5 Best Practices for Disciple-Making Churches
One thing I really enjoy in my work with Discipleship.org is getting a front-row seat as I watch and listen to top disciple makers.
I wanted to share some of that with you by way of “best practices”. Here are 5 of the best practices I’ve seen in disciple makers around the country and beyond:
1. They make disciple making the top priority
These leaders are clear that disciple making is the core mission of the church and their first priority.
Ralph Moore, founder of the Hope Chapel Movement, put it this way: “Disciple making is the focus – it is 90 percent of church multiplication.”
Dann Spader of Sonlife Ministries and Global Youth Initiative is creating disciple-making movements in more than one hundred countries and he describes their disciple-making leaders as “bleeders” by which he means, “They are so committed to disciple-making that if you cut them, they will bleed it.”
Disciple making is the top priority:
- They live it personally
- Talk about it regularly
- Lead their church to make it an everyday reality
2. They focus on everyday Christians
Too many times we think that multiplying disciples requires a special type of leader or congregation. National ministry leaders continue to affirm that disciple-making churches start with everyday, ordinary people.
When Jim Putman decided to plant a church and moved to Post Falls, Idaho, for example, he was committed to planting a church based on Jesus’ method of disciple making. He hoped that God would eventually bless his church with 200 or 300 people. Soon they were in excess of 6,000 people at Real Life Ministries, and then they planted many more.
Most of the 90+ pastoral staff at Real Life Ministries came to faith and eventually progressed to join the staff from within the church. These leaders started out as non-Christians who were invited into a discipling environment in a small group and eventually decided to be baptized (typically by their small group leader).
Bobby Harrington, author of this blog, serves as Executive Director of Discipleship·org, which hosts the National Disciple Making Forum in Nashville, Tennessee! Join us in Nashville for this life-changing event. Click here to claim your seat now.
Soon, these leaders began to lead a small group, discipling others before branching out to start new groups. Then, many moved toward coaching small group leaders. Finally, they developed into disciple-making leaders who were ready to join the leadership staff—now made up of former mill workers, former firemen, and former business leaders.
Just like Jesus did with his fishermen-turned-followers, so do disciple-making leaders create cultures and support systems that equip and release people to be multipliers.
3. They keep it simple
Alex Absalom has helped lead churches in England, Oklahoma, Ohio, and now he is planting a disciple-making movement with a house church network in Long Beach, California.
In the groups Alex creates, he focuses on a simple disciple-making process. In his groups, for example, leaders engage in outside-of-the-group Bible reading, and each time the group meets, they focus on two questions:
- What is the Holy Spirit telling you?
- What are you doing about what the Holy Spirit is telling you?
When I asked Ralph Moore to make a presentation on how disciple making works in the Hope Chapel Movement one time, he responded: “We invite people into relationships. Then, we invite them to our church gathering on Sunday where we preach one chapter from the Bible each week.”
From there, people are encouraged to get into a weekly small group, where they ask three questions:
- What did the Holy Spirit tell you during the teaching Sunday?
- What are you doing about it?
- How can we help you by our prayers and support?
That’s it: pure and simple—and these things are at the heart of the Hope Chapel Movement.
4. They provide practical tools
Not all disciple-making leaders make it as simple as Absalom and Moore. But they do understand that equipping everyday Christians with practical disciple-making tools is a key to multiplication.
Randy Pope, the founding pastor of Perimeter Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is part of the Presbyterian Church of America. Theology, Bible study, and doctrine are important to this Atlanta church. So is church planting. In fact, Perimeter has planted 40 churches.
Like all disciple-making churches, the church has a high number of people in discipling relationships outside of Sunday mornings. Perimeter leaders have cracked the code on making theology both practical and learnable. They call their model Life-on-Life Missional Discipleship. Pope says,
“Too many pastors talk about disciple making but fail their people because they do not give them practical, easily usable tools,” adding that tools are essential because they transform disciple making from an abstract concept or theory, into natural, simple practices anyone can follow.
5. They make “equipping Christians for ministry” the top responsibility of leadership staff
Don’t miss this last practice. It is the foundation that supports the four practices above and it is based upon Ephesians 4:11-13.
These national leaders agree that two roles are essential to creating a disciple-making church:
- Leaders, Evangelists, Teachers, Pastors, etc., who function as equippers
- Church members who function as ministers of the church.
Not only are disciple-making leaders committed to Jesus’ method but also they are committed to being equippers of everyday Christians. The primary job of church leaders is to equip, train, and coach members to do the ministry of being disciples who make disciples.
In disciple-making churches, the everyday members are the ministers who serve God in their unique gifts and ministries (Romans 12:38; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
Written by Bobby Harrington
Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a national platform, conference, and ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).