By Ken Braddy
Every church has a philosophy of small-group ministry. For some churches, it’s Sunday school. For others it’s home groups, D-groups, or some other expression.
How do you know if your small-group strategy is working? Are you making disciples? Are there any telltale signs it may be missing the mark?
While teaching, fellowship, and ministry take place in varying degrees in groups, the first and foremost goal of groups is to produce disciples who make disciples.
Discipleship isn’t just something clergy-led. Nor is it a class taken or a notebook filled out. Making disciples is something every believer is commanded to do.
In Real-Life Discipleship, Jim Putman says the Great Commission confronts us with the reality that “it is the job of every believer to make disciples.”
If we begin by accepting that discipleship is the primary goal for groups, then yes, there will be indicators as to whether or not groups are producing disciples.
Here are five signs your church’s discipleship strategy may be missing the mark when it comes to producing disciples.
1. Too many large groups
Some churches have allowed Bible study groups to grow too large. Discipleship is best accomplished in a group of about a dozen people. This was Jesus’ model for producing disciples.
“When a disciple-maker is responsible for shepherding more than 12 people,” says Putman, “it’s far more likely some will fall through the cracks because there are just too many people to get to know all of them well. And remember, if you don’t know people, then you don’t know where they’re at and what they need in the spiritual growth process.”
To put it another way, you simply cannot disciple people from a distance.
2. A pulpit-centric approach to disciple-making
There’s no doubt the messages preached by pastors are highly influential and important in the life of the church. But as a disciple-making strategy, preaching is incomplete.
Putman reminds us preaching results in a lecture style of communication, and that “many pastors believe they are making disciples by preaching sermons…they see discipleship as simply a transfer of knowledge from teacher to student and the result will be a changed life.”
A pulpit ministry combined with a disciple-making, small-group strategy creates and maximizes the kind of environment in which people can be discipled in ways they cannot during a worship service.
3. A discipleship plan that isn’t really discipleship
As a pastor, I often had what I call a “university strategy” for discipleship, which focused mainly on classes teaching people what to believe.
The strategy was well-intentioned, and the course leaders were passionate and knowledgeable, but the groups often failed to teach people to put what they learned into practice.
In their book DiscipleShift, Putman and Bobby Harrington write: “Far too many of us assume that discipleship is merely the transfer of information leading to behavior modification. But discipleship, at the heart, involves transformation at the deepest levels of understanding and affection.”
4. Staff aren’t leading out in the disciple-making process
The old adage “You can’t lead where you’ve never been” may be especially true in the case of making disciples.
In Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty says some leaders “were never discipled themselves. They have never been exposed to an intentional process of discipleship and aren’t sure what to focus on.”
Each staff member should be modeling discipleship.
5. No intentional plan for making disciples
Jesus provided us with a model for making disciples: Jesus ministered while the disciples watched. Jesus then invited the disciples to assist Him in ministry. Then the disciples ministered and Jesus assisted them.
Finally, Jesus observed as the disciples ministered to others. Few churches today have such an intentional process for making disciples.
If you believe your church could do a more effective job at making disciples, take heart and be encouraged. Any of these five indicators of a lack of discipleship can be reversed in time.
Remember, making disciples means people must be in proximity to one another. Groups must be smaller. An intentional process must be adopted.
The journey is worth taking, especially when you see disciples begin to make more disciples.
KEN BRADDY (Ken.Braddy@Lifeway.com) is manager of adult ongoing Bible studies at Lifeway.