Jerry Ross

Soon, we will be on the other side of the greatest crisis the world has known in our lifetime – a pandemic that has stifled economies; shuttered schools, businesses, and churches; taken the lives of millions; and, though slowing, is by no means done. One of the side-effects of COVID relates to how COVID is clarifying the mission of the church. 

As church education leaders, our concerns primarily center on the impact COVID has made on our small group and discipleship ministries. Most of us lead churches that have, at least passively, embraced small groups as their primary strategy to reach, teach, and engage people on mission to serve and share Christ with the world. However, with the changes wrought by COVID, we are left to wonder not only what that world will look like, but to ponder the transformed appearance of the post-pandemic church itself. In this age of uncertainty, we can be assured that to remain true to our sacred calling and engaged with our secular culture, we must learn from this global tragedy and adjust to how ministry might be different in a post-pandemic world.

“In this age of uncertainty, we can be assured that to remain true to our sacred calling and engaged with our secular culture, we must learn from this global tragedy and adjust to how ministry might be different in a post-pandemic world.”

Quail Springs closed in-person worship and groups at the end of March 2020. Each day was like a hurricane blowing through our ministry lives. With no rhythm or routine, no precedent or plan, we could only react to the debris swirling unrelentingly about us. In the decision-making process, we did our homework, listened to the experts, and sought advice from others before making what we hoped were the best decisions. With cautious faith, the people followed, and only time will reveal the soundness of our judgment.

Early on, our ministry team observed how different people responded to the crisis – engagement, withdrawal, panic, excitement, disappearance, leadership, etc. A pattern emerged revealing that those who responded most favorably were typically those who had previously participated in one of our discipleship ministry relationships. This article will examine some of what we learned from those participants about our discipleship ministry and ways we are thinking differently about how we make disciples who are prepared to meet the ministry challenges and opportunities presented in the post-pandemic era.


Two months into COVID, something happened. Small bands of our people were found to be meeting off campus, praying and studying together, doing ministry, and serving others in their community. At first, we thought they were Connect Groups (Sunday School), but quickly discovered them to be discipleship groups. These D-groups had initially banded together outdoors for fellowship and prayer, but soon expanded to include providing meals, picking up medicine for shut-ins and sharing childcare duties for working moms. Why, when kept from meeting indoors, did they take the ministry outside? One leader explained, “Because we love Jesus and each other. And when we saw the need that we could meet – we knew we had to act!”

“Their example lit a fuse, inspiring others to act.”
Their example lit a fuse, inspiring others to act. Soon curbside volunteers teamed up to distribute sack lunches to hundreds of children whose school had been suspended due to COVID. Others prepared gift baskets with snacks and other items to be delivered to caregivers in COVID units at area hospitals. An ice storm that downed trees and limbs, causing extended power outages for many, provided another opportunity for groups to clean up yards and help the area elderly get things back in order. The church parking lot became a mobile COVID testing site. And when the city cancelled Trick or Treat, they approved a plan by our Children’s Team to provide a contact-free, drive thru candy giveaway event that put cavities in the mouths of more than 600 children. This is occurring all over central Oklahoma as groups of believers in discipleship relationships act out their faith and make an impact for Christ before a wondering world.

For many years, D-Groups have been a part of our ministry toolbox. Hundreds have been discipled, but it wasn’t until COVID shut the doors of the church that we saw the real value of D-Groups and the impact they have upon our people. We observed that those who had participated in D-Groups were quick to discover ways to engage in biblical community and community service during the pandemic, and they were also more likely to return to in-person worship and small groups at an earlier date.

Seeing this led ministry staff to commit time and resources to create more opportunities for people to engage in discipleship relationships. To further this goal, the 2021 church theme, A Time to Grow, was initiated. It is an 18-month emphasis on discipleship with each quarter presenting a set of spiritual disciplines to be mastered and opportunities offered to engage in studies and actions that cultivate or demonstrate a spiritual discipline. For support, videos featuring testimonies of people impacted by D-groups are shown regularly in worship services. A Discipleship Portal was created on the church webpage that informs and provides a digital application for joining in a discipleship relationship. Some adult Connect Groups have already begun providing same gender D-groups to group members. Additionally, quarterly Discipleship Information Meetings are offered to help people better understand what discipleship is, what D-groups are, what other discipleship relationships available, and how they can join one. The church has committed to developing or providing discipleship resources and opportunities in a way not previously known. It is as though Quail Springs has entered a discipleship revolution!

“Make a way, not excuses!” reads the small placard which sits atop the bookshelf behind the desk of Scott Sullivan, the Discipleship Catalyst at Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Those five words are a stern warning not to waste the opportunities we have each day to advance the Lord’s work in our world. As our churches and schedules reopen, we have an opportunity to jettison those things which rob our time and resources and to replace them with that which fulfills our mission. Jesus said, “Go in to all the world and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” It would have been easy for those D-groups to make excuses such as “we are in a pandemic”, but they found ways to gather and serve others – to be a light to their world.

What must we do to prepare our people to be effective followers of Christ when the next crisis arises?

Will our post-pandemic discipleship ministry be better than our pre-pandemic one?

How can you release your groups to shine the light of Christ in a world made dark by pandemic and sin?

A new era of ministry is before us; are we up to the challenge?

Let us make a way, not excuses!

Jerry Ross is the Minister of Education at Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, OK. He is also a long-time member of BACE and a current board member.