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The Bare Essentials of Helping Groups Become Churches: Four Helps in CPM – Part 2

The Bare Essentials of Helping Groups Become Churches: Four Helps in CPM – Part 2

– By Steve Smith –

In part 1 we shared two essentials for helping groups become churches. Here are the other two.

  1. Make sure you have a SPECIFIC LESSON (OR LESSONS) ON CHURCH and its ordinances in your early discipleship.

You should have a clear biblical definition of church and model church-like meetings during each small group meeting. If you do, it will be easy to help the group become a church when you go through the “church” lesson in your short-term discipleship. If you want groups that become churches and plant churches, include one or two lessons on becoming a church by about session four or five. Make sure this is something that group members can obey and pass on to groups they start.

Have a specific goal in mind when you go through the church lesson: This week we will commit to becoming a church and will add in any missing characteristics of a church.

For example, when a group goes through the lesson(s) on church, one of two things usually happens:

1 Step: A group recognizes it is already a church and is practicing the characteristics of church. At this point it takes the final step by committing to being a church together (gains identity and covenant).

2 Steps: More often, a group recognizes that it is lacking in some of the elements of church. It takes two conscious steps forward to 1) add in those elements (e.g. Lord’s Supper, offerings) and then 2) commit to becoming church together (covenant).

  1. Use CHURCH HEALTH MAPPING to help a group evaluate whether they have all the elements of church life.

A great diagnostic tool called Church Health Mapping (or Church Circles) can be used with a group, or the leaders of a group or network of groups, to help them determine if the group is a church. This tool helps them spot weaknesses and correct these. It also helps them see which groups may not yet be a church.

CPMs commonly do this by making church circles the lesson on church. After a small group identifies the basic elements of a church from Acts 2 (they usually come up with around ten), they draw symbols for them and evaluate whether or not their group is practicing them.

The church lesson makes the following application:

As a group, on a blank paper, draw a dotted line circle representing your own group. Above it, list 3 numbers: the number regularly attending (stick figure), the number believing in Jesus (cross) and the number baptized after believing (water).

If your group has committed to being a church, make the dotted line circle solid. Then put an icon representing each of the remaining elements inside or outside the circle. If the group is regularly practicing the element itself, put it inside. If the group is not, or waits for an outsider to come do it, put it outside the circle. 


  1. Covenant – solid line instead of dotted line
  2. Baptism – water
  3. Word – book
  4. Lord’s Supper or Communion – a cup
  5. Fellowship – heart
  6. Giving & Ministry – money sign
  7. Prayer – praying hands
  8. Praise – upraised hands
  9. Evangelism – one friend holding hands with a friend he led to faith
  10. Leaders – two smiley faces

Finally, you can give your church a name. This helps you establish an identity as a church in your community. Remember that your goal is to develop a multi-generational Church Planting Movement to the 4th generation and beyond. So including the generation number helps you see where you are in seeing God start a movement in your community.

At this point, it is fairly easy to see what is blocking the group from really becoming a church. Though they may be lacking something, you now see a way to transform this group into a church, and they see it too! This very empowering, practical process lets the group prayerfully brainstorm how to add each of the elements into the circle. These become clear action plans for the group.

Generations of Churches

You must train the disciples you are training to purposefully help groups become churches. This should happen at a key stage in the short-term discipleship process by having a specific lesson(s) on becoming church. Church health mapping can also help you in that process. Then becoming a church will be a natural step in the process of discipleship. And you will have passed a major milestone toward a Church Planting Movement. How exciting when many generations of believers form their groups of new believers into churches at about the fourth or fifth meeting! When this happens over four generations of new churches, Church Planting Movements emerge! 


If you have no church lesson or purposeful reproducible process of transforming a group into church, then expect very few new churches!


If you include a simple church-planting process with a church lesson early on, then you can expect new generations of churches!


This may not be a process you are familiar with yet. It may challenge your ministry paradigms, but let’s not be afraid to sacrifice our paradigms for the sake of seeing God’s kingdom come! It is a helpful process to help us return to the original discipleship revolution of the Book of Acts. It is a helpful process to help us return to some of the more explosive movements in history. It is a process to help us more fully cooperate with the Spirit of God. 


The very simplicity and purposefulness of this process means that any believer, empowered by the Spirit, can become a church planter. Churches are not meant to multiply only across the landscape of the mission field. They should be and are multiplying in homes, community centers, schools, parks and coffee shops throughout the world. May His kingdom come!

Using the Four Helps with the Team from South East Asia

As I worked through the four helps with the team in South East Asia, we came to the fourth Help, church health mapping, or “church circles,” for short. I called one of the longer-tenured workers to the white board. I asked him to describe one small group of believers to the class. As he described this Bible study group, I represented it with a dotted-line circle on the board. Going through Acts 2:37–47, I asked him to assess which of the elements of the early Acts church were happening regularly in this small group. If an element was happening, we drew a symbol representing it inside the circle. If it was missing, we drew it outside the circle.


As we all stepped back to assess the status of this group becoming church, the diagram showed a couple of clear weaknesses. The group was not practicing the Lord’s Supper nor were they giving to meet needs. The symbols for these two elements were drawn outside the dotted-line circle.  I drew an arrow from Lord’s Supper to the inside of the circle and asked my colleague: “What would it take for this group to start practicing the Lord’s Supper?” The worker thought for a moment. He then said that when he returned to his place of service, he could easily coach the group leader how to implement the Lord’s Supper the following week. As the colleague gave his answers, I summarized them along the arrow as action plans.


I did the same with giving, drawing an arrow to the inside of the circle. Once we had brainstormed action plans to put that into practice, I wrote these action plans on the arrow also.


Finally, I got to the core question: “Does this small group see itself as a church?” After some thought, the worker decided they did not. I suggested that if the group could commit to being church, they would have an identity as church and truly become a church. If that happened, then we would color in the dotted circle as a solid-line circle. I asked the worker what it would take to help the group take that step. He felt that two things would finalize their transition from an outreach group to a genuine church. First, taking them through a study of Acts 2:37–47, then helping them make a firm covenant to God and each other. I wrote this action plan on the dotted-line circle representing the group.


With excitement the worker and the group eyed the three major action plans on the white board. All were very possible. In fact, the worker planned to do these things the next week with two nearly identical small groups. This worker, serving in a remote location, trembled with excitement. For over seven years, he and his family had worked to share the gospel widely. They had trained national partners and discipled new believers into groups. All the while they had longed for the first churches ever to be started among this people group. Now through a simple, yet focused and purposeful step they were going to witness the birth of the first churches!


I saw this worker again last week, just over a year after that training event. Not only have these groups become churches. They are now helping other new groups walk through the same process of becoming churches.

Steve Smith, Th.D. (1962-2019) was co-facilitator of the 24:14 Coalition and author of multiple books (including T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution). He catalyzed or coached CPMs all over the world for almost two decades.

Adapted from an article originally published in the September-October 2012 issue of Mission Frontiers,, pages 25-26, and published on pages 74-86 of the book 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples, available from 24:14 or Amazon.

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