A Modern Discipleship Strategy (outside the walls of church)

There are two things you need to know about me before you read any further:

1.       I like to keep things simple.

2.       I love Jesus, but hate our modern discipleship process.

Why do I hate it?  OOH! Thank you so much for asking!!

I hate it because it’s often one dimensional, lacks strategy and does not inspire people to follow Jesus.  So let’s start with this…

What is a Modern Day Disciple?

While the meaning of the word “disciple” has not changed, (still means a student or follower, last I checked) the process of leading people to follow the teachings of Jesus has become a bit more complicated.  This blog is my humble attempt to simplify it. 

A Modern Disciple = a person desiring to seek and apply biblical wisdom in their life personally, professionally and spiritually.

You may hate that definition, but hang with me for a sec. To understand how modern disciples are first created, we need to consider the reasoning we each use, as we decide whether or not we should seek and apply wisdom from an outside source.  Consider this simple chain reaction that takes place in all of us before we decide to follow anyone.

Ever watch those Tasty videos?  You should.  Tasty is a disciple making machine.  I am a terrible cook, yet I desire to improve my skills.  So Tasty breaks down recipes in fast, simple, visual form for me (Value received) that I can then test out for myself.  I have tried many of their video recipes, and not only do they work, but they make an idiot in the kitchen -like me- look like a brilliant chef! (Trust earned) This positive experience inspires me to buy in as a follower and also tell others about it.  

It’s simple.  It’s proven.  It’s 100% applicable to the church.

4 Questions to consider when evaluating your discipleship strategy

Whether you are a church, non-profit or the CEO of Apple, we all seek disciples.  Perhaps the most important question we must begin with is: What value do we bring to a people group, and can we meet those needs with excellence and consistency? 

As churches, we feel like we already do this (bringing value with consistency), so why are we still seeing very few new disciples being made?  

My first marketing course in college would tell us it’s because what we are offering as the church, in the form of spiritual growth opportunities, is not of perceived value to most of our culture anymore.  To our target market (non-Christians), what we offer is one-dimensional, does not strategically meet a perceived need in their life and fails to inspire.  So, here are 4 things we need to consider, when re-evaluating our current discipleship strategy:

1.       Is our church in agreement on when the process of discipleship actually begins?

The process of discipleship does not begin when someone decides to follow Jesus, but rather when someone decides to allow a follower of Jesus to meet a need in their life. 

This need could be anything from helping watch someone’s kids, networking to find someone a job, parenting workshops, financial consulting- whatever.  A disciple, or group of disciples, just provided value by meeting a need, thus setting off the chain reaction needed to bring about   future opportunities to perpetuate the disciple making process.  And it began, more than likely, OUTSIDE the walls of church.

2.       Do we have a strategy to reach a targeted people group in our community?

Hate to break this to you, but ‘everyone not already saved’ is not exactly what we mean by a targeted people group.

I get the desire to reach a specific community, but what are the unique needs in the community you are targeting?  We have to stop trying to be all things to all people, and instead, look within the walls of our church to assess which God-given talents our people have, as well as how we can equip them to do something with those gifts in the community. (Watch our YouTube Channel for more on this)

3.       With unique needs identified, how can we meet these needs in a non-spiritual way, with excellence?

Here’s the thing- Our culture distrusts all forms of authority, including the church. 

For the non-churched, leading with anything spiritual can be perceived as skeptically as inviting an ex-convict in to your home to provide personal financial counseling. Without integrity and trust, we can have no impact on others.   Plan on investing 6 to 12 months, or more, in order to earn someone’s trust by meeting their personal and professional needs, before they ever feel safe opening up to you spiritually.

4.       Once we have identified a target group – and earned trust by meeting a need that provided value to them- do we have opportunities for them to get further involved in our community through NON-SPIRITUAL growth events?  (i.e. NOT A Bible study or Sunday service)

This question uncovers the biggest weakness- and biggest opportunity -we have as the church.

Sure, we all have those families whose kids attended our VBS and then visited the church.  Most of the time, they are displaced Christians- but hey, 1 out of a 100 might have truly found Jesus for the first time through that event and visitation process.  When we craft outreach events, we often expect to meet a need, attract people to worship services … and immediately plug them into church, as result.  Not only have we lost our patience when it comes to discipleship, but we have also lost our common sense.  People desire authentic community.  I fear, however, that, as Christians, we have forgotten how to create community for others unless we do so through a worship service or Bible study. 

Quick Summary

The key to an effective modern day discipleship strategy lies in the willingness of a church to begin the discipleship process outside the church walls, by meeting the personal or professional needs of a targeted community in a non-spiritual way.  The next most critical step is providing ways for this same targeted group to get to know you (experience community with you) in another non-spiritual setting.  The church that can incorporate these steps with consistency and excellence is the church that will win the opportunity to meet the spiritual needs of its community, more often then not.

For those of you who are visual:

Up Next:  So far, I have only briefly discussed the modern discipleship process BEFORE deciding to follow Jesus.  In part 2 of this blog, I will apply the same chain reaction to shaping a modern discipleship process to be followed AFTER a decision to follow Christ has been made.

Want to go deeper into the modern day discipleship strategy?  Download this free worksheet and watch our vlog on this topic, in which we discuss specific strategies that have been both huge successes and epic fails.