of Jesus the Good Shepherd who is calling us to mission. Or a walk through Luke 15 to share about God’s heartbeat for lost people. Or share a great story of a life transformed as a result of Jesus to share vision for what disciple making is all about.

In |

New Lesson

This is a great place to use DBS to walk through a chapter of the Bible and discover what God is up to. Asking questions like, “What do you learn about God in Mark 9” is a great way to learn about God from Scripture. You can also ask, “What do you learn about people, humanity, from Mark 9?” Helping people to discover that sometimes we can be Pharisees or sometimes simply blind. You can also use this time to train in a new tool like three circles or three chairs. Whatever it is, this is the part where new information is coming in to the disciple and prayerfully being internalized in them.

Out |

Practice/Goal Setting

Many small groups consider it a success when someone leaves and has learned something new. Three thirds formatted groups call it a success when something is about to be reproduced by everyone in the room. So we end each gathering with practice and goal setting. If I train someone in the Three Circles, then I want to give them all a few minutes to practice. I want them to develop confidence and competence in sharing the Gospel with friends or neighbors. So we practice sharing the Gospel together and then set goals to share with people that week.


Last but not least, we want to pray with and commission each person in the group to go out and share. Did someone set a goal to share the Gospel with their co-worker? Then take time to pray for the co-worker by name. Ask God to go before you. Commission your group member in a way that reminds them that God is at work in their lives and is going to use them to reach people. End on a high note that we all have work to do in reaching the lost. This is how we want to end our gatherings.

And that’s it. The “Three Thirds” format for our groups. This is how we are working to get groups of disciples of Jesus more focused on obedience to the voice of God than simply learning something new each week in group. We want to move toward obedience, action and reproducible tools that all followers of Jesus can use in their own lives as they seek to hear God’s voice and obey. I love watching everyone get in the game for disciple making and “Three Thirds” is a great format to help move your groups, disciples, toward obedience.

What do you think about this format?

There are a couple different ways to do all of the above. Seek creative ways to get this info to your groups as you pursue obedience to the voice of God.

Let’s take Kingdom territory!

Source: How to Format Groups for Obedience