Why a Church Should Adopt an Intentional Disciple-Making Pathway

Programs are NOT Producing

Every church should purpose to make disciples of Jesus Christ in ongoing relational environments that seek spiritual maturity and multiplication. Many churches in our lifetime have depended on programs to reach people, retain people, and make spiritually mature disciple makers. This plan is not working. Dr. David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, shares that, in 2000, 45 percent of church attenders were considered practicing Christians and in 2020 only 25 percent are considered practicing Christians.

This dependency on programs seems to be building cultural Christians who know how to exegete a passage, explain the significance of biblical events, and even develop a healthy budget for their home. But, programs do not move people toward spiritual maturity and to multiply their experience. Programs CAN inspire, connect, gain interest, and build knowledge. Only disciples can make disciples through ongoing relational environments.

LifeWay and the North American Mission Board recently enlisted a Disciple Making Task Force. As chair of that task force, Dr. Robby Gallaty, pastor of Longhollow Baptist Church, reported that Southern Baptist churches have baptized 7.1 million people in the past 20 years with ZERO increase in attendance. Just pause and let that sink in. The task force made three recommendations based on their findings to create a better result:

  • Increase bible engagement
  • Connect salvation decisions with small group engagement
  • Emphasize groups multiplication

I am super excited to see a growing number of people and organizations with established ministry in Georgia beginning to think beyond borders when it comes to church health and disciple making: replicate.org, livingthedlife.com, thebonhoefferproject.com, impactdisciples.com, reallifeministries.com, and discipleship.org , just to name a few.

A Culture to Create

My wife is very good at growing plants and arranging flowers. She knows that you cannot grow healthy plants in toxic soil. The local church has been given the task to make disciple makers of all nations. For the body of Christ to complete this task, we need vibrant churches growing disciple makers in healthy soil.

Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The culture in a local church is the soil through which disciples will grow or wither. Strong leaders know that the only way to get the results you seek is to intentionally build the culture you need. Remarkably, a growing number of churches, large and small, are establishing a Discovery or New Member class to begin building the culture they desire. For some this is a group gathering in person or online. For other smaller churches, this investment may happen in one-on-one meetings with the pastor. Our discipleship team’s moto is “do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” A few benefits of a Discovery or New Member class these churches are experiencing:

  • Allows the prospect AND the church leader to ask questions
  • Clearly giving the gospel upfront avoids major problems later

(We baptized someone from our new member class seven out of the last 12 months that I served at First Baptist Church Haughton, Louisiana. These were individuals who thought they were Christians, coming to join our church, and could have stepped into leadership roles!!)

  • Helps create the correct culture of disciple making
  • Provides a relational connection to a group and with the pastor
  • Teach what a biblical disciple looks like
  • Share expectations for church membership(one of top reasons people leave the church)

Adopting a Balanced Approach

In this Christian Index article, I show how Jesus emphasized disciple making through a multi-layered and balanced strategy. Some churches currently emphasize the large group (big church) gathering while others promote the small group model as the priority. Should a person have to choose or is there a way God can use the large group experience and the small group connection?

YES! The truth is Jesus used large group gatherings, small groups, and even smaller groups to make disciples. Many churches across America are experiencing great success by implementing a balanced strategy that emphasizes multiple layers of engagement (large group, small group, smaller group, and one-on-one devotion) that move people toward Christlikeness and multiplication. Four questions every leader must answer:

  • Do I have an intentional pathway to make disciples of Jesus Christ?
  • Is our pathway simple enough for our members to remember?
  • Is our pathway attainable enough for your members to live it out?
  • Is our pathway memorable enough for our people to share it?

Increasing Gospel Impact

I have found two things to be true of all living organisms. They grow and they reproduce. When disciples make disciples who increasingly seek to multiply that experience, then gospel impact grows exponentially. We will never reach the world by addition but by multiplication. Churches with mature disciples who are reproducing tend to be healthier. What does this health look like? Community engagement will be stronger. Missional involvement will broaden. Generosity will emerge as the norm. Witnessing will shift from “have-to” to “get-to.” Generational discipleship will be evident.

The goal of our Church Strengthening team here at Georgia Baptist Mission Board is to, well, strengthen churches. We want to help churches reach people, retain people, move them to spiritual maturity which leads them to multiply the experience. The best and most long-lasting way for us to maximize our efforts is to develop disciple making churches with a SMART disciple making strategy or pathway.

  • Strategic – a biblical and intentional pathway with one focus-to make disciple makers.
  • Memorable – a simple pathway that is easy to understand and share
  • Attainable – a process that finds the sweet spot between a God-sized task and a realistic goal.
  • Reproducible – any biblical disciple making strategy must emphasize reproduction
  • Transformational – the goal of disciple making is Christ-honoring life change that leads to world-impacting disciple makers.

Is your church growing? Are you seeing disciples multiply by making other disciples? Do you have an intentional plan to make disciple makers in your church? Our discipleship team can help! For more information go to gabaptist.org/discipleship and contact the discipleship consultant in your region.

Published January 13, 2021