Month: January 2024

Shaping powerfully effective small groups

While small groups represent a key ministry in many churches, using them effectively can be a challenge. This is especially the case when it comes to training small group leaders. Over the past year and a half, our church has reevaluated our approach to training and has created a process for better preparing and equipping leaders. Here are some general steps we have developed:

1. Selection

Before small group leaders are trained, they must be chosen. This is not a step churches can afford to skimp on. In fact, it’s the most important step. Training, small group structure, and curriculum can’t make up for an unqualified leader.

What, then, should churches look for in a potential leader? The most important criterion is character. A potential leader should have a good reputation both within and outside the church. Their lives should be marked by a pursuit of godliness and a commitment to help other believers grow in their relationship with Christ.

Training of small group leaders begins in the ordinary work of discipleship within the life of a congregation, and pastors and other leaders should keep an eye out for congregants who evidence this pattern of life. This also means the number of small groups within a church should be governed by the availability of godly leaders.

Beyond character, churches should have a clear set of qualifications for small group leadership by which they can evaluate potential leaders. These will likely include basic communication and social skills necessary to facilitate group activities. These are not technical competencies, but rather the kinds of things that can be developed in many individuals. They aren’t universal skills, however, so leaders will need to make a habit of looking for individuals who display these abilities—or at least the potential to develop them.

2. Orientation

If small groups are to be an effective means of ministry, there must be a consistent and shared vision for the role they play within the life of a congregation. As with most churches, the heartbeat of small groups in our church is mutual discipleship. But we are very intentional in promoting small groups not as a requirement for membership, but as one extension among many as part of the church’s core work of discipleship. This is based on our conviction that discipleship finds its center and source in the church’s Sunday gathering, and all other activities of the church flow from that center. Michael Lawrence, a pastor in Oregon, wrote an article about using small groups to cultivate fellowship in a way that is similar to our church’s model.

While this might seem unexceptional, it is significantly different from how some churches use small groups. For example, in many larger churches, small groups function as the center of Christian “community,” operating primarily to mitigate the anonymity that can characterize a larger church context and often being required of members for that reason. This is a fine and noble use of small groups, but it can sometimes create an incentive for individual members to look to their small group as the center of their life together rather than the church’s worship gathering. To avoid this tendency, and since our church is small enough that anonymity is not a problem for us on Sunday mornings, we have chosen a different vision for small groups. I explain this not to present our approach as a universal model, but as an example of how a vision for small groups should be intentional, strategic, and clearly communicated to small group leaders.

3. Preparation

Since the heart of our small groups is mutual discipleship, we center their activities around the ordinary means of grace—namely Bible, prayer, and fellowship—as part of their regular gatherings. This means, at a minimum, small group leaders at our church must be prepared to 1) lead a Bible-based discussion, 2) facilitate a time of prayer, and 3) coordinate a regular gathering for the group in which these practices can take place.

The first of these is the most challenging. Anyone who has ever tried knows that leading a group discussion is a special skill. There are several pitfalls leaders can fall into in this regard. On the one hand, they might try to lead discussions as free-for-alls, using vague, general questions that don’t lead the discussion anywhere. On the other hand, they might have a very clear sense of where they want the conversation to go and will merely ask leading questions rather than questions that provoke shared reflection by the group. Or, if they find awkward silences unbearable, they might attempt a few questions before kicking into lecture mode and end up teaching a lesson rather than leading a discussion.

In my opinion, churches should devote a substantial amount of training to leading effective, Bible-based discussions. There are many resources available along these lines, but two I have found particularly helpful are Orlando Saer’s Iron Sharpens Iron: Leading Bible-Oriented Small Groups that Thrive and Colin Marshall’s Growth Groups: How to Lead Disciple-Making Small Groups. The former is a short book packed with helpful advice on navigating a Bible-based discussion. The latter is a 10-week training course that includes opportunities for trainees to practice leading such discussions. Both resources cover other important areas of small group leadership, as well.

4. Implementation

The training of small group leaders should not end once they are assigned to a small group. As leaders continue to grow through experience, pastors can play an important role in their development by maintaining strong lines of communication and by providing additional resourcing opportunities.

Strong lines of communication (for me, this means regular conversations, coffee visits, and lunches with small group leaders) carry two primary benefits. First, it provides pastors with an opportunity to continue shaping the vision of small groups and to provide more specific guidance when and where needed. Second, it helps pastors better fulfill their shepherding roles by giving them a better awareness of how members are doing and by providing a context for small group leaders to relay pastoral concerns to the church’s leadership.

Training of small group leaders is also facilitated by continued resourcing opportunities. At our church, we host two small group leader meetings per year, which always include a refresher on the vision and strategy of small groups within our church as well as specific training topics. These meetings also provide opportunities for leaders to share insights and advice with one another.


There is no one-size-fits all approach to small groups, at least not when it comes to specifics. But where small groups exist for the purpose of mutual discipleship, what makes for successful groups is what makes for successful discipleship in general. In such cases, much will depend on the ability of churches to select qualified leaders, orient them to the unique function of small groups within the lives of their congregations, equip them to lead others in the basic practices of discipleship, and continue to support them in their discipling roles.



Experiencing revitalization through clarity, alignment

Iarrived at First Baptist Church in Three Rivers in October 2020, both terrified and excited to step into my first pastorate. I knew right away this was a small-town church in need of revitalization, so I reached out to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Church Health & Leadership department right away.

Shortly after my arrival, the SBTC began a new program called Regenesis that aims to help churches walk through a revitalization process. As I sat in on an informational call, I knew this was the direction our church needed to go. I was hoping and praying there would be others in our church willing to join me as we plunged into the unknown. God sent those people and, with a team assembled, we jumped in and began the process.

FBC Three Rivers had suffered from declining attendance over the past 20 years. The church lost its pastor in 2019, and three months later, the COVID-19 pandemic left the church wondering where it was going and if there was any hope of moving forward. Regenesis helped us address those questions. Here are just a few lessons our church has learned by walking through this process:

Clarify your target.

Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” He was exactly right. Our church was struggling because it had lost sight of the target. If you want to see your church revitalized, you must clarify your target. What is unique about your church? What are the demographics of the area? What are the opportunities? How has God uniquely wired your church to make disciples and advance the kingdom of Christ? Clarifying your target is the first step in church revitalization.

Clarify your process.

What is a disciple? How do you know you are making disciples? What is the path of discipleship for someone who joins your church? These are all questions every church must wrestle with. It was vital that we wrestle with this because we did not have an answer. By defining a disciple and crafting a pathway for discipleship, we have begun to gain clarity on a process for existing members and newcomers alike to enter. Our process is designed to develop the disciple we defined.

Align your leadership.

Pastor, you already know you cannot do this work alone. You were never meant to. You need people around you who will share the vision and be committed to that vison. This is not easy to do, but I’m confident God has placed you in a congregation with people who are willing to help. I asked the Lord for five people. I got all five. We did not all agree when we came to the table the first time, but now there is unity among the team.

The Church Health & Leadership team will tell you Regenesis is not a silver bullet. FBC Three Rivers has not arrived. We are still working, refining, and clarifying. I can tell you it gave us the platform to have discussions that would have taken years to do otherwise. The sense of urgency compelled us to act and we followed God’s lead. Now we’re watching Him take us in amazing places.

Waiting on God

Editor’s note: Each month, the Texan features a column written by the president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This is the first of those columns written by Danny Forshee, who was elected SBTC president at last November’s SBTC Annual Meeting.

Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.

Psalm 37:34


ome of you are waiting on God for big things in your life. You have prayed and you are ready for the answer to come. You may be waiting on God for the person He wants you to marry. Some are waiting for a breakthrough in a relationship, or perhaps in your church. Others are waiting on God for a job or a promotion. There are numerous things for which you may be waiting on the Lord to help you and come through for you. You have been faithfully praying; however, the answer has not come yet. 

At this point, you have a few options:

1. Continue to be patient and wait on God, knowing He has a plan and will come through for you when the timing is right.

2. Grow impatient with God and become bitter and angry with Him.

3. Make things happen on your own. In this instance, you take matters in your own hands, telling God He is taking too long and that you can handle it from here on out. Let me encourage you to not do that. It never—and I mean never—ends well.

Psalm 37:34 offers an example in Scripture where God commands us to wait. Notice that He also gives us a promise to bless. When we choose to wait on God, obey Him, and trust Him, we position ourselves to be very blessed by Him. I like the way the psalmist states the promise of blessing: “And He shall exalt you to inherit the land.” Focus on the two words “exalt” and “inherit.” These are words of blessing. Your reward for waiting on God may not be a literal piece of property (although it may be), but whatever you are praying about and waiting on God for, know that He will come through and He will bless you far more than you can imagine.

Psalm 37:34 was Pastor Charles Stanley’s favorite verse in the Bible about waiting on God. In preaching on this subject of waiting on God, he shares many helpful truths with the child of God: “People may criticize you for waiting on the Lord. It does not matter what others think. Someone might say, ‘But if I were you …,’ but they are not you. Do not listen to those who would discourage you from waiting on the Lord. Resist the tempting voices that would say, ‘Hey, you have waited long enough; it is time for you to get going and make things happen.’ Keep on waiting in faith. When you wait on His timing, you are waiting on God’s very best. He will not give you what is less than best.” 

I am praying for all our 2,700-plus churches in the SBTC. May God richly bless you as you seek Him and wait on His perfect timing. Great days are ahead!

Pastors, let’s lead by example when it comes to discipleship

Pastors, if we don’t personally practice discipleship outside our pulpits, we’re working against our call to be disciple-makers. Truthfully—many people pay more attention to our example than our sermons or mission statements. 

Although many pastors are not in a discipleship group of any kind for various reasons, you can and should change that in 2024. Here are four ways to jump in: 


Join an existing small group.

Whether your church calls it a Sunday school class, a small group, a D-group, or whatever, you and your staff need to literally live out the disciple-making strategy of your church.  

Are you and your spouse currently connected to a group of any kind? It’s important to involve your wife in the selection of a group because these are the people who will help both of you through life’s greatest challenges. They will also be among the first to celebrate life’s greatest milestones and help you grow spiritually. Joining a small group is much more than having your name on a roll; it’s living life together.  

Will there be an initial awkwardness when a group you join sees you as the expert instead of the teacher? Perhaps at first, but it won’t be a problem for long as you become a regular within the group


Kickstart a new group. 

Since the lead pastor is often the most influential person in the church, you can leverage that influence by helping kickstart a new group. Make sure you have a succession plan or a completion date for the group so it will not depend on you as a teacher long term. Our calling as pastors is to equip others for the work of the ministry. 

One pastor friend of mine led a class focused on reaching church members who did not attend any class. The average church has approximately a third of its worship attendees not participating in a Bible study group, which makes them the greatest prospects for a new class.


Teach a hot topic group. 

Start a group that would attract those who gravitate toward a particular topic such as finances, parenting, marriage, prophecy, or apologetics. Prepare these classes for high attendance times of the year and offer them for 8-10 weeks for people who prefer making short-term commitments. Have a co-teacher prepared to continue the class after you finish your study.  


Co-lead a life stage group. 

Are there certain people in your church for whom there is no group? Consider starting a group for single adults, single moms, empty nesters, parents of teenagers, newlyweds, or new parents. In my last church, my wife, Janet, and I started a new small group for non-college singles under 30. They were a blast! We trained four of the young adult members to be the teaching team and transitioned to become a mentor couple. Again, have someone ready to take over the class before you start for the purpose of equipping other leaders.

Since our discipleship influence flows more out of what we practice than what we preach, consider starting or joining a small group in 2024. You might surprise yourself with how you and your wife will be blessed, as well as become a blessing to others.

What’s your story? God is the hero of my story

During the past 45 years, after the Lord called me to preach, I have pastored two churches and spent five years in full-time evangelism. My first pastorate saw about one person a week baptized over the course of 15 years. My current church, a church plant that began in my home with nine people, has grown to about 2,500 people. But before that happened, the Lord took me down to zero. 

My path to ministry was unusual. As a young man, I was in sales, a director of marketing for a large grocery company. I was also offered an opportunity that could have made me wealthy. That didn’t happen because I knew the Lord was calling me to preach. My pastor at the time was a former Folgers coffee salesman. He and another preacher gave me good advice, and they both came to the same conclusion. Reverend Neil, the former salesman, said, “You do anything you can to keep from preaching. If God won’t leave you alone, you’ll know that He’s in it.” The other man said, “Who has God not used that was willing?” The Lord used them to stir my heart toward letting go and letting God have His way.

The transition had its challenges, of course. Over the course of a week, our income was reduced by two-thirds as I moved into my first church as pastor. After 15 years in that church, I felt like I could reach more people if I was in full-time evangelism. I didn’t think I was going to be the next Billy Graham, but I thought the Lord was going to use me. Looking back, I see that all the money I had left was spent [trying] to stay in evangelism. That’s probably been the most important thing the Lord has done—teaching us to trust Him in every area of the ministry and finding out that He’s sufficient. So, The Country Church [in Marion, located about 30 miles northeast of San Antonio] is a result of failure on my part.

I grew up in Marion. I was lost—and I mean good and lost. This was the last place in the world I wanted to plant a church. But as my wife, Joan, and I prayed about it, we knew God wanted us to plant a church in Marion. So even though I’m still living down what took place before I was saved 60 years ago in some cases, the Lord is still blessing in spite of me.

"That’s probably been the most important thing the Lord has done—teaching us to trust Him in every area of the ministry and finding out that He’s sufficient."

The Country Church uses its 42,000-square-foot rodeo arena to host outreach events like its Harvest Festival. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Good, long tenures have taught me a couple of things. You have to establish a bond of trust. It takes a while for the people to trust you …. I think over the years, I’ve established trust that isn’t built overnight. It doesn’t matter how great the preacher is, it takes some time to build that up.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s not been a good time to leave my church. When things were difficult, I didn’t want to leave the church on that note, and so I weathered through it. When things were good, there’s no way in the world I wanted to leave. Either way, up or down, I have stayed.

And look what God has done here over the past 25 years! It’s really a small town, a little more than 1,000 people, but He’s provided for our church’s ministry: 80,000 square feet of buildings, 16 acres, a 42,000-square-foot covered arena, and no debt. [We spent] $250,000 to build a building to provide food and clothing to the poor … and our people support it. We buy groceries direct from a wholesaler and buy the bargains, and then we provide food and clothing to between 150 and 250 families in Guadalupe County. We reach a little over 100 people a year through the ministry. We also have counseling through The Attic, our benevolence ministry. It’s just a miracle. Maybe it sounds like a cliché, but everything here is a miracle. 

So, what’s my story? Well, every pastor ought to have a ministry verse or a ministry passage, and mine is 1 Corinthians 1:27: “That He’s taken the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” When people look at The Country Church, they can’t say it’s because of my superior education or this and that. They have to give the Lord the glory that He deserves.

What's your story?

Want to share a story of what God is doing in your life or your church? 

Share your story here

Lone Star Scoop • January 2024

SWBTS sees record number of Hispanic graduates

FORT WORTH  Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated a milestone in December when 124 of the 336 students who graduated at the fall commencement were Hispanic. The trend underscores Southwestern’s goal of becoming the premiere theological training institution for Hispanics worldwide. 

The historic number of Hispanic graduates was preceded by a celebration banquet the night before which gathered Hispanic leaders, many of whom are also students, from all over the country and world, including Puerto Rico, South America, Mexico, and Brazil.

“The work for the Spanish program is very important for the vision of the future at Southwestern,” Southwestern President David Dockery said to the students. “Southwestern is committed to you and we ask for you to renew your commitment to Southwestern. We want you to think of this seminary as your seminary … a place providing Spanish language education not only in Texas but across this country and around the world.”

— Clara Molina

Longview church breaks ground on Hope Road Counseling Center

LONGVIEW  Mobberly Baptist Church held a groundbreaking ceremony in December at the location where a building will house its Hope Road Counseling Center. 

The counseling center was established in October 2018 and operates out of office spaces in Longview and Marshall, according to its website. Its mission is to “provide gospel-centered professional therapeutic care for all of East Texas.” Hope Road currently offers counseling for individuals and couples, as well as premarital counseling and spiritual formation counseling.

A post on Mobberly’s Facebook page, which included photos of the groundbreaking ceremony, stated, “What a joy and honor it was to break ground on the new Hope Road Counseling Center! We are praying that God will continue to use this ministry as a place of healing and restoration.” 

— Texan staff

SBTC DR director praises work with Salvation Army

ARLINGTON A working model developed between Texas Salvation Army Disaster Services and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief is being evaluated for its national potential, said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director.  

“SBTC DR has long worked closely with the Texas division of the Salvation Army Disaster Services during mass feeding deployments,” Stice said. “Our teamwork has been so good because both organizations are faith-based. Our relationship is mutually complementary and supportive. The gospel first, that’s the big thing.”

Seamless, shared deployments between SBTC DR and Texas Salvation Army workers to Gonzales, La., and Fort Myers, Fla., caught the attention of other state Baptist DR teams and Salvation Army crews alike, Stice said, adding that a meeting in Arlington just before Thanksgiving 2023 with personnel from both organizations featured preliminary discussions of standard operating procedures should the teams mutually deploy.

— Jane Rodgers

Georgia Baptist leader Called to lead Sagemont

SUWANEE, Ga.  Georgia preacher Levi Skipper will be heading west to serve as lead pastor of a Texas megachurch. Sagemont Church, a Southern Baptist congregation with some 16,000 members in Houston, announced Dec. 10 that Skipper had been called as lead pastor. Skipper, with 17 years of experience as a senior pastor, has led the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s  church strengthening and evangelism teams since 2019. Skipper has been a regular speaker at evangelism conferences and revivals and has held numerous evangelistic crusades overseas. He also was instrumental in founding a theological school that has equipped more than 300 pastors in Ethiopia. Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. said Sagemont is getting one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most gifted preachers, a loving pastor, and a strong administrator. “His evangelistic zeal will lead Sagemont to new heights,” Hammond said. The Skippers have four children: Garrison, 20; Mattie, 18; Gavin, 16; and Marlee, 14. — Baptist Press

Jesus is writing your story

While I hope you read the Texan from cover to cover every time it hits your mailbox, there’s a particular story in this month’s issue I don’t want you to miss.

I won’t steal all its thunder here, but within these pages you’ll find an article about South Euless Baptist Church, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. It’s not a large church (most of our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches, in fact, are not), but this church has a huge heart for telling people about Jesus. Most Sundays after church, when many of us are hurrying home to watch football or racing to restaurants to beat the “church crowd,” a group of South Euless members rushes out to local parks and other locations to evangelize.

That fact alone, though encouraging, may not move the needle for you. But here’s what should: during one of those Sunday park visits last year, one of the church’s members–the pastor’s wife, as a matter of fact—shared the gospel with a homeless woman who decided to turn her life over to Christ on the spot. 

A few weeks later, that homeless woman died. 

So many thoughts ran through my mind when I first read this article: 

What would have happened had this church not been so committed to sharing the gospel?

"This magazine’s mandate in 2024 is the same: we’re going to continue to tell the stories of what God is doing in and through the lives of His people in SBTC churches."

What an impactful ministry this church is engaged in!

What a great God we serve, who would allow these two women to meet at the right place at the right time!

What a story. 

Days later, I was still thinking about the homeless woman. I found myself wanting to know more about her. I wondered about the circumstances that brought her to the park that day. I wondered if she had ever heard about Jesus before that moment. I wondered if she ever thought she’d escape the tormenting cycle of poverty that traps so many. 

Regardless of the answers to those questions, this I know: she’s never been better than she is today, living in the eternal and perfect presence of our God and Creator. 

From the time this woman opened her eyes at birth, Jesus was writing her story. That story included incredibly difficult chapters, but surely it included some good ones, too. At the same time, Jesus was writing the story of the pastor’s wife. I’d venture to say she will always remember the day God introduced her to that woman in the park. It will always be a significant point on the timeline of her life.

Jesus is writing your story today. You may be in the middle of one of those tough chapters, but He is still there, offering to guide you through it. You may be in the middle of season of celebration. You may be in a season of doubt, of wonder, of purpose. 

This magazine’s mandate in 2024 is the same: we’re going to continue to tell the stories of what God is doing in and through the lives of His people in SBTC churches. Throughout the year, you’ll find articles featuring people who are willing to share how Jesus is writing their story. 

As He writes your story, or as you reflect on some of your previous chapters that illustrate His goodness, we’d love to hear from you and share those stories with our readers. When we do that, we will not only encourage and equip one another, but we will shine a light on the One whose story the whole world needs to hear.

Happy New Year!