A discipleship band is a group of three to five people who read together, pray together, and meet together to become the love of God for one another and the world.
The quickest and easiest way to get started is to visit discipleshipbands.com and follow the breadcrumbs. You can also go to your smartphone’s respective app store, search for discipleship bands, download the app, and get on board. No fees. No ads. No sharing of your information with other businesses or organizations. We will do our best to inspire, encourage, and equip you from there.
To be clear, downloading the app doesn’t commit you to starting a discipleship band. It just gets you to the place from which a lot of good things can happen next. Give it a try. You can always graciously bow out later, but by giving it a try you will at least know about the incredible opportunity.
By now you may have decided to read on and learn more about this opportunity. That’s why we created this short field guide.
WHERE DID THIS PRACTICE OF BANDING COME FROM?
John Wesley was originally introduced to a form of band meetings by the Moravians in 1738. His meetings gathered a small number of people together and divided them by marital status and gender. Our desire is not to replicate his band meeting model exactly, but rather to find a new model to live out what was at the heart of the band meeting—namely, deeper discipleship in the context of strong relationships.
Wesley has an often quoted, but frequently misunderstood, statement: “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.” In other words, a holy life cannot be lived out alone, but only can be lived out in relationship to other Christians.
He encouraged members to use the band meeting as a place to pour out their hearts without reserve, especially “the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1). While he maintained that one could not be sanctified (or live a holy life) apart from faith through grace, he also knew that this didn’t mean a believer should simply sit passively and wait for this gift. Instead, he believed firmly that there were many practices God made available for his people to pursue holiness, whereby they could encounter the Holy Spirit. We are convinced we have the best chance at holiness within the context of a supportive community of believers. The band meetings had a very simple format back then—to meet once a week, to begin with song or prayer, then to each take turns sharing “freely and plainly the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt since our last meeting.” Following this, they would end in prayer, praying specifically for the state or situation of each person who shared. (See Kevin Watson and Scott Kisker’s book, The Band Meeting: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship in Transformational Community.) For Wesley, the purpose of the band meeting was summarized in James 5:16a: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
WHO IS A DISCIPLESHIP BAND FOR?
Anyone who desires to grow in love for God and neighbor. It is for those desiring to share life on a deeper level with a few others. It is for those who wish to share joys and burdens and pray and be prayed for. Most important, these groups are for ordinary, everyday people who face real life and want to journey with real people.
WHAT IF I AM NOT COMFORTABLE GOING THIS DEEP?
We recommend that you view the questions as an aid to your sharing time—it is not required that each person answer all the questions each time that you meet. For a season, the group could decide to just answer question one for the first month of meeting. Then add question two and five, and when you are ready, begin answering questions three and four. We find it usually requires someone in the group being willing to go first to be vulnerable which will open up the permission in the others to go there as well.
DO DISCIPLESHIP BANDS REQUIRE A LEADER?
Bands do not necessarily require a leader, but they do require that someone familiar with the process help facilitate the group off to a good start. We also tend to believe that it takes a disciple to make a disciple. A group will be stronger if it is being facilitated by someone who is well on their way to exemplifying characteristics of a disciple of Christ—namely a growing love for God, obedience to his Word, and love for people. Part of the appeal of being in a band is that it has a very simple format. Typically, there will be someone who helps initiate the group and gently facilitate the meetings, but these groups are ultimately centered on each person having the opportunity to share with the others in the group, therefore they do not really require an official leader. The simple answer is that these groups require a bit of planning and facilitation, but do not need an official leader. We are finding that offering training to a group of people wanting to start bands can be very beneficial. Use this guide in your training, model for them how a band meeting works, and answer any questions they have. As bands begin in your community have a point person who can answer questions that may arise from those facilitating.
WHO SHOULD I ASK TO BE IN A DISCIPLESHIP BAND WITH ME?
We consider this a matter that you should enter with some level of prayer and discernment. There may be people in your life who you already feel a sense of spiritual connection with. There may be friends whom you have known for some time who also have a desire to grow deeper in their faith. There also might be people whom you already have been encouraging toward deeper discipleship who come to mind. There might be someone whom a pastor or leader in your church would recommend joining you in this.
WHAT IF I AM ALREADY IN ANOTHER TYPE OF STUDY OR SMALL GROUP?
Our hope is that your band is complementary to other groups you are involved with. Likely, this group will be smaller than those other groups and with a different focal point. By the nature of being small, it gives greater opportunity for you to share about your life more personally. Discipleship bands are not intended to be a replacement for other types of groups. Some who are already in a larger group may choose to form bands from within that larger group. For example, we have heard of existing small groups which break off into bands from within the group to have band meetings (men with men/women with women). This can be an effective way to go deeper as a group and try out banding from within a small group structure.
HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD A DISCIPLESHIP BAND MEET TOGETHER?
We recommend finding a set time to meet weekly. If more than half the group can’t make it, just cancel for that week. We have found that on average if you plan to meet four times a month you will at least get two in.
ONCE FORMED, HOW LONG IS THE COMMITMENT OF BEING IN A DISCIPLESHIP BAND? People tend to be hesitant when we invite them into a commitment that seemingly has no ending or exit point. We recommend setting an initial trial period of four weeks. If after four weeks the group wishes to continue they can re-up and commit to meeting together in their band for at least three more months. This should be enough time to establish some rhythms and get a sense for whether the group is a good fit. At the four-month mark, we encourage an open and honest conversation asking how it’s going. Some may wish to start another band with other persons after this experience. Others may decide this is not working for them at this time. Groups with the most success will adjust as necessary and find patterns that work for the group, and with this our hope is that people will discover groups they can meet with for years and years to come.
ARE DISCIPLESHIP BANDS SUPPOSED TO BE SAME GENDER?
We recommend bands be single gender in order to increase the possibility of sharing with openness and honesty. While we strongly support the practice of mixed gender mentoring relationships, this is not the vision of banding. In our experience mixed gender bands can lead to under-sharing on the one hand, and over-bonding on the other; both of which can distract from the essential purpose of banding.
WHAT IF I AM NOT COMFORTABLE SHARING PERSONALLY IN FRONT OF OTHERS?
For some, the invitation to take fifteen minutes and share about yourself with others sounds like your worst nightmare. You may choose to share less on any given week and this will be fine. Perhaps, if you feel you have nothing to share, you may simply take a pass or just ask to have people pray for you. This is okay as well.
WHY USE THE DISCIPLESHIP BANDS ONLINE PLATFORM OR APP?
We created the discipleship bands online platform recognizing that our current culture of busyness can often have a negative effect on our spiritual growth—but it can also be harnessed for good. Therefore, our hope is that the online platform can be a tool to help facilitate more relational connection with one another, while also delivering discipleship content within the context of real relationship. The online platform is not intended to be a replacement for live person-to-person connection, but rather to help facilitate continued relational growth between meeting times. It also delivers content in short snippets each day, which helps individuals develop a daily pattern of spiritual reading and reflection, rather than only a weekly, biweekly, or monthly rhythm revolving around when a group might meet in person.
MUST A DISCIPLESHIP BAND MEETING BE FACE-TO-FACE?
The key is not so much face-to-face as it is person-to-person. Face-to-face is, of course, the gold standard. However, we know of many bands who meet by phone or video conference each week with great success. With the complexity of scheduling in our current society, we also see bands taking hybrid approaches. They may determine from week to week what can work, in-person, video conference, or phone call. Still other bands who meet by phone each week have developed rhythms of an annual or bi-annual in-person retreat together. Be flexible and innovative while staying true to the spirit and purpose of banding.
HOW LONG SHOULD A BAND MEETING LAST?
The length of the meeting will depend on how many people are in your band. We suggest a minimum twenty minutes for each person in the group. For example, a group with three participants would be about one hour.
Are you interested in learning more about discipleship bands? Get the booklet, Discipleship Bands: A Practical Field Guide from our store here. It is a short guide that can help any group of Christians launch a band meeting. If you would like a more complete overview of this practice, including learning about its history, explore The Band Meeting: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship in Transforming Community by Kevin Watson and Scott Kisker from our store here.