Jesus said he would build the church (Matthew 16:18). Our instruction as followers of Jesus is to make disciples. Focusing on growing the church does not guarantee we will produce disciples. However, when we focus on making disciples, we get a growing, healthy church. A disciple-making emphasis also cultivates a reproducing culture. This, in turn, fosters an environment that protects and provides for the new believers God brings to our churches.
Here’s the good news: it’s not as complicated as you think. And here are three simple goals to help your church make disciples.
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#1 Define your goal
So you’re ready to be a disciple-making church, the very thing Jesus commanded? Great! You first need to answer this most important question: What is a disciple? You can’t merely declare you’re going to make disciples; you have to define the result. Otherwise, how will you know you’ve made one?
So you’re ready to be a disciple-making church, the very thing Jesus commanded? Great! What is a disciple?
It’s challenging enough keeping your church focused on the priority of disciple-making, let alone transitioning a church towards that end. It’s highly probable that if I randomly selected ten people from your church and asked them to describe a disciple, I would get 8-10 different responses. That’s not helpful. Everyone needs to be on the same page so that we are all moving in one direction. [FYI, you would get the same unfortunate result at my church. But not for long! We are in the process of changing that.]
Tips on defining your goal
- Listen to God — Sounds simple. But I’m not talking about a momentary pause. Collectively, as a staff or as a church, take a season to listen. Ask God to lead you to define what a disciple knows, what he does, and how he lives. Your season might be a week, a month, or a year. Do not skip this step. One vital distinctive of Jesus followers is that we obey our leader. What is our leader Jesus saying to you and your church?
- Read your Bible — Another expected item, but also another we are quick to ignore. It’s easy to read books and blogs and listen to podcasts and prognosticators, but what does God’s word say about being a disciple and making them?
- Write in pencil — Wordsmith your ideas but don’t carve them in cement. Come up with your definition and let it marinate for a while. Let your description live and breathe and be willing to tweak and trim as needed.
#2 Cast vision for your goal
Once you’ve got a solid definition written in pencil, you’ve only just begun. Now comes the fun—and hard—part. Teach, re-teach, and teach again about the priority of making disciples. Do this over and over in a variety of settings and ways.
Casting vision will be fun as it will force you and your team (paid or volunteer) to think of creative ways to communicate Jesus’ command along with your church’s definition of a disciple.
But it will also be challenging because you will feel like you’re spending too much time saying the same thing. But you won’t be because vision leaks. You need to continue to fill the vision bucket.
Ideas on where and when to cast vision
- Teaching series — Kick-off with a 3-4 week teaching series on making disciples and defining a disciple, but don’t stop there. Bring it up in all of your future messages, too. Include reminders and examples of what a disciple looks like and how to live as one.
- Small group discussions — Put together discussion questions for your weekend messages that small groups can use to dive deeper into the weekend topic. Always include questions on how to apply the information as a disciple of Jesus and as a disciple-making church.
- Quarterly updates — There’s nothing magical about meeting quarterly—do it more often or less frequently, but do have regular gatherings where you can catch your breath and talk as a church family about how things are going. Use it as another vision casting opportunity. Have people share stories and give away items (shirts or magnets, for example) that reinforce your message.
One key caution
Evaluate every program according to your disciple-making definition, and whatever doesn’t fit should go. But DO NOT immediately cut programs. Discuss and pray behind closed doors, and consider ways to modify existing programs to fit your new goal. If it’s best to eliminate the program, do so. But give the leaders a timeline and explain to the church how these decisions connect with your church’s mission.
Celebrate what God did in those programs and acknowledge the hard work of the leaders. Ideally, the leaders will offer their support, but if not, continue to encourage and thank them. Look for opportunities for them to serve in new roles that are consistent with the vision.
#3 Remember your goal
Having a unifying definition of a disciple is hard work, but it will be a huge win. However, the definition is not your ultimate goal—making disciples is the goal. Everyone in your church and your community has a different level of spiritual interest. Therefore, it’s crucial to have disciple-making steps everyone can take. Have something for those exploring Jesus, something for new believers, something for growing believers, and something for seasoned believers.
You can’t merely declare you’re going to make disciples; you have to define the result. Otherwise, how will you know if you’ve made one?
Some disciple-making next step ideas.
For those exploring…
- Offer an Alpha course (video teaching with round table discussion on key questions people ask about God and the Bible)
- Develop a sponsor program (perfect for new or young believers; partner them with believers who are a few steps ahead to offer support and encouragement as they take first steps in the faith)
For those new in the faith…
- Encourage them to download an app that helps them get into the Bible (check out my Bottom Line Bible app—read one chapter of a Bible book for two days and follow that with reflection questions on the third day. Each Bible chapter summarized, with a devotional, and a media link. The excellent Bible (YouVersion) app offers an abundance of teaching options as well.)
- A Life Worth Exploring—terrific group study on the gospel of John. Encourages regular interaction in the Bible and teaches participants to reflect and journal responses to questions. Meet to discuss as a group. [Contact me for more info.]
For growing believers…
- 30-Day Disciple-making Journey—a free 30-day email journey to explore steps you can take as a disciple and disciple-maker. Receive an email for 30 days.
- Offer courses like Financial Peace, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and Emotionally Healthy Relationships. These courses bring Christ into the real world, equipping learners to manage money and relationships through the filter of God and the Bible.
- Small groups—Have opportunities for people to experience and develop biblical community through regular meetings for Bible study, prayer, food, and friendship.
For seasoned believers…
- Offer a “next step” study like Discipleship Essentials. We use this at our church and love it. There are plenty of other resources, but this study provides a healthy scope and sequence for a disciple and casts vision for effectively making disciples.
These are three simple goals to help your church make disciples, but they’re not the only ones. Depending on the disciple-making temperature of your church, these might be quick, easy steps that leave you longing for more. If so, contact me to discuss a coaching opportunity where I can customize a program for you and help you navigate potentially turbulent waters.
Some of you might struggle with these steps, but don’t give up. Keep going. You are working out new muscles, and just as your body will cry out in pain when you implement a new exercise program, so also your local body (the church) may make some noise, too.
NOTE: Click here to see a list of definitions that authors, churches, and ministries use to define disciple.
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
What is a next step you or your church can take? Or, what challenged you or encouraged you the most?