What many churches call discipleship, or disciple-making is a far cry from what Jesus had in mind when He gave us the Great Commission. What you are doing may be the very reason your church is struggling when it comes to reaching non-Christians with the gospel.
I work with dozens of churches each year, helping them align their strategies and programming with their disciple-making results (measures). My observation is that most churches have three core components when it comes to their strategy. Most often, it consists of 1) a gathering where worship takes place, 2) groups where people connect and study the Bible, and 3) a place of service in the church. It may look like some variation of the drawing below.
This model most often assumes that people find their way into our gatherings, and the rest will take care of itself. The challenge to this assumption is that in today’s culture that people are no longer finding us. We have reached everyone like us or who is wants to be like us. If we are frank about our situation, if we are experiencing growth at all, it is usually the result of doing things better than the churches around us and reaching their attenders and members. In essence, we are growing at the expense of the churches around us, with little or no actual kingdom growth.
Think about it for a moment. We encourage disciples to gather for Christian worship on the weekends and then gather with a smaller group of Christian in our homes during the week for Bible Study. You may be wondering what’s wrong with this? Well, I’m glad you asked. Jesus didn’t save us to spend our lives in a holy huddle. The very commission he gave us begins with an imperative to “go.”
For Jesus, there was no separation in evangelism and disciple-making. Evangelism is simply the first part of a holistic process we refer to as disciple-making. Whenever I think of disciple-making, I process it through our pipeline that includes: pre-disciples, new-disciples, growing, disciples, multiplying disciples, and catalytic disciples. A healthy disciple-making culture will have both pre and new-disciples flowing through it.
A more open system for disciple-making might look like the one I use when working with leaders or catalytic disciples who are interested in catalyzing disciple-making movements.
This is what we call a strategy map, and it consists of five components. Here’s a super quick overview. I will save a fuller discussion for future writings.
Enter the Field
Jesus calls us to enter the fields that are already "white unto harvest". We must be intentional about equipping disciples at every level of our pipeline to enter the harvest field. This may require a rethinking of how we relate to people where we live, work, and play.
Plant the Gospel
We plant the gospel by proclaiming the good news that in Christ, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves in that He redeemed us, He is renewing us, and He is ultimately going to restore all of creation. We plant the gospel by telling our story and telling His story of redemption. While the gospel may be demonstrated non-verbally through our actions, be not mistaken, the gospel is verbal. The gospel is a good news announcement that must be proclaimed.
Once someone is open to the gospel, disciple-making begins. I was reminded the other day of a young man I disciple for two-years before he became a Christian. I did this by engaging in a relationship with him, having an honest dialogue where I answered his question, and introduce him to my broader Christian community. My disciple-making efforts consisted of exposing him to Gospel Truth, Gospel Community, and Gospel Mission. We did life-on-life, life-in-community, and life-on-mission together.
Form the Church
Once you begin making disciples, you can then form new communities or new churches around those disciples. When I first started this journey of church planting, I thought I needed to form a church and then go make disciples. What I have discovered in the post-church era is we have to make disciples and then form the church around those disciples.
The final part of our strategy is to reproduce. We reproduce other disciples, groups, churches, ministries, and networks. However, it’s important to note that reproduction begins in the pre-disciple phase. If we meet someone open to the gospel, then we can ask that person if he has family or friends that might be open to the gospel. When they do, we can encourage them to invite us into their network, and when this happens, they are learning to reproduce from day one.
Now let me ask you a question: Which one of these approaches to church is going to allow us to make disciples of people far from God? Hopefully, both, but certainly the open system, is going to be more effective in today’s context.
Let's face it; you don't have to have a disciple-making pipeline to make disciples. I would say that very few churches have an intentional pipeline. At the same time, there may be some benefits that you might want to consider when it comes to a disciple-making pipeline.
Let's start by looking at what is a disciple-making pipeline? A disciple-making pipeline is a structure for identifying and moving disciples from one level of development to the next. Our goal in developing and implementing a disciple-making pipeline is more and better disciples. We encourage churches to develop their unique disciple-making pipeline. The table below represents a generic disciple-making pipeline for beginning our conversation and for the development of your own disciple-making pipeline.
The benefits of an intentional disciple-making pipeline are numerous. Here are a few:
1. It depicts a clear pathway for growth. I can remember being a brand follower of Christ, thinking I want to be a good citizen. I had no clue what it meant to be a disciple or that as a disciple, I needed to grow. Imagine having a clear pathway with clearly delineated measures or competencies at each level of discipleship. Regardless of how you program around a pipeline, just having one would benefit any church serious about making disciples.
2. It allows you as a church to evaluate your disciple-making effectiveness. Once you develop your own disciple-making pipeline based on your disciple-making dream, you have a built-in tool for assessing your effectiveness. For example, if you don't have any pre-disciples, it is a good indication that something is off about your overall disciple-making culture. The same could be true of any level of your pipeline where you may have a deficiency. A healthy disciple-making culture will have disciples at every level of the pipeline.
3. It integrates both evangelism and disciple-making. A common mistake that churches make is separating evangelism and disciple-making, but for Jesus evangelism was always a critical part of His disciple-making. His disciple-making always began with pre-disciples. Creating a disciple-making pipeline should always begin with pre-disciples.
4. It encourages the disciple-maker to focus on his/her area of greatest strength. We all have different passions and giftedness. I may have a passion for working with pre-disciples, while you may be gifted at working with multiplying disciples. Having a disciple-making pipeline gives us multiple areas and places to plug into the disciple-making process as a disciple-maker.
To learn more about a disciple-making pipeline make plans to join us for our next webinar in our Planting the Gospel Webinar Series, September 24 at 11 AM. Our special guest will be David Rogers, Pastor of Crosspointe Church in Valdosta, GA. You will want to hear how David planted and grew a church of 2000 in a rural Georgia community by maximizing his very own disciple-making pipeline.
It is my privilege to have Pastor Ken Adams from Crossroad Church in Newnan, GA joining me on my next Webinar scheduled for August 20th at 11AM EDT. Ken and I go way back to our very first church plant. I was serving as a Church Planting Missionary in an area just south of Atlanta. My role was to catalyze a movement of church plants. I did this by using my catalytic gifts to start churches, and at other times, I came along other church planters and helped them as they started. Crossroad Church was my very first church start. I spent about a year doing the many tasks required to prepare for a church plant, and we launched weekly worship service in an elementary school on March 26, 1989, with 178 people in attendance. After several months, we had a solid core of people, and I handed it off to Ken Adams, who became their first and only pastor. I include this image as visual proof. At the time, we were on the cutting edge of church planting complete with overhead transparencies, a six-channel soundboard, and a guitar-playing worship leader. I had a budget of $10,000 to launch the church, which was unheard of, and I spent $6,000 of it.
Pastor Ken showed up early in the summer of 1989 and has been making disciples ever since. What started in an elementary school has become a disciple-making movement. One of the critical factors leading to this is that Ken is a disciple-making pastor. If you want a disciple-making church, you must become a disciple-making pastor. Recently Ken was speaking at a pastor event where he asked the pastors how many of them had been discipled by someone. The majority of those in the room had not. Maybe you can relate and want to join us in this webinar where we will give you practical steps for being discipled and catalyze a movement of disciple-makers.
Wow! I just returned from Cuba where I was working with a group of church planting leaders where I was training them to catalyze their disciple-making, church planting movement. I must confess I always receive so much more than I have to offer. This particular church planting network started in 2004 and now consists of 300 churches and missions with a vision of planting another 200 over the next two years. This is what we call exponential multiplication.
One of the lessons I walked away with is if you don’t have disciple-making values you are not going to have a disciple-making movement. God used this specific trip to solidify PTG’s disciple-making values and I can’t wait to share them with you.
I have been saying that the western church is perfectly designed to get the results we are getting, religious consumers. I am more convinced than ever that we need a new operational system that includes values that shape our culture into a disciple-making culture. It is my observation that many of our popular values found in our churches actually work against the very mission that Jesus left us.
Let me challenge you to join our free webinar on April 17, at 2PM EDT. Once again, I want you to send me your existing values where I can choose one to review and improve on our webinar. My promise is I won’t be brutal, but my intent is to edify all. You don’t want to miss this webinar it could be the difference between more and better religious consumers and more and better disciples. If I don’t use your values my offer stands I will be more than glad to do a phone call to review and help align your values with your disciple-making vision.
I want to respond to a frequent question. “What is a good disciple-making mission”? While I appreciate and even understand the question, a better question is “What is our disciple-making mission”? The best disciple-making mission is always going to be your unique disciple-making mission.
Every church is unique! At the same time, it is true that our bias is that the big “C” Church has one and only one mission, and it is always a disciple-making mission. A good mission is our always our great permission with the Great Commission. Here at Auxano, we believe that “God is up to something cosmically significant and locally specific” in our church. I will say when taken out of your unique context most mission statements come up lacking.
In developing a mission statement, we begin by taking a deep dive into process work around a specific church’s identity. We want to look at the unique people, unique place, and the unique passion of the church and specifically where all three of these intersect. It’s after we do this in-depth process dive into your identity that you are prepared to begin discovering that unique mission and its articulation.
The challenge so often is we fail to have the capacity for this kind of deep processing work. There are many reasons for this, but three common “thinkholes” that keep us from it includes what we call the ministry treadmill (too busy), competency trap (to smart), and the denominational rut (too stuck).
Also, any articulation of mission or vision language should always pass the “5 C’s Test”. You can use this test to go ahead and evaluate your current mission. The Five C’s are: is it clear, compelling, concise, contextual, and catalytic.
Take a moment and evaluate your mission statement on a scale of 1-5 using the C’s. How did you do? It’s vital that you did well. Your mission is what we call the answer to question zero. Question zero is “What are we doing?” If you get this question, wrong everything is going to be wrong.
I’ve got so much I want you to know, but limited time and space to communicate it. However, there is one final thing I will add; a mission is always going to be spread by people, not paper. Therefore it is critical that you build a team and go on a profound collaborative journey that at the end of the day taps into the collaborative genius of your leaders.
David Putman is the founder of Planting the Gospel and a Senior Lead Navigator with Auxano the category leader in vision clarity. When David isn't writing or consulting he enjoys staying fit and competing at Crossfit.