About Movements

Small Groups That Have the DNA of a Disciple-Making Movement – Part 1

Small Groups That Have the DNA of a Disciple-Making Movement – Part 1

– By Paul Watson –

Groups, and the group process, are a strategic element of our strategy to plant the gospel all over the world. Underestimating the power of groups, and the importance of group process, is one of the biggest mistakes a gospel planter can make. 


Discipling Groups

Use existing groupings. There are many benefits to engaging existing groupings rather than starting groups that are a composite of people from different groups. One is that when you engage existing groups, you reduce many cultural barriers that slow down (or stop) the group process. Families have existing authority structures. Well-established affinity groups already have leaders and followers. That being said, groups still need to be discipled. In other words, they need to be taught how to study the Bible together, how to discover what God says through His Word, how to change their lives to obey God’s Word, and how to share Bible passages with friends and family. Here’s how to establish healthy group DNA.

Establish DNA early. Groups establish the habits and DNA for meetings very quickly—by the third or fourth meeting. Groups are very resistant to change once they’ve established their pattern for meeting. Consequently, group DNA must be established during your first meeting with the group.

Establish DNA though action. You cannot tell people what DNA they need to have. You have to get them to do things, or think about things in a way, that leads them to build habits. These habits become DNA. If you establish DNA well—through action, not instruction—then groups will replicate that DNA naturally within their silos and in overlapping silos. We will talk about this more in the Group Process section.

Establish DNA through repetition. Group DNA is the product of what you do, and do often. You cannot do something once or twice and expect it to become DNA. 

Establish the right DNA. There is a minimum DNA required for groups to replicate past the first generation. Let’s take a look at each element.


What DNA do you need for groups that multiply and become reproducing churches?


Just as prayer is an essential element of movements, prayer is also a critical element of groups. From the first meeting, we embed prayer in the group process. Remember, we never ask lost people to bow their heads and pray. We don’t explain what prayer is. We don’t have a lecture about this being an important part of group DNA. Instead, we introduce a simple question, “What are you thankful for today?” Each person in the group shares. Later, after they choose to follow Christ, we say, “You remember how we open each meeting with the question, “What are you thankful for?” Now, as followers of Christ, we talk with God the same way. Let’s tell Him what we are thankful for?”


All intercession is prayer, but not all prayer is intercession. That is why we separated intercession and prayer as parts of the DNA of groups that replicate. Intercession involves sharing personal concerns and stresses as well as the concerns and stresses of others. A simple question, “What things have stressed you out this week?” introduces this DNA element to groups of lost people. Again, each person shares. After the group becomes a baptized group of believers we say, “In the same way that you shared things that stressed you out with each other, now you can share those same things with God. Let’s do that now.”


David Watson defines ministry as, “God using His people to answer the prayers of the lost and of the saved.” As any group—lost or saved—shares needs, there is going to be a group desire to make a difference. All the group needs is a little nudge. Ask the question, “As we shared things that stressed us out, is there any way we could help each other during the coming week?” Follow it up with, “Do you know anyone in your community that needs our help?” Embed this DNA from the beginning and you won’t have to worry about motivating the group to transform their community when they become Christian.


Did you know that lost people can do evangelism? Well, they can if you keep it simple enough. Evangelism, at its core, is sharing the gospel with someone else. When working with lost people, they don’t know the whole gospel. That is totally ok. We just want them to share the story they just heard with someone who wasn’t in the group. We get them to think this way with a simple question, “Who do you know that needs to hear this story this week?”

If that person is interested, rather than bringing them into the existing group, we have the first lost person start a group with them, their friends, and their family. So the first lost person experiences the study in their original group and then replicates the same study in the group they started with their friend.

We have had groups that started four other groups before the first group ever became a group of baptized believers. Within a few weeks after the first group was baptized, the other groups came to a place where they chose to follow Christ and were baptized as well.

In part 2 we will describe additional elements of the DNA needed for groups that multiply and become reproducing churches.

Paul founded Contagious Disciple Making ( to build a community for Disciple-Makers and coach them as they apply Disciple Making Movement principles in the USA and Canada. He is a regular instructor for Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and co-authored Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Spiritual Journey of Discovery with his father, David Watson.

Adapted from an article in the November-December 2012 issue of Mission Frontiers,, pp. 22-24.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *