DISCLAIMER: Kenny & Elle Campbell, Grow Curriculum, and Stuff You Can Use are in no way affiliated with Orange or XP3.

Last week at The Orange Conference, I got the chance to co-lead a breakout with my friend Kenny Conley! Kenny is the NextGen Pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, TX and he’s really great and super smart. Also tall.

Together we taught a breakout called Concert, Classroom or Circle: The Practical Steps for Transitioning to a Lead Small Culture. Here’s a brief summary and an outline of what we talked about.


The Practical Steps for Transitioning to a Lead Small Culture

SUMMARY: We all need to answer this question: “What is the best way to disciple the next generation in our churches today?” Traditionally, churches have relied on three models to answer that question: we’ve labeled them concerts, classrooms, and circles. We believe circles (small groups) should be our answer to discipleship. In this breakout, we talked about the characteristics of the three models, shared the practical steps for transitioning to a Lead Small Culture (a culture where small groups are the answer for discipleship), and provided the attendees a tool to assess their ministries throughout the transition.


How do we best disciple the next generation in our churches today? We believe the answer is small groups. 


THE CHARACTERISTICS: Engaging presentation. Draws a crowd. Great production. Strong on-stage personalities. A “cooler” version of adult church.

THE APPEAL: It’s the fastest way to communicate to the most kids. It requires relatively few volunteers. Its success is typically easy to measure and manage.

THE LIMITATIONS: When it ends, kids leave with no connection except to the experience. It has a lot of competition outside the church. Its influence is limited to the capacity of the personality on stage.

We are not suggesting a concert model is wrong, we are just saying it is not enough. You will never disciple kids in a crowd. 


THE CHARACTERISTICS: Most often exists as “Sunday school.” Primarily designed to teach kids the Bible. Classes for every age group. Kids arranged in classrooms. Curriculum taught the Bible systematically. Teachers presented a weekly lesson.

THE APPEAL: A lot of people owe their faith to their experience in Sunday school. It educated Christians well on the foundations of faith and the contents of the Bible.

THE LIMITATIONS: A shift is happening. Kids are leaving the church in record numbers, and Christians are realizing that educating Christians is not the same thing as making disciples. 

We are not suggesting a classroom model is wrong or that it never worked. We are saying we believe there are better models to disciple kids in today’s culture. You don’t teach kids to be disciples, you lead them to be disciples. So maybe kids need more leaders, not more lessons. 


Before a kid can wrestle with abstract concepts like faith or the existence of God, they need to anchor their faith to something solid. They need a PERSON and they need a PLACE.


In everyone’s story of faith, there are people who have shown up and become catalysts for their spiritual growth.

People can’t see God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. But people can see people who follow God. People can see the Church.

We think the best chance a kid may have to personally see God is to get a close-up look at people who follow God.

That’s why a church’s greatest asset in building faith in the next generation isn’t a building, program, or event. It’s people. Our best shot at discipling kids is through relationships.


Every church can create an environment that makes it easy for kids and teenagers to experience authentic relationships.

Ask this critical question: where do you want a kid to be? If they can only show up to one thing you do, if you only have one environment to influence their faith and character, what would that optimal environment be? Is it closer to a classroom, a concert, or a circle? (We, of course, think your answer to that question should be a circle.)

We believe leaders who connect with kids in a SMALL group over time have the potential to make a BIG impact on their faith. Because the best way to help kids know God is to connect them with someone who knows God and who give them a place to belong. 


So if you want to make the transition to small groups, there are a few steps you’ll need to take. We think, in general, it could take around two years for you to fully make the transition from where you are to where you want to go. Here’s what a timeline might look like…

STAGE ONE: Information (6 months)

1. DISCOVER. Read books. Learn from others. Network.
2. DEFINE AN ACTION PLAN. Be specific. What are your next steps?
3. COMMUNICATE. Consider who you’ll communicate to and how you’ll communicate. If you want your behaviors to chance, your language needs to change first (“classes” become “groups,” “teachers” become “leaders,” etc.)

STAGE TWO: Implementation (6 months to 1 year)

4. REORGANIZE. Your staff, your budget, your calendar, and your priorities should all shift to support small groups.
5. DEVELOP. Don’t just develop a plan – develop people. Get volunteers and families on the same page with you.
6. PROMOTE. Communicate the plan to the masses.
7. LAUNCH. Set a start date. Then start!

STAGE THREE: Improvement (6 months to forever)

You’ll never be done improving.

Creating a Lead Small Culture, a church where small groups are the answer, is harder, not easier. It’s often risky. It’s messy. And you’ll never be done. But it’s worth it. If we want to give kids the best shot we can possibly give them to build a lifelong authentic faith, then we need to give them SOMEONE and SOMEWHERE to belong.

The content of this breakout was inspired by the conclusion of our soon-to-be-released book, Creating a Lead Small Culture. If you’re in a place where you’re trying to transition your ministry to a small groups culture, I hope you’ll pick up the book to see how Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and I attempt to unpack this idea in more detail, along with tons of practical stories and examples from ministry leaders who have been there and done it.

If you believe small groups are the answer for discipleship, where are you in this transition process (Information, Implementation, or Improvement)? And what’s something you’ve learned along the way?