Building disciple-making capacity in local churches

January 1, 0001

There are generally two kinds of people in church services:

  • people who are new (typically “seeker” oriented)
  • people who have been there longer (hopefully, but not necessarily, spiritually mature).

If you aim a church service toward the spiritually mature, then you risk alienating the seekers.

If you aim a church service toward the seekers, then you risk losing the spiritually mature. Both must be enabled.

One broad method to do this is to aim the Sunday service at the seekers and use a different form of meeting (typically small groups) to address the needs of those who have attended longer and/or are more spiritually mature. 

Unfortunately we can end up with two different dichotomies:

  • new visitors at Sunday morning, long-term attendees in small groups
  • spiritually immature in Sunday morning, spiritually-mature leading small groups to which less-mature are invited

You can see the difference? One is based on chronology/age, and the other is based on spiritual development.

Without an intentional process for helping the less-mature to mature, a church can very easily slip into the former category.

The intentional process is a disciple-making “loop.” Here’s one quickly-written example of how an intentional loop might work:

  • The Sunday Morning Service is used to introduce a topic, a story, which is then to be discussed in the discipleship groups. In this sense the pastor focuses less on resolving the story or drawing the essential three things to do, and instead suggests three questions to discuss in the groups.
  • Seekers/new believers are invited into “Level 0” groups. These are discipleship groups (I emphasize DBS) especially for people who are new. Level 0 groups discuss the Sunday Morning Story, Questions, draw out applications, etc, and generally model discipleship life for Seekers.
  • Some portion of these seekers will grow as disciples, and in their growth will eventually think about starting a study group as well, particularly when going through stories that emphasize helping other new people. At that point, it is the responsibility of the Level 0 host to help those people into a level 1 coaching group (which perhaps the host leads, or someone else). In other words, one of the outcomes of a Level 0 group is a seeker who wants to form a group and help others.
  • The level 1 group is specifically to help someone who has never formed a group, to form a group. It’s about the mechanics. It’s a short-term group. At the “end” of the group, someone should decide to form a group or go back to a level 0. Either is okay. People may flirt with the idea of forming a group for a bit, going in and out of level 0s, until they decide to take the plunge. People who are just starting level 0 groups thus become new hosts for an increasing number of Seekers at the sunday morning service. Eventually they, too, become level 1 leaders.
  • As the church becomes more and more oriented toward seekers, eventually someone will want to form a group of lost people - that is, something more evangelistic. Maybe there will be lost people who come to the church, or maybe intersected outside. This is a level 2. A longer-term discipleship coach in the church would need to be present to “prime this pump.” But eventually there would be a pool of level 2s - people who have formed groups of lost people - who would be able to coach level 1s to do this, just as there were a pool of level 1s that could coach level 0s.

This whole process becomes a leadership factory. As people rise up who are able to facilitate groups and the disciple-making process, the same process can be used in specialized segments of the church (youth, seniors, etc). The whole process can likewise “tilt” the church so that seekers might show up both at the Sunday morning service and in discipleship groups. You may reach a point where there are more people in discipleship groups than attend the Sunday morning service (and you’ll have to decide if you’re okay with that). The beauty of this process is that it constantly is migrating people through choice points to wider engagement, and models at each stage how this wider engagement is possible given everyone’s personal, family, work, social time constraints. It shows and then offers the opportunity to do the same thing, with coaching.