How to Implement a Discipleship Process for a Healthy Church

We are sent, on mission, to make disciples. It is for making more and stronger disciples that the church exists. So… what’s your process for making them?

There are two significant weaknesses common to struggling churches.

  • They’ve never discovered or clarified the biblical purposes for which they were founded.
  • They’ve never clarified or pursued a basic strategy for making disciples.

Healthy, purpose driven churches have made these two issues very core to their existence. They understand that they exist for the five purposes of worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. And they understand that discipleship happens best through an intentional process.

Particularly, there are five questions that must be answered by every church’s leadership about their discipleship strategy.

  1. How do we help the community around us become part of our crowd? This is the evangelistic mission of the church.
  2. How do we help the crowd that gathers on Sunday become a congregation? This is a matter of helping people discover membership in the body.
  3. How do we help the congregation remain committed to growing spiritually? This is discipleship – helping people grow in spiritual maturity to be more like Christ.
  4. How do we move committed members into the core to serve others? This is how we expand the ministry and help believers to invest their time, talent, and treasure.
  5. How do we help people glorify God in every aspect of their lives? This is the all-encompassing goal – the worship and magnification of God so that he is glorified in, around, and through us.

How would you answer those questions? We pastors tend to love preparing sermons and spending time with our people, but thinking about how our church will actually help people to experience transformation is often something we feel ill-prepared for.

This may be something you’ve wanted to tackle, but haven’t felt you’ve had the time or the know-how, so here are some ideas to jumpstart your creativity.

Get a picture of the goal.

What does a disciple look like? Even when you are one, it’s sometimes hard to put it into words. Hillvue Heights Church, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, believes every disciple should experience conversion, healing, and development. Willow Creek wants to help everyone become fully devoted followers of Christ.

So, what’s your end game? What kind of believers do you hope to produce? What knowledge, perspective, and skills do you want them to have after being a part of your church family for a few years?

Clarify the next steps.

Once you know what a mature disciple looks like, review your current ministry approach and list out the next steps you have made clearly available to people. For my church, Grace Hills, we’ve listed them this way:

Your church may have more or less steps. The important thing is that people with no previous background in church can know which next step to take and how to take it. Remove as many barriers as possible, especially the barrier of poor communication.

Outline your current process.

Sunday School isn’t a process, it’s a program. It might be a good program that fits into a process, but someone can attend Sunday School for decades and not actually be more spiritually mature. The same can be said of small groups and any number of other ministries. These are great for long term growth, but how do you know long term growth is actually happening? You need a process for measuring it.

Saddleback Church has done a great job of creating, implementing, and offering to the world their CLASS process, which offers a one-time class for each of the major movements. You can discover church membership, spiritual maturity, your shape for ministry, your mission in the world, and how to live a life fully devoted to worship. At the end of each class is a covenant and a certificate. This helps Saddleback be able to quantify and measure growth and maturity long term.

Eliminate clutter.

I’ve written previously about my philosophy concerning simplicity in our church structures. Just as a pathway through the woods grows over quickly with weeds and becomes obscured, our process for spiritual growth can easily get crowded out in the busyness of trying to do all things “church.”

Staying simple and lean will require you to fight against the natural tendency to do more. But more isn’t necessarily better. Starting more programs rarely produces more disciples. You may be thinking right now of something that needs to be eliminated from consuming energy in your church that could be better devoted to disciple-making.

Implement tools and resources.

In the west – particularly America – we are extremely well resourced. What this can lead to is a mentality in which we start with the resource instead of our end goal for disciples. Only after you’re confident about the purposes of your church and the process that needs to be implemented do you seek out the resources necessary to get the process going.

At Grace Hills, we are in the process of turning Saddleback’s CLASS material into six-week long small group studies so that, rather than attending a three- or four-hour seminar, people can grow in the context of community together.

What’s your next step? Maybe it’s time to brainstorm a little. Remember that our big mission is to glorify God in all the earth, which starts with making one more disciple by introducing someone to Jesus, connecting them to his family, helping them grow in grace and knowledge, and enabling them to embrace their ministry to others and mission in the world.

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About the Author

I'm Brandon. I'm the Lead Pastor of Grace Hills Church in Northwest Arkansas, which my wife, Angie, and I planted in January of 2012. I previously served as a Pastor at Saddleback Church and still manage Pastor Rick Warren's online, global ministry to pastors, Pastors.com. I also lead a blog about blogging, a blog about social media, and a blog about men's issues. And I've written a book - Rewired, which challenges the church to adopt social media to spread the good news about Jesus. I sometimes take on church website design projects and I coach pastors and leaders as well. I'd love to hear from you!

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