Creating a Disciple Making System In Your Church

In 2010 I “faced the brutal facts” about disciple making in our church. We added over 100 new groups on multiple occasions. We were even making disciples at some level. We were failing, however, to multiply leaders that would multiply more and healthier small groups. We needed to create a disciple making system.

Hundreds of reproducing leaders have been developed since that painful moment. The disciple making movement that was birthed out of that admission is still growing exponentially. It has even spilled out well beyond the church it started in. Five key efforts led to the change. I believe each of them can be implemented in your setting.

Make Disciple-Making Your Church’s Mission

Jesus commanded us to make disciples. It is the primary mission of the church. To reflect the primary nature of this mandate, our church leaders decided to begin with the end in mind by changing our church’s mission statement. Our mission became a definition of a maturing disciple:

Loving Jesus

Becoming Like Jesus

Sharing Jesus

Many events and efforts compete for a church family’s attention. Nothing will help keep your focus on making disciples more than a mission statement that is continually repeated, resourced, and re-envisioned. I was very fortunate to have this mission statement to drive our efforts at creating a disciple-making system.

If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you are not in a role that can effectively re-shape your church’s mission statement. If that is the case, I know how you feel. The first church I served had a very broad mission statement. As much as I tried, I did not have the authority or influence to change it. Our mission statement included a phrase about disciple-making, so I used that phrase as a launch pad to build a mission statement that included a definition of a disciple.

To be sure, you can not lead people to become something if you can not clearly define what that “something” is. Publicly defining a mature disciple is essential to building a disciple making system.

Provide a Disciple Making Map

Once you have defined what a disciple looks like, providing a map to help people grow toward maturity is critical.I believe a disciple maker’s job is to help people assess their current phase of development and empower them to take their next step. We identified and built our disciple-making strategy around three phases of spiritual development: Exploring, Following, and Influencing. 

After we defined our phases of maturity, we began developing experiences that would empower disciples to categorically move from one phase to the next. For example, Followers Made was developed to guide plateaued believers to become vibrant followers. Leaders Made was developed to help those vibrant followers to become spiritual influencers.

When I first arrived at our church, an overwhelming majority of our people were stuck. We were awesome at reaching the lost. Unfortunately, we were equally good at losing the found! The absence of advanced spiritual formation training hindered further development. Adding these experiences has resulted in thousands of believers becoming Spirit-led missionaries where they live, work, learn, and play. 

Disciple Disciple-Makers

Jesus did not personally disciple hundreds of people. Instead, Jesus made disciples of a handful of people who joined Him in building a disciple-making movement. I believe following Jesus’ example is critical. How does this translate into contemporary disciple-making?

The discipleship movement at Westside started with one key decision: I stopped leading a small group. For eight of my nine years at Westside I led only the advanced disciple-making groups that were filled with people who were leading small groups.

Making that shift was a simple decision, but making the transition was difficult. I care for people! I love investing in their lives! I have found, however, that directly investing in ten leaders is indirectly investing into one hundred people! It is hard to believe, but I have personally developed over 150 leaders since I made that transition. Because many of these leaders became leaders of leaders themselves, the indirect touch has reached well into the thousands. I have never spent more than three or four hours a week leading these groups. Multiplication can happen when you are no longer your disciple-making “system.”

Follow Jesus Instead of a Formula

Many formulas for small groups and discipleship are available. I have learned very much from them. Nothing, however, has informed our process more than Jesus’ step-by-step guidance. My first step after facing the brutal facts was admitting to Jesus that I was not capable of developing the kind of disciple-making system that was necessary. I committed to take whatever step He told me to take to build it. Obedience, not intelligence, built the Disciples Made disciple-making system.

Become a Disciple Before You Try Making Disciples

You can only reproduce what you are. Fully-alive disciples regularly hear from and obey God through regular bible reading, journaling, prayer, and accountability. Fully-alive disciples regularly hone their spiritual gifts for God’s glory. If you are trying to make disciples without being a disciple yourself, you will only frustrate yourself and those you are tying to lead. Let me encourage you… stop believing that “one day” life is going to be calm enough to create space to hear from God. It will not happen. Just as you make sure you have time to eat, make sure that you have time to regularly connect with Jesus through His word and with others.

Be Bold!

Jesus commanded us to make disciples. Jesus has given us His Spirit to empower us to do it. He has given us His authority to accomplish it. Lean into His Spirit. Claim His authority. Obey His command. Create a disciple making system in your church. Want to talk more? Request a one-time consulting session with us from the “contact us” page. 

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