In our last blog, we talked about three reasons to develop a discipleship strategy in your church.
Reason one was…Jesus said so.
Reason two…It Works.
Reason three…It stops fall out by maturing your people.
Now let’s look at some practical helps to jump-start your discipleship ministry.
First, know that every discipleship strategy will look different for each church as you customize it to meet the unique needs of your particular setting. Here are some common handles to grab hold.
ONE… Someone must take ownership for discipleship. Whether it is the pastor, staff member, Discipleship Training leader, layperson, discipleship team, or any combination of these: someone with a heart and vision for discipleship must be identified, selected, and turned loose. It works best when the entire church leadership team understands the importance of discipleship. Pastor, staff and church leaders must be sold on the importance of this ministry. In most churches this will involve the pastor launching it and then building a discipleship team of people who continue and help people grow in their faith.
TWO… Discover and then utilize gifted people in your congregation. As a senior pastor and a former discipleship pastor, I found this process very exciting. It is a joy to see people find their place of service and start using their spiritual gift and for many people that place could be in your discipleship design. One common mistake we make in utilizing discipleship teachers is not allowing these leaders to become seasoned experts in their fields of study. Example: At one church I had a retired college dean whose life was greatly impacted by the “Experiencing God” study. He was thrilled when I asked him to teach this life-changing course as part of our discipleship strategy. Not only did he say yes the first time of leading this study but he never quit! After teaching this course for several years he knew this material inside and out and improved with each group that he facilitated thus becoming an important part of our discipleship team. Think about developing leaders that become really passionate in their particular study and use them on a regular basis. Think of these leaders as “life coaches” who teach different components of a total discipleship plan like prayer or how to share your faith.
THREE…Package it well. How you promote something is half the battle of getting folks to participate! Use printed color brochures and public testimonies and announcements about how this study will impact lives. Always seek to answer these questions in advertising your discipleship program: What are the personal benefits? Is it really worth my investment of time? How will it change my life? What is the cost and expectations? We usually charged a nominal fee for the study materials because people take it more seriously if they’ve made an investment.
Discipleship today demands more creativity than ever in our advertising and programming! It is not enough to just say, “you ‘all come.”
FOUR…Be creative with your times. More and more churches are discovering that multiple days and times fit best when you consider the diverse work times and family schedules that most folks have. Discipleship groups can meet anytime, anywhere that the facilitator and group can get together. At one church I served we changed our discipleship schedule four times in three years to fit the needs of the congregation. Don’t be afraid to change the schedule if it is not working. Churches offer dual Sunday Schools, why not dual discipleship if needed. We’ve used multiple Sunday Schools for years with great success, why not multiple discipleship times? While I was on staff at First Norfolk we offered a 6:30 p.m. and a 7:30 p.m. track of study on Wednesdays. This also allows some groups to meet for two hours if their study so demands. This change brought in many more people into our discipleship ministry.
FIVE… Color outside the lines! Overcome the paradigm that all discipleship must be done inside the “church building” or as we have already said, just on Sunday or Wednesday nights. Use “retreat designs” to facilitate discipleship on the adult level. Whether these are “away” settings or intensive studies conducted at the church over a specified period of time. I’ve had success with 7 to 11 training (7 to 11 p.m. also called Midnight Madness) on Friday nights on various topics (evangelism, marriage enrichment, discovering your spiritual gifts, etc.). Some of these studies then continued weekly. Why not offer some discipleship studies during Sunday School time! As a pastor I saw this work as we allowed folks to move into discipleship studies on Sunday mornings too.
SIX… Provide for the entire family. Make sure that the whole family is provided for during these study times for adults. We concurrently offered children’s choir and mission programs during these times as well as activities for our youth. Granted, some of our courses fit more under the category of “helps” than discipleship but it still gets people moving in the right direction. Another serendipity we encountered is the fact that new people, often first time guests, attend discipleship opportunities! We’ve had people join our church who first came through the back door of a discipleship group or is that the front door? People will come if they know that they will be challenged to grow spiritually. Since growing in Christ never ends, offering an intentional discipleship strategy for folks in your church is of utmost importance.
Why not start now? There are folks in your church who are ready to disciple and be discipled. There are people who are ready to go deeper and be spiritually challenged. Someone must begin and since you are reading this blog, it could be you. The Lord can use you to be the catalyst to change your entire church. Come on… jump in and get discipleship jump started in your church.