In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number six:

TIP 6. Effective Discipleship.

What’s your discipleship strategy?

Hopefully you’re not stumped by the question. If so, you’ll definitely want to read on!

This question is one of a few that must be answered by every church. It’s one of the primary reasons we EXIST as a church. It goes back to that whole “go and make disciples” bit from Jesus!

Within the context of this blog series, we would say evangelism brings people into the church, but discipleship is what grows their faith. Beyond spiritual growth, however, discipleship plays a big part in keeping people at your church (i.e., shutting the back door).

Lack of effective discipleship is one of the primary reasons people church hop. We hear excuses like, “I’m not being fed,” which is often a cop-out, but behind that excuse is often a discipleship system issue.

At Watermarke, we certainly have not cornered the market on discipleship. But, we have learned a few things along the way. If nothing else, we DO have a pretty clear strategy. With that in mind, here are some elements that should be present in any discipleship strategy:

1. Include volunteer serve.

When we think about discipleship, we don’t typically consider, “volunteering.” When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples,” we don’t exegetically read into the text “volunteer opportunities.” In most churches, discipleship and volunteer service are treated independently. But they are (or should be) deeply connected.

Discipleship is not about more information, but activation of information. Therefore, service opportunities should play a part in a healthy discipleship strategy. And not just inside the walls of the church, but in the community and around the world, as well.

2. Discipleship for pre-disciples.

If your evangelism strategy is working, then you better find a way to create conversations with seekers, faith starters, and church returners. A healthy discipleship strategy will have rungs on every step of the faith ladder, including the bottom. Actually, especially the bottom! Too many churches expect new believers to engage in a discipleship process designed for mature believers. This doesn’t spiritually grow people OR keep them coming back to your church.

3. Authentic community.

A group of people seeking to grow spiritually will go further, faster than an individual with the same goal. Think of it like the Tour de Discipleship. In cycling, a group of people riding in the same direction together help remove the resistance and collectively ride faster and farther. Same with spiritual development.

This is why we spend so much time and budget on our community group structure. Our discipleship strategy includes moving everyone from rows to circles (that’s our catch-phrase for moving people from corporate gatherings to small groups). The reason is simple: People in groups grow more.

4. Partnering in evangelism.

Don’t teach traditional evangelism, but rather teach relational investment in people far from God and then encourage invitations to a safe, guest-designed environment in your church.

And there’s a discipleship connection. Sharing our faith is part of our personal growth. But not everyone is an evangelist. I believe that is a spiritual gift, but intentional relationships with people far from God does not require a spiritual gift – it only requires desire. When we invest in a relationship with people not like us, it stretches our faith and grows us in the process (i.e., discipleship).

5. Practical teaching.

Practical teaching prioritizes application over information and serves to engage spiritual growth. Cramming information into the heads of your congregation is not a complete discipleship strategy. Creating opportunities to apply what is being taught, however, can serve as a powerful faith grower.

So don’t just preach about the power of forgiveness, give people personal ways to apply forgiveness. Don’t just explain generosity; create ways to engage in generosity (and get out of debt, too). You get the point. Applications trumps information in the discipleship process.

6. Make it easy.

Logical, obvious steps must be part of the discipleship process if we expect people to engage in the process – especially newer Christians.

7. Discussions trump classrooms.

This is a BIG one for us. Teaching environments are fine, but conversational environments are better. Why? Because conversations and discussions engage people more deeply through active participation. Participation matters.

Honestly, this is a primary reason we do not offer Sunday School. Sunday School is typically a “master teacher” environment, where dozens of people sit in rows while listening to information. The information might be great, but this format usually doesn’t actively engage discipleship on the same level as smaller, conversation-based groups. And please don’t try to do both.

In the end, the most important aspect of a discipleship strategy is having a discipleship strategy. Here are a few questions to get you started:

1. Where do you want people to be?
2. How do you plan to get them there?
3. What specific steps/ministries/environments will you create?

Having clear answers to those questions will put you ahead of most churches. Implementing your answers will help you better make disciples, and in doing so, keep people from leaving your church.

I came up with seven elements required for a discipleship strategy. What am I missing? Leave a comment below and let me know, and share this with your friends so we can all engage together.

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