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Large Crowds and Small Groups

November 11, 2004
Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.                                           
Matthew 4:25

1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them                                              
Matthew 5:1,2

Some believe that discipleship must be one-on-one to be effective. Others insist small group is best. Still others consider all preaching or teaching ministry, no matter how large the crowd, to be discipleship. So which is it: individual, small group, or multitude ministry? What is the best way to reach the lost? To make disciples? To grow a church or ministry? While Jesus ministered to individuals, to small groups and to multitudes, it seems that the small group was His priority.

These verses teach us three basic principles of effective discipleship:

1. The more Jesus concentrated on small group discipleship, the larger the crowds grew.
As soon as Jesus began to mentor his first few disciples and minister with them (Matt 4:18-24) the small group began to reach large crowds (verse 25). This seems to be a pattern repeated throughout the Gospels: a small discipleship group reaching multitudes. If this strategy worked in the New Testament, there is no reason it will not work today. Small group discipleship done right will not stay small for long. As we focus on the small group, we will ultimately grow into a large multitude.

2. The larger the crowds grew, the more Jesus deliberately focused His time on the twelve.
Jesus did not allow the growing crowds to distract Him from His primary purpose of making disciples or His primary strategy of small group discipleship.  As soon as the small group started to become a large crowd, Jesus went to the mountain with His twelve for some private discipleship time (Matt 5:1). We must follow the example of Jesus, and continue to make discipleship top priority, especially when the crowds begin to grow. Unfortunately, many pastors today no longer make disciples as they did in the early days when their church was small. When their church grew, they made the common mistake of switching their focus from making disciples in small groups to making sermons for a crowd. Don’t get me wrong, sermons are important. Jesus preached sermons. But He did so as part of the discipleship process, not as a substitute for making disciples. 

3. The larger the crowds grew, the more Jesus concentrated His discipleship time on character development. 
When He called his disciples away from the crowds for some private discipleship time, He focused on internal character and spiritual values (the Beatitudes) not on communication skills, crowd management, or marketing principles. The larger the crowds grow, the more character is needed to lead. Many ministers have been destroyed as their ministries grew large because they simply did not have the character to handle the fame, the criticism, the pressure, the stress, the money, the problems, and other aspects of great growth. Because proper discipleship will produce growth, we must focus on character development as we make disciples.

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