Discovery Questions (an overview)

Over the last month I have reviewed the eight questions which Final Command Ministries recommends people use to facilitate the Discovery process. I wanted you to have access to the rationale behind each one. Asking the same questions each week quickly equips every participant to facilitate. It is repeatable.

Movements come from new groups starting new groups. In some nations this multiplication is more than 30 generations deep (within 15 years). More than one million new followers of Jesus have come to faith through this reproducible process. They have simultaneously been equipped to reach others by the process used in reaching them!

Why would you want to change this?

While I was taught to never write a one sentence paragraph, I left that sentence all alone. It is there for emphasis. It is the question I sometimes ask people wanting permission to edit the questions.

“The questions get boring,” and “These people won’t obey the questions,” are the honest answers I get when my question is answered. Truth be told, this is a clear sign you are working with the wrong people, if you want to start a Movement. Working with other people doesn’t mean you are giving up on them, though.

Sometimes people are not ready to change. Paul turned to the Gentiles when the Jewish people rejected his message about Jesus. He reveals to us he did it “to provoke the Jews to jealousy.” Maybe the best way to get one group of people to change is find the willing nearby and help them change. The first group gets to witness the power of the Gospel. Maybe, just maybe, their hearts will change, too!

Question # 8: Serve?

“How can we help with one of the challenges shared earlier during Question # 2?” guides the group into meeting a need each week. It disciples them towards ministering to the challenges in the group, their families or their neighborhood.

Some DMM coaches make this question a follow-up to number 2, so they only have seven questions. I kept it separate and wanted all three of the obedience questions to come after the passage is explored. We need to hear from God before we go off doing things to make sure we are not operating in our own wisdom.

Often when groups are not family or friends they do not live near enough to each other to easily do this as a group. This makes Question 8 a bit challenging for many in the Global North. Some drop it. Others change it to praying for one of the challenges shared earlier in the Discovery Group time. My preference is we keep it as is and coach the group towards more creative ministry options.

I am writing this blog post on my phone while riding to Tallahassee, Florida. Debra (my wife) is driving at this moment. I am using my two thumbs to type it into the WordPress app. What if we used our phones to help with a challenge someone shared?

Often challenges deal with the need for encouragement. Can you encourage someone with a text message? What if you commit to send a favorite Bible promise to someone who is struggling with depression? Do you think that might bolster her spirits? What else could you do? What else could several people do for one of the group members?

Question # 7: Who?

“Who do you know who needs this message that you will tell this week?” is a powerful seed for multiplication. This is only true when Discovery Groups will name names and then share with those named.

Tragically, many self-identified Christians do not like answering this question. Even fewer follow through with sharing with the people who come to mind. If you are not getting new generations of Discovery Groups, you can be sure Question # 7 has been dropped or altered.

If your Christian group experiments with using a Discovery process pay special attention to their responses to this question. If they do not know any lost people who need to hear God’s Word, then they need to get out more (in person and/or online. They need to become active listeners. And they need to become better at intercession—pleading God’s promises for the people where they live, learn, work and play.

Who are the people who walk regularly in your neighborhood? Could you ask them to join in their walks? Get to know them. Talk about casual topics. Explore a meaningful topic. If they are comfortable with that shift, try a spiritual theme. If they say they are a believer, “already have a home church,” or signal they follow Jesus, then tell them you want to find lost people in the neighborhood. Ask if they will help. Invite them to join you in prayer walking while you exercise.

If they are not willing to talk about spiritual matters, then you need to begin praying that the Holy Spirit will produce and opening. Get their names. Mobilize others from your home church, small group and/or disciple making team to start praying for them. It is possible they are believers who have been wounded by other people at their last church, or they may not know Jesus at all. Keep walking. Keep developing a relationship and revisit the importance of spiritual matters.

Whenever someone is open to spiritual topics ask if he is interested in reading the Bible to see what God is really like. If she is willing to do that, then ask if she has family or friends who might be willing to join in, also. Start a new Discovery Group with this person and his family/friends. They will be prompted to share the passages they explore with others, too.

Searching for COWs

Over the next several weeks I plan to write a series of posts looking closely at each of the 8 questions we recommend be used in Discovery Groups. I often receive questions about changing the way the questions are phrased and/or significantly modifying them. Maybe it will help if I give more of the rationale for why they are what they are and some of the thinking which has gone into even the order of the questions.

Before we dive into looking at the eight questions, I want to mention one of our strategies at Final Command Ministries. We look for what Gary Jennings (one of my teammates) calls the Coalition of the Willing. Jacob Crawford, a DMM practitioner and catalytic partner in New Orleans mentioned how helpful it is to be “looking for the COWs.”

Whenever you do exposure training with new church leaders and/or ordinary believers, be intentional in looking for those who open up to you and the training without you having to “convince” them they need to take this new direction. Decades of experience reveal that trying to convince the unwilling is frustrating for them and a waste of your time. Doing such exposure trainings (where you are exposing groups of people to the Discovery process and how it fits into the DMM cycle) is a time for broadcast sowing. Tap into the curiosity which is available, but look for evidence of willingness. Do not insult those who are resistant, but recognize they do not yet qualify for more time or energy beyond praying for them if you already have a significant relationship with them.

David Watson used to describe Cityteam (the organization where he worked when he invited me to assist in some of his trainings) as a “pull me” organization rather than a “push you” one. He would do these week long trainings which focused on the Critical Elements of Multiplying Movements and then wait for the people who would reach out for more training and/or coaching. Even that was going to be contingent on finding out what efforts were being made to implement some elements. “What have you done since the training to respond to it?” was the kind of question he would ask.

Are you raising up intercessors? Are you practicing the Discovery Group strategy with your family or friends? Who are you sharing these concepts with who might become part of a Disciple Making team? Have you started making a list of lost people that you already know who you can have overt spiritual conversations with them? These and other questions like them are asked to assess a willingness to go beyond a mere intellectual exercise.

When you start exposing those who are already believers to Discovery, and they “don’t like it,” what does this reveal? They are not COWs. Stop trying to drag them into this. Leave them alone and find other people to share with you in the journey. Early exposure to Discovery becomes a way to gauge interest. Deal appropriately with the information this litmus test reveals.

Q&A: Should you lead in a prayer or song of worship in a DBS with unbelievers?

My conviction is worship should arise from faith. Calling unbelievers to participate in a prayer or song is presumptuous. We do disciple them toward these two activities by use of the first two questions we ask: “What good thing has happened this week?” Or it might be stated, “What are you thankful for which has happened this week?” Here they are becoming grateful as they are discovering God, the One who gives every good gift. The second question is, “What challenge are you, your family, or someone in your neighborhood facing?” Their answers to the second question informs me of things I will begin to privately intercede for in the participants’ lives. This sharing begins to disciple them toward interceding so when they come to faith in God, we will explicitly build those rhythms of singing praises and praying for one another.

Why would we feel the need to push for praying and praising prior to faith? That’s the question I urge you to ponder.

Many Christians act as though they assume faith can only arise in a context of a gathered church. Our conflation of evangelism and edification lies at the root of these thoughts and assumptions.

Discovery Bible Studies were not developed for those who are already believers. They were designed for those who have little or no Bible knowledge, but who are open to exploring what it says about spiritual themes and/or questions. Let’s stop allowing our preconceived ideas shape everything.

Q&A: Is DBS owned by anyone, denomination or para church organization?

No, the Discovery Bible Study process was developed by an international team focused on simple disciple making which can be easily replicated by brand new believers and even lost individuals who are “Persons of Peace” (Luke 10-12). No one person or group hold a copyright or trademark to DBS. There are multiple lists of questions that different groups have used, but each catalytic team needs to carefully evaluate the purpose behind the format which is utilized. I, John King, was part of that international team and I personally crafted the question list used by Final Command Ministries.

There are eight questions which drive the Discovery Groups we seek to see launched. Each question serves a distinct function for lost groups which are open to gathering to hear from and interact with the Bible and one another. We discourage changing the questions from week to week because a fundamental goal is to model an easily replicated study format. We know lost people who start new groups using the same questions. Changing them every week requires that each facilitator will have to have greater knowledge and reduce the likelihood of multiplication, thus I believe it is unwise.

While that international team settled on multiple Scripture sets, the same did not happen with the questions, so there is some diversity. The question that we all need to answer is, “What outcomes are we hoping to see?”

Q&A: Why is “pace and purity” so important in a Discovery Bible Study?

Pace, as we use it, refers to keeping answers brief enough that everyone answers every question every session. People here in the U.S. are particularly time conscious, so answering in sentences, rather than paragraphs, actually encourages more participation by more people. Purity refers to sticking with the passage being studied that session, or an occasional reference to a passage the group has Discovered previously. This practice of “purity” protects people who are less familiar with the Bible from feeling incompetent and giving up on hearing from God.

Seventy-five minutes is the ideal time frame here in the US. Request the group members to commit to ninety minutes and end it at 75 so everyone will be pleasantly surprised. They may hang around longer, but the first three to four sessions it is critical to complete the eight questions in 75 minutes every session.

When a Person of Peace connects you to her/his household, your goal is to equip their “inside leader” to facilitate the Discovery process ASAP. It is absolutely imperative that an ongoing coaching relationship be maintained on a weekly basis with this “inside leader” since he/she will be hearing these passages for the first time. This is where you explore the joys and challenges of the ongoing group since you may not be a personal participant. In the ideal situation this “inside leader” will begin facilitating no later than the fourth session.

As a group begins to find joy in hearing, trusting and obeying God’s Word, the great temptation will be to invite other family and friends to join this existing group. As noted in one of my recent posts (https://dmmcoach.com/2021/03/25/addition-vs-multiplication/), bringing new people into existing groups is one of the quickest ways to get addition results rather than multiplication. Encourage anyone who wants to invite a new person to the group to rather invite that person to identify a group of 3-4 family or friends who might like to be part of a new group. Offer to coach that person in starting this new group. Remember, your goal is to see people come to faith and become disciple makers. Do not forget that second part of the goal!

Starting new groups out of the relationships identified within the first group is one of the best ways to avoid a group growing so large it can no longer accomplish the deep sharing it grew out of originally. Multiplying groups safeguards the original group’s capacity for depth and combines the power of multiplication.

Q&A: Why Apply DBS to Church Settings?

Question: If the Discovery approach was developed for family and/or friendship groups of lost people who are spiritual seekers, why do people try to use it in churched settings like Sunday School or existing Small Groups?

Answer: This is a perceptive follow-up question to my last two posts. There may be numerous answers given, but I want to share just a few. Some church leaders have become convinced that something desperately needs to change. The challenges that the COVID-19 “shelter in place” orders created have shaken many with the realization that hosts of people sitting in pews on Sundays are not self-feeders. Rather, the typical sermon and Sunday School teaching formats “disciple” people towards passivity and expecting the “expert” Bible students to entertain us with some new and interesting knowledge or new and interesting way of hearing the “Old, Old Story.” These leaders have likely heard stories that hold out hope that “Discovery Groups are pandemic proof.”

I celebrate that kind of opening. I pray many more reach this place.

Others have read or heard about DBS and think it might be a solution to recurring problems. Maybe it will re-energize Sunday School programs by making it easier to train up teachers. Maybe it will re-energize small group ministries which already exist. These two motivations are often fraught with lots of challenges.

I will attempt to help coach folks who start at these places, but often feel great skepticism in my heart. Usually I am not skeptical about the motivation, but the likelihood of success. Many who are participating in these types of settings prove unwilling to make the changes which are required. The typical participants often reflect the different types of soil present in Jesus’ parable which we call the Parable of the Sower.

Q&A: What Cautions Do You have for Us?

Question: What cautions do you have for our church to make this as effective as possible?

Answer: Please note that the question addresses a very specific context. The 8 Question DBS approach was not developed with the typical church setting in mind (be sure to read my previous post which is linked below). Whether you are envisioning using Discovery in a Sunday School setting or a traditional small group hosted in a church member’s home, you are applying the format for a setting which is significantly different than the setting for which it was designed.

Applying Discovery to a Sunday School setting will have immediate challenges regarding time frame and typical seating arrangements. But there is a difference that is of greater significance, which is the expectation of those who will participate.

Most church goers have experienced a long and consistent process of being expected to learn new data more than applying that learning directly to their lives. Transitioning to an obedience-based form of lifestyle will require great love, patience, and perseverance. Role modelling coming up with good S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements and then following through with obeying them during the week will be the best way to call participants to make this challenging paradigm shift. The convener of this type of group must set a new tone by his/her consistent practice outside the class experience.

Let’s return to the issue of time frame. Typically groups of 4-5 people need at least 75 minutes to complete the DBS process and even then they will have to be quite intentional in being brief during their responses to each of the questions. Much like grade school children using their “best” stall tactics to prevent their teacher from getting to the quiz, many adults drag out their answers to the early sharing questions to avoid those which are designed to move to application via obedience, sharing and service.

Whenever possible, having the chairs in a room arranged in small circles with no more than five chairs in each circle increases the likelihood of success. Starting promptly on time and keeping the smaller groups moving briskly through the questions is critical. Early into this experience it will feel “rushed” to the majority of the participants, so you need to expect resistance, push-back and/or passive-aggressive behavior. You are asking people to change their norms and even the self-proclaimed “change champions” often dig in their heels. You likely will need to have a private conversation with the most vocal resisters and ask them to refrain from leading a mutiny.

Keeping the make-up of each small circle consistent is critical to building the trust required to get to the level of transparency needed to establish a rhythm of mutual accountability. Mixing up the groups is another way the passive-aggressive opponents seek to sabotage the process.

Creating smaller sub-groups within a typical “Small Group” setting will also be needed to reach the needed level of mutual accountability to see true application. Life transformation does not happen by knowledge acquisition alone. When we learn about God and discern ways to obey him, but disregard taking action, we actually begin to disciple disobedience. Discovery entails experiencing the joy of responsive obedience.

Remember Jesus’ warning about mixing “old” and “new” practices:

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:37-39)

Q&A: For Whom is DBS Effective?

Question: Does God use DBS in the U.S. as an effective tool for bringing unbelievers to trust in Jesus as Savior and also become an obedient disciple of Jesus, or is this tool best used for the latter only?

Answer: Here in the U.S. and Canada, we find that Discovery Groups work well with spiritually interested lost people and also with maturing newer believers.

The longer a person has been churched, typically the more resistant they are (as a general rule) to the Discovery Group format. One factor is the expectation that Discovery calls for obedience, sharing and ministry every week and then the group holds one another accountable for following through with actual practice. People who have become entrenched in knowledge transfer often find Discovery troublesome.

Question: Why is this resistance so common and can anything be done to reverse this?

We’ve done knowledge transfer for so long, that it seems normal. Groups typically need an intensive, focused time of DBS to retrain ourselves for a new normal. It is absolutely essential that any catalyst for making this paradigm shift must model it yourself for others to follow you. So last week’s “I will…” Statement creates perfect opportunity to share an update with the group by saying, “Here’s how it went this week….” If you will not consistently provide a S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statement and then follow through, why would you expect others to do so? Model the new behavior you want to see. Be accountable and follow through.