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)