7 Strategies for Making Disciples
Creating a customized discipleship pathway
In my last post, I shared five primary passages of Scripture that reinforce the command of Christ to “go and make disciples”. This is our primary mission as followers of Jesus. We gather to scatter. In his book Gaining by Losing, JD Greear writes,
“Without a mission, a church is not a church. It’s just a group of disobedient Christians hanging out”.
God has called every follower of Jesus to make disciples and churches need to develop a strategy for how they are equipping followers of Jesus for this all-important task. I have found after almost twenty years of ministry (whoa…feeling old) that most churches emphasize one of seven common strategies for making disciples. By the way, if you haven’t already subscribed to this biweekly email, you can do that by clicking here…and feel free to share this post with others.
Strategy #1: Discipleship as Preaching
This strategy places the primary responsibility for disciple making on the shoulders of the pastor. In these churches, everything revolves around the proclamation of the Word, and most churches in this camp offer expository sermons that unpack a passage of Scripture in an attempt to foster a love of the Bible in their congregation.
People in these churches are admonished to “invest and invite” in an attempt to expose others to the incredible teaching gifts of their pastor and for people to grow in their faith. In this strategy the pastor is the primary disciple maker as he or she encourages and equips people from the pulpit, equipping and mobilizing them for 30 minutes every Sunday.
Strategy #2: Discipleship as Classes
This strategy tries to meet the various needs in the church by offering a buffet-style option of great programming to meet the needs of the body and help people grow. In this model, the church might offer a long-term Sunday school class on the Book of Revelation or a short 6-week experience around marriage or finances. Churches might provide a wide variety of offerings: a study on the Gospel of Mark, Theology 101, parenting, Alpha, Financial Peace, and any other offering that is deemed important.
This strategy can often create what one author calls, “a caste system of teachers and consumers” but churches in this camp believe that if they can get the right set of classes lined up, people will grow, and eventually go out to disciple others.
Strategy #3: Discipleship as Small Groups
The small group movement emerged in the US as part of the larger church growth movement. There were facility challenges as churches grew larger, and also a need to help people find a smaller community of believers to connect with others. Small groups were often designed with those needs in mind and promoted as a place “where everybody knows your name”. They became a key strategy in closing the back door of the church.
Churches that employ the “discipleship as small groups” strategy often see their goal as getting people connected and in the process trying to help them grow spiritually. The assumption is often made that if people are in a small group they are being discipled.
Strategy #4: Discipleship as Training
In this strategy, the primary focus is to train disciple makers. Churches deploy and execute a simple system for making disciples that make disciples and then train and release those people into the church and wider community. The prayer is that this simple model would get into the water of the church and eventually ripple out into neighborhoods and communities.
This low-control method is often employed by smaller networks of microchurches but is also gaining traction with larger churches as well. The continual training and releasing of people can at times catch fire and yet without continual oversight, it can also flame out. In these churches the mantra is “disciple and train”, “disciple and train”.
Strategy #5: Discipleship as Organic
Organic discipleship emphasizes building relationships with people in everyday life. In this strategy, disciple making is caught rather than taught and the emphasis is often on “doing life together” in the neighborhood, the sports complex, coffee shops, or the marketplace. A high priority is placed on eating together, listening, and building relationships. This is a crockpot model of discipleship and churches that employ this strategy often find it difficult to measure.
The organic nature of the process can at times never evolve toward spiritual conversation, sharing the gospel, or talking about Jesus. In this strategy, it may take months before a person begins to share their faith and can feel a bit like a “bait and switch” approach that can leave friends puzzled when someone finally gets around to talking about Jesus.
Strategy #6: Discipleship as Scope and Sequence
The scope-and-sequence strategy is a simple method that uses a set curriculum to guide disciples through a series of modules or lessons. Churches that use this strategy often find or design a resource for people to use in their disciple-making efforts. There is a scope of information (6 sessions, 8 session, 12 sessions, etc) combined with a sequence in which people need to be taught. The church presents the strategy and trains people to “find their one” and they walk through the process with specific readings or practices that guide the pair. When the sessions end, the pair either jumps to another batch of curriculum or the process ends.
Strategy #7: Discipleship as Optional
This may not seem like a strategy but churches who are very evangelistic in nature often view the Great Commission as a command inviting us to “go” and “baptize” and neglecting the phrase “teach them to obey ”. This approach defines disciple making as an add on to the core gospel message. “After all”, they say, “Jesus came to seek and to save the lost”. While many of these churches often employ some variation of small groups, it is typically for the purpose of connection and not disciple making. These churches are often known for building their ministry around a highly evangelistic weekend service that produces many baptisms. The “discipleship as optional” strategy is more prevalent that you might think.
Creating a Discipleship Pathway
Individually, each of these strategies is lacking in some way. Is biblical preaching a good thing? Yes, but there must be more. Are small groups of 10-12 important for community and connection? Of course, but people also need a few people they can confess their struggles to and find deeper connection. Is it important to train disciple makers with simple and effective strategies for mission? Yes, but they need to be connected to a broader family of believers.
No doubt, your church tries to employ a number of these strategies at the same time. Perhaps your church emphasizes discipleship as preaching (Strategy #1), discipleship as classes (Strategy #2) and discipleship as scope and sequence (Strategy # 6).
“This is the challenge for most churches. How do you determine which of these strategies to include in a customized discipleship pathway?”
Daniel Im in his book No Silver Bullets writes, “A discipleship pathway is a way of organizing all the discipleship-related systems in your church into one broader system”. What if you could create a customized discipleship pathway for your church that was contextual, integrated, and clear? We have adopted the following definition when it comes to building a discipleship pathway.
“A discipleship pathway is a strategic, comprehensive, and clear process for making disciples who live on mission.”
Over the last 18 months Groundswell has had the privilege of walking with hundreds of pastors and leaders through a six-session cohort we have developed called Building a Discipleship Pathway. We’ve seen incredible fruit from this process. By customizing their discipleship pathway, pastors and leaders find clarity and confidence to move people through a guided process that makes sense in their context.
Our mission at Groundswell is to “mobilize a growing wave of disciple makers and pioneer leaders” and we want to help you understand the key components of any discipleship pathway. If making disciples is the mission of the church, we need to get laser-focused on how we are fulfilling that Great Commission.
In a future post, we will talk about “X’s and O’s” in developing a pathway for your church. In the meantime, consider the 7 strategies listed above and how you can become more intentional in the process.