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In a recent conversation with a pastor from another church, I was asked:

“Practically, how do you go about forming Life Transformation Groups in a small group that is used to meeting once a week?”

I actually get that question quite often, so I thought it would make a good topic for a post here.  Briefly, there are three things that will be helpful in launching LTGs from a more traditional small group.

Before you read below, you might want to brush up on Life Transformation Groups.

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Model LTG for the Whole Group

Most small groups have a regular gathering where they study the bible, fellowship, and pray.  As a leader wanting to implement LTGs, this is a great place to start!  Rather than immediately breaking people up into twos and threes, however, I think it is critically important to model what you want to see happen for the whole group.  Try modeling the three aspects of LTG in front of your entire community one evening:

  1. Hear and Obey – as a leader, pull out your journal where you have written your examination and application of God’s word for your life this week.  It’s important to show everyone how you have been reading and applying God’s word, so I encourage people to simply read straight from their REAP journal.
  2. Repent and Believe – as a leader, you will need to be vulnerable in front of your entire group and confess sin that you have struggled with.  It might be a good idea beforehand to share what you are going to share with someone else, so they can be prepared to model gospel-fluency in front of your group as well.  Alternatively, invite the entire group to minister the good news of Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection specifically into your sin.  Answer these questions: How did Jesus obey where you didn’t? How did Jesus specifically pay the penalty for that sin? What is true about your identity in Christ? What promises of God can help you fight that specific sin?
  3. Consider and Pray – finally, you can spend time sharing opportunities you may have, or people that you will be spending time with in the coming week with the group.  Ask a few of them to pray by name for those individuals, and that God would use you powerfully to declare and demonstrate the gospel!
Modeling LTG for the group will give them a clear picture of what it looks like to do this in twos and threes, as well as afford you as a leader the opportunity to set expectations for them.

Spend Six Weeks Practicing LTGs in Your Regular Gathering

Once you’ve modeled how to do an LTG, the next step is to practice it in your regular meeting time for a few weeks.  Six weeks is somewhat arbitrary, but it’s enough time for people to get comfortable with the format, and also practice it with a few different people.

The first thing you need to do is clearly cast vision for an expectation of individuals in your group being prepared to share something from what they read in the Scriptures.  Second is that you make sure that the LTG time doesn’t last more than an hour – try to stick to the 15 minutes for Hear and Obey, 30 minutes for Repent and Believe, and 15 minutes for Consider and Pray timeframe.

LTGs tend to fall into a couple ditches.  First, one of the three different parts becomes the dominant portion of your conversation all the time.  Most often, it happens in the “Repent and Believe” portion – people spend a lot of time talking about their sin and diagnosing all the circumstances, and it happens to the exclusion of the Word and Prayer.  

The second ditch is that LTG becomes a mechanical conversation that militantly marches through these different stages without really being a personal conversation.  Ensure that you cultivate flexibility, but maintain a sense of structure – remember LTGs are helping us be faithful as disciples, not a checkbox for discipleship.

In this six week period, I’d recommend rotating through different groups rather than trying to solidify people into a single group of two and three for two reasons:

  1. It reinforces the idea that you can be vulnerable with people in your struggles as a disciple of Jesus even if you don’t know them very well.
  2. It provides the opportunity for people to figure out who they will naturally want to spend time with, and will give a greater intrinsic motivation to launch an LTG that meets outside the regular group gathering time

Launch LTGs and Ask How They Are Going

Finally, after six weeks of practice inside the regular gathering time, encourage people to launch out.  It is critically important as a leader that you don’t “program” the launch, but rather invite the participants to figure it out on their own!  You want to create ownership of the LTG.  Most LTGs fail simply because the participants never really wanted to be in one in the first place.

Have the group members ask someone to commit to an LTG with them, and have the group members figure out a time and a place to meet.  Don’t do it for them!

Give the newly formed LTGs time to settle in and find a rhythm, then after a couple weeks ask your larger group how things are going in LTGs.  Keep bringing it up over time to reinforce the vision and hold people accountable to participating!

What have you found to be helpful in cultivating smaller discipleship groups?

Over the next few weeks, I’ve asked several members of our team at The Austin Stone to write about how missional communities integrate with some of their areas of ministry.  To start with, my friend (and former intern!) Scott Frazier wrote a series on Student Ministry and Missional Communities.  You can find more about our Student Ministry here.

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Student Ministry and Life Transformation Groups

The most powerful moments in our ministry that I can recall of the past year revolve around students learning to read the Bible, repent of sin, and pray for their lost friends. Many of my high school boys have started to read their Bible on a daily basis for the first time in their life. One even sends me pictures of his journal entries for accountability!

I’ve seen students repent of pornography addiction, cutting, eating disorders, and take steps towards healing through the power of the gospel. We’ve also seen our students pray for their friends, invite them to church and share the gospel with them. Powerful stuff.

If you’ve kept up with Todd’s blog you’ll see that we practice what we call Life Transformation Groups or LTG for short. You can get caught up on the practices of LTG within our church here.

Discipleship Communities

Within the student ministry we instituted a hybrid version of LTG that we call Discipleship Communities or D-Comms for short. We gather age and gender specific groups of 4 to 6 students with 2 student volunteer leaders. It doesn’t always play out that way, but it’s what we’re striving towards.

Just as in our LTG’s we emphasize three components.  

  • Hear and Obey – we want our students to learn to read the Bible for themselves. We use the REAP method of study which you can read about here (add link). Then we want our students to hold each other accountable to actually living out what they read!
  • Repent and Believe – we desire our students to identify their sin, confess and repent of their sin, and be healed of their sin. Then the student volunteer leader aides in a discussion on how the gospel speaks to that sin specifically. Hopefully as time passes our students learn how to speak the gospel to one another without the aide of the volunteer.
  • Consider and Pray – we want our students praying for their schools, their clubs/organizations, and individual names of other students within those spheres of influence. Then we want to encourage each other to think through opportunities to share the gospel in those environments.

BLESSing Others

Another crucial component in teaching our students to live on mission within our d-comms is to utilize the tool from Dave Ferguson called B.L.E.S.S. This gives our students simple and practical ways to live a life on mission.

The acronym stands for:

  • Begin with Prayer: Our students are doing this already within their d-comm.
  • Listen: We want our students listening to their friends so that they know their story.
  • Eat: We want our kids sharing meals with their non-believing friends either in their homes, out with larger groups, or through events.
  • Serve: We want our kids thinking and dreaming of ways to serve their friends.
  • Story: We want to hold our kids accountable to sharing the story of Jesus with their friends on a regular basis. We have found that this is a simple and reproducible way to teach our students how to live on mission.

The BLESS tool has been incredibly helpful and memorable for our students! How are you helping students be a disciple of Jesus?

Perhaps the single most frequently asked question I receive with respect to missional communities is “what do we do with our children?”.  For this next series, I’m going to focus on answering that question from multiple different angles:

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Kids and Life Transformation Groups

In the first post of the series, I talked about why you should involve your children, primarily from applied theology.  The rest of the posts will focus on the philosophy and practice of involving children.  Before diving into this next post, I’d highly recommend you read the LTG post for context.From the perspective of children, the LTG is probably the easiest to facilitate when it comes to thinking about child involvement.  The LTG is designed to be a place where we can gather as disciples, and hold one another accountable to obedience as a disciple.  They are single-gendered groups with two or three people, and last generally for an hour.  The most critical piece to making LTGs work is valuing them enough to commit to them every week.  I need accountability on a weekly basis to connecting with God, reflecting on my life, and participating in mission, and I would guess that you do to. I believe it communicates a lot to your children when you explain to them what you do in an LTG, as well as why you are committed to participating in one.  If you faithfully practice this, you will model well for your children that you must have some time and space in your calendar to study the Bible, continue to confess and repent of sin, and intentionally consider opportunities and pray by name for those who don’t know Jesus.  Like Jesus, it’s important that we model time alone and time with two or three as crucial to the submitted life.

How Does it Work?

The easiest solution for this is to alternate for a husband and a wife to take care of kids, or find particular portions of the day where child care is easiest.  I gather early in the morning with other men, and Olivia gathers either in the afternoon during nap time or occasionally after we’ve put the kids down to bed.  Bottom line, find a time in your schedule regularly where children are a little easier to accommodate, and then go for it!

A Final Word

In teaching my children to read and study the Bible, I am actually using a very similar framework for what we utilize in our REAP plan at The Austin Stone.  We have created kid-friendly Bible journals at The Stone, and you can see an example that my 6 year old completed here:

@gustbus's first REAP journal entry. @becca_larae would be proud! #ascc

A post shared by Todd Engstrom (@tengstrom) on

In helping my kids understand their sinfulness and what repentance and faith look like, I consistently try to preach the gospel in a way they will understand.  Lastly, as we are praying with them, we always ask them to consider one person by name who needs the love of Jesus.  As they grow older and are able to read on their own, I will start practicing LTG with my kids to model it well.  If the LTG does in fact have the core components of faithfully being an obedient disciple, then it should be transferable to our children with few modifications. In my experience, it’s a great way to regularly disciple your children!

What questions do you have about practicing LTGs with kids?

This series of posts provides an overview of each of the missional community practices we foster at The Austin Stone:

Life Transformation Groups – Gathering as Disciples

This leads us to the second place that we gather – as disciples in Life Transformation groups.

Again, we want to judge depth by obedience, not simply knowledge, so what does that look like? What would it look like to study the Bible for obedience, not just information growth?

Obedience, for us, is being serious about obeying God’s word personally.

Going deeper happens with individual accountability to being a disciple. We tried a bunch of names for these kind of gatherings, but they all sound weird.

Finally, we just decided we’d stick with life transformation groups, or LTGs for short. Neil Cole just unpacked them for us, and to be honest, he got it right!

An LTG is a smaller group of two or three believers of the same gender that commit to meeting outside of the group meeting time. This is the place to study the Bible deeply and to be known deeply by another.

There are three primary elements to this kind of group:

  • First, we want to Hear and Obey – we want to read God’s word every day, and be held accountable to what we need to DO in response
  • Second, we want to Repent and Believe – we want to confess and repent of our sin and disobedience. Second, we’re going to remind one another to believe the good news of Christ’s perfect life, his atoning death, and his resurrection.
  • Third, we want to Consider and Pray – we want to consider opportunities we have to share the gospel, and then pray by name individual people, not just generic groups.

The Advantages of an LTG

This weekly rhythm cultivates obedience as a disciple, and forms the backbone of missional community. It helps people go from being a consumer meeting a need to becoming a contributor to the life of a community.

Also, this kind of gathering is the basic tool of disciple-making. The beauty of an LTG is that you can do it with anybody! The LTG the basic tool to disciple a new follower of Jesus.

You can find the basic tool we use at The Austin Stone here. LTG Overview.pdf

What have you found to be effective in these kinds of groups?