Doug’s First Meeting Template

I have six goals for my first meeting:

  • Establish trust,
  • Tell them what they will do,
  • Set realistic expectations,
  • Establish control,
  • Assess the disciples, and
  • Set people free.

Establishing Trust

Trust comes by knowing that we are in this together. Trust comes with transparency. Trust begins by you trusting the disciples you will make. I begin establishing trust by asking two questions:

  • What do you want to know about this process? and
  • What do you want to know about me?

Even when folks know me, I still ask these questions. The first question lets disciples know there is no hidden agenda or secrets. It also allows them to share any fears or concerns. I always answer their questions about the process with short, clear answers that inspire hope. If they ask, “Will this be hard?” I answer, “Not really. The most difficult thing will be building a daily reading habit. But I can show you how you can do it; bunches of others have. You’ll get it.” If they ask, how much time will this take?” I tell them, “Somewhere between three and 6 hours a week. But that time is spread out, so around 30 minutes a day.”

When they finish their questions, I ask them what they want to know about me. Generally, I only hear crickets in the background. So I always have a few questions preloaded. “You don’t want to know what my favorite color is or what my greatest fear is?” I ask. Then the floor opens up, and we spend thirty minutes with me sharing my stories and challenges.

You will watch people relax. You will watch them breathe. You will be amazed how much they will trust you if you trust them. Remember, leaders go first – always.

Tell Them What They Will Do

This is a simple step. Here’s my stock statement,

“We are going to read the Bible in a year. Each week we will cover several chapters. Just reading. All you have to do is say a prayer, read a bit each day, and highlight things that make you go “Aha” or trouble you. That’s it. So I want you to get a Bible. Get one without notes if you can. No distracting comments. Then just read the verses for each day and highlight cool things that pop out to you. You don’t have to research. You don’t have to tear it apart. Just read it and highlight. Can you do that? Cool. Each week we will look at everyone’s highlights and see what God is saying. Then as we get going, we will read some other incredible books. Books that will challenge you, grow you, inspire you, and help you get the life that God promised you. That’s it.”

My entire goal is to let them know how easy this will be.

Set Realistic Expectations

I have found that setting expectations works better after beginning to establish trust. Sharing fun stories and making myself human is a good onramp before discussing what’s expected. If your church has an information meeting before people sign up (ours does every year), your group will know what they are in for. You can read more about the information meeting in How to Make Disciples.

Anyway, here’s my lead-in,

So let’s spend a minute talking about what we need to do for this to work. First, we need to be committed to the weekly meeting. That means I will make this a priority. Even if I have to travel for work, we will have a virtual meeting, or I will get a sub. Our meetings need to be a priority to us. It has to come first. This won’t work if we don’t meet regularly. That makes sense, right?
Second, we all have to do the work. We need to prepare. I need to be ready to lead, and you guys must be ready too. You need to have your highlights ready. For this to work, we have to be ready.

Then I drop my personal bomb statement,

“I want this to work for you. In fact, I want it so much that I generally don’t make disciples unless folks are attending, tithing, and serving. It’s not that I or God need you to be here, need your money, or need you to do something. I have just found that this rarely works if someone isn’t willing to give God his time, treasure, and talents. It doesn’t mean it will never work. It just may not work right now.”

I know – a strong statement. But I have never had anyone leave because of this statement. Instead, I have seen this call raise the bar for them. It is like a healthy challenge. Money is the one they usually ask about. “So if I am not tithing, I can’t stay?” I reply, “Well, that’s not really what I am saying. I am saying that if you aren’t willing to entertain sharing your wealth with God, this probably won’t work. But you can get there.”

Establish Control

Control may sound strong, but a group needs control. In fact, these folks have signed up for you to lead them. And you need to do just that. I am looking to do three things here:

  • Clarify who makes disciples,
  • Explain that my role is to guide, and
  • Tell them how the group will work.

I clarify who makes disciples by explaining that they and the Holy Spirit are the two most important people in disciple making. The Holy Spirit is the one who will transform them. The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is who they need to hear from (not me or Google) when it comes to knowing why to do what they should do. The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals truth.

I explain my role as a guide leading them up Mount Everest. My job is to keep them on the path. They have to climb. They have to learn. God has to show them truth. They have to adjust. I am not a teacher. I am a guide keeping them on the path, preventing them from falling off a cliff now and then, and helping them learn to hear from God.

Then I pull out a picture of the Six Thinking Hats from Edward DeBono’s book. I quickly cover the idea behind each hat, ending on the Blue Hat. Here they are,

  • Red Hat. When we speak from emotion.
  • White Hat. Just the data. Just the facts.
  • Green Hat. Creative thinking.
  • Yellow Hat. Hope and optimism.
  • Black Hat. Critical thinking.
  • Blue Hat. Control and leadership.

I explain that we all think and speak in these different ways. I set them free to tell me that they are talking Red Hat. I share that I might push them toward the White Hat, asking them to tell me what the verse says instead of what they feel it means. And then I share,

“But the Blue Hat is always mine. You don’t get to steal it. It is my job to guide each one of you individually. So if one of you interrupts or speaks into someone else’s highlight, you might hear me say, ‘Hey, you’re taking my blue hat.” Don’t get offended. It is a reminder that I am the leader when it comes to the group, and it’s my job to keep us on track. Sound fair? Cool.”

And then, I tell them how the group will work by sharing,

We are all in individual discipleship even though we are in a group. Since the most important thing is for each of you to hear from God, I am not going to teach. I am going to guide you. My goal is to help you learn the truth, stay on track, and hear from God. So I will do my best not to interrupt what the Spirit is saying and allow space for God to talk to you. Even if I know the answer, I am going to see if you can get it from him. And everyone in the group is going to join in on the effort. They are not going to talk about your highlights. When you and I are talking, everyone else is just listening. It is your individual moment with God. Not theirs. Everyone got it? Great.

Assess the Disciples

My goal is to lead the disciples effectively. To do that, I ask seven essential questions of each disciple. But I only ask four of them in my first meeting. After establishing control, I ask, “Can I ask you guys three questions?”

  • Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert?
  • Are you a visual learner or an auditory learner?
  • Are you emotional, an engineer, or an activist?

The answers to these questions help me know how to guide, how to talk to, and what to expect from each disciple (you can read more about this here). I even have a secret Assessment Sheet I use throughout the process to keep track of their answers and much more.

My fourth question is, “Why are you here? What do you expect to get out of this?” People get into discipleship groups for all kinds of reasons. So I listen. I listen to all their answers, affirming the ones I can and expanding on the ones I can’t. I close with the challenge that getting to know God is the best reason.

Then I leave the rest of my assessment for later.

Set Them Free

This final agenda item is my favorite way to wrap up my first group meeting. But I never expect anyone to act on it when I say,

“Okay. So that’s the how, the what, and the why of what we are doing together. If you come back next week, you’re in. If you don’t, I want you to know that that’s okay. Sometimes we just aren’t ready to dive into a formal process even though the process will make us more prepared and confident at life. Know this, there are a thousand ways to be a disciple. You could invest the same amount of time and do it on your own. This is just one way. It works crazy well. But if you realize this isn’t for you right now, that’s okay. There is no success or failure. There is no awkwardness. You can do this when you are ready. We can still hang out. But if you are ready to rock your world and get everything God has promised you, let’s have some fun. Here’s what we are going to read this week. See you next week…”

Every once in a while, someone walks away. And that is where this step gains all its importance. Part of the reason we have such a high success rate is that we keep the door open. Giving people permission to start later keeps the door open. There is no shame in opting out this go-round. By the way, if you don’t give them a free pass, they will quit anyway, and you won’t get them back.

By the way, setting the disciples free to step out usually has the exact opposite effect. Letting them know that I know this is not the only way to learn to follow God seems to get those on edge to join in. Human nature is funny.

If you want to learn more about the methods and madness behind the crazy success of Sustainable Discipleship, set up a call or sign up for one of the workshops. I would love to meet you (if I haven’t already.)

If you are looking for more detail on preparing for your first (and every other meeting), you may want to pick up a copy of How to Make Disciples.

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Challenging words to help make prepared, confident, and skilled followers of God.

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