At Discipleship.org, we champion Jesus-style disciple making to help people to be disciples of Jesus who make disciples with Jesus. To that end we aggregate and promote disciple-making leaders, organizations, speakers, and writers.
As lead servant at Discipleship.org, I get a front-row seat to what is happening with disciple making in North America and beyond. This front-row view has enabled me to prayerfully and regularly filter through many observations of churches and networks, studies, books and conversations on disciple making. From these observations and conversations, I compiled the top trends of what God—as best as I can tell—is doing in North America in 2020.
These disciple-making trends and reflections are summarized below.
1. Less than 5% of churches in the USA are disciple-making churches. Discipleship.org and Exponential.net (a church planting and multiplication leaders organization) recently partnered together to complete a comprehensive national study on disciple making in churches that will soon be published. Our study found that far fewer churches in the USA are reproducing disciples and disciple makers than we had hoped: Less than 5% of churches are disciple-making churches (defined as those who make disciples effectively using Jesus’ methods).
2. The USA lacks revival-based disciple making movements. There are some 1,000 revival-based, disciple making movements (DMM) around the world. We describe them this way because they are unique movements, reflecting a revival-like culture found in the book of Acts. Discipleship.org has partnered, for example, with Shodankeh Johnson, whose disciple making movement in West Africa reaches countless numbers of churches. But our research confirms that there are currently no clear examples of revival-based disciple making movements (DMM) in the USA.
Please note the specific words that I am using. There are disciple-making churches in the USA, but movements characterized by rapid disciple making, as defined in disciple making movements in books like Kingdom Unleashed, by Trousdale and Sonshine, do not currently exist in fully developed form. We defined these movements in the following way:
Disciple Making Movement (DMM)– A disciple making movement is a special work of the Holy Spirit that exists when churches plant multiple churches (within a few short years), through gospel activity, that has abundant fruit among the lost, that multiplies these disciples (people growing in obedience to all of Jesus’ commands), who in turn replicate themselves in others, so that we can see at least four generations regularly produced in multiple streams of disciple- making activity and these streams multiply consistently into churches.
Winfield Bevins, in his book, Multiplying Disciples, shows how these revival movements worked in the past, especially with John Wesley and his methods, but we cannot currently find clear examples of these movements within North America.
For more on revival-based disciple making movements (DMM), check out the following websites, for examples:
Please note, I am not saying that there are no churches in the USA who are effective at Jesus-style disciple making. There are; in fact, about 5% of churches in the USA qualify as churches who regularly reproduce disciples. But we are not currently witnessing what international disciple-making expert Jerry Trousdale calls [revival based] disciple making movements (DMM) called Miraculous Movements.
3. There is great confusion in disciple making. Again, the study by Discipleship.org and Exponential.net on disciple-making churches in the USA demonstrates this point. There is great confusion about the meaning of basic terms like discipleship, disciple and disciple making which means it is very difficult to assess effectiveness (clear definitions do not prevail in Protestant churches in the USA).
We recommend the cluster of seven definitions that Discipleship.org uses. These definitions were arrived at through discussion and biblical reflection with our partners (we want to refer to Bible things by Bible words):
- Disciple– someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus (Matt. 4:19).
- Discipleship– is simply the state of being a disciple. Unfortunately, in the North American church, discipleship is typically seen as an educational process designed to orient new believers to the biblical and everyday practices of our churches. We try to focus on disciple making, but will sometimes use the expression, “relational discipleship,” to show that there is more than just education behind Jesus-style disciple making.
- Disciple Making– is entering into relationships to intentionally help people follow Jesus, be changed by Jesus, and join the mission of Jesus. Disciple making includes the whole process from conversion through maturation and multiplication (Matt. 28:18–20).
- Disciple Maker– a disciple of Jesus who enters into relationships with people to intentionally help them follow Jesus, be changed by Jesus, and join the mission of Jesus.
- A Church– A spiritual family growing in surrendered obedience to all the teachings of Jesus Christ who gather together regularly under biblically recognized leadership for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission (making disciples) with a Great Commandment heart (loving God, loving people).
- A Disciple-Making Culture– The beliefs, habits, and narrative of a church repeated, over and over again, with congruence and intentionality, that make it clear to almost everyone, all the time, including newcomers, that disciple making is what everyone does around here.
- A Disciple-Making Church– is a church where disciple making is the core DNA and culture of the church, where the average church member makes disciples to the fourth generation and this disciple-making activity is regularly produced in significant and diverse streams within the church, and these streams multiply consistently into new churches.
4. Pastors over-estimate their disciple-making effectiveness. Again, our national study demonstrates a sad truth – discipleship and disciple making mean almost anything that a pastor wants the terms to mean. Here is the sad truth: loose definitions enable pastors to over-rate their effectiveness in discipleship and disciple making. This is sometimes called “the halo effect”—where we see ourselves and our churches as being better than they are in reality.
If less than 5% of churches are true disciple-making churches and if there are no revival-based disciple making movements in North America (even though there are about 1,000 disciple making movements around the world), then North America has a problem. We must not only insist on biblical criteria when discussing discipleship and disciple making, but we must ask ourselves, why is it that we over-rate our disciple making?
5. There is a need for American Senior Pastors to make the DiscipleShift. We need a shift to Jesus-style disciple making as the core mission of our ministries and churches. The book DiscipleShift: Five Steps to Help Your Church Make Disciples Who Make Disciples outlines the five key shifts.
- Shift to Jesus-style disciple making as the core mission of the local church.
- Shift to clarity on what it means to be a disciple (what you are making).
- Shift from Senior Pastors who are strictly communicators and CEOs to disciple-making leaders whose first responsibility is to follow Jesus and make disciple makers … in addition to the other roles they must adhere to and follow, etc.
- Shift leaders to a focus on equipping/coaching and intentionality as they seek to make disciple makers.
- Shift to a score card that highly values reproducing or multiplying disciples and disciple makers.
6. Fasting and prayer are essential for effective disciple making. More and more church leaders are learning that we will not have Holy Spirit-empowered disciple making movements without ongoing fasting and prayer.
Please note, we are not saying that God is bound by our fasting and prayer—God is sovereign and moves as he sees fit. But Jesus himself relied on fasting and prayer at the start of his ministry and he prayed all night just before he selected his twelve disciples. And an investigation into revival-based disciple making movements demonstrates that fasting and prayer for the work of God’s Spirit is at the heart of such movements.
One of the most exciting activities in disciple making in North America is the Awaken Nashville Movement, where over 42,000 people in over 600 churches are fasting and praying for their neighbors for 30 days. Dave Clayton makes the simple case for fasting and praying in this brief Discipleship.org resource, Revival Starts Here.
7. Pastors and leaders must develop simple and reproducible disciple-making models. Disciple making is not for the experts; it is for the everyday person. The key question is where are the simple, reproducible models that everyday disciples need?
Ralph Moore is the founder of the Hope Chapel Movement, which is a movement focused on disciple making for everyday people that has resulted in over 2,400 new churches since the 1970s (it started in the Jesus movement). Ralph describes the heart of their model with a simple description.
He believes that there are five important characteristics of an effective disciple-making model:
Again, disciple making is not for the experts—as Acts 4:12, 8:1, 4 and 2 Timothy 2:2 demonstrate. Church leaders must develop models that everyday disciples can effectively utilize to make disciples.
8. There is increasing emphasis on Jesus’ kingship and obedience-based disciple making. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 tells us what Jesus wants:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
There are two key teachings in this passage that are being rediscovered. Firstly, Jesus is humanity’s king and his statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” is being rediscovered. Jesus is our King. He deserves our allegiance. And our only proper response is surrender to him and his mission. We truly surrender to Jesus when we “obey everything” he has commanded.
Jesus is king and we obey him in everything.
This is why disciple making is essential. We all need help to surrender to Jesus as King and obey him in everything. These teachings have led discipleship.org to feature the theme of “King Jesus” and “obedience-based discipleship” in our recent gatherings.
The forthcoming Discipleship.org resource by David Young entitled King Jesus and the Beauty of Obedience Based Discipleship (Zondervan, 2020) is vital for the North American Church.
9. Disciple-making culture is a big issue. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is a statement attributed to influential management guru of our time, Peter Drucker. It also describes a reality church leader must face in the pursuit of creating disciple-making churches.
What Drucker meant by “culture eats strategy for breakfast” was that lasting change in an organization comes only when the culture of an organization changes. Applying this to church, if you do not change the culture of a church, the church will not change. Many leaders striving for a disciple-making focus fail to account for this reality. We try great strategies—preaching on disciple making, small groups, D-Groups, etc. But our churches will not change—indeed cannot change—unless our church culture changes. This is because “culture” easily eats the strategies we adopt.
That is why Louis Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, went one step further: “Organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner….”
But there is hope.
More and more disciple-making leaders are helping churches change their cultures. Brandon Guindon’s forthcoming book about disciple making culture (by HIM Publications) is vitally important in this regard. Brandon helps church leaders to understand some of the key components in creating disciple-making cultures within our churches.
10. Discipleship.org partners are building infrastructures and tools to help. The development of disciple-making networks and organizations is one of the most encouraging developments in the last several years. I’ve compiled a list of disciple-making organizations, in alphabetical order, who have partnered with Discipleship.org, as we seek to fan into flame the missions of these organizations.
These organizations have been building their ministries for several years, and many have developed significant numbers of staff, tools, and systems to help churches with disciple making. One of my favorite parts of my job is to connect people like you with organizations like these.
From the beginning, we have sought to fan into flame the ministries of these partners:
- The Bonhoeffer Project (thebonhoefferproject.com)
- Dandelion Resourcing (dandelionresourcing.com)
- discipleFIRST (disciplefirst.com)
- Discipleship for Women (discipleshipforwomen.com)
- Downline Ministries (downlineministries.com)
- Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (emotionallyhealthy.org)
- Exponential (exponential.org)
- Faith International University (faithseminary.edu)
- Final Command (finalcommand.com)
- Freedom in Christ Ministries (ficm.org)
- Global Discipleship Initiative (theglobaldiscipleshipinitiative.org)
- Great Commandment Network (greatcommandment.net)
- Impact Discipleship Ministries (impactdisciples.com)
- Leadership Network (leadnet.org)
- Legacy Discipleship (legacydisciple.org)
- Life-on-Life Missional Discipleship (lifeonlife.org)
- LifeWay (lifeway.com)
- LikeJesus (likejesus.church)
- Lionshare (lionshare.org)
- National Coalition of Ministries to Men (ncmm.org)
- Navigators Church Ministries (navigatorschurchministries.org)
- Radical Mentoring (radicalmentoring.com)
- Relational Discipleship Network (rdn1.com)
- Renew Network (renew.org)
- Replicate (replicate.org)
- Small Circle (disciplexchange.com)
- Sonlife (sonlife.com)
- TCM International (tcmi.org)
- Untangle Addictions (untangleaddictions.com, healthymindmd.com)
I am grateful for the growth of these organizations because they all help provide churches with the kind of specific guidance, coaching, systems, and tools necessary for systemic change. There are no easy fixes, solutions, or methods—only Jesus-style disciple making.
For King Jesus,
Bobby Harrington, Lead Servant, Discipleship.org
P.S. Check out our two National Disciple Making Forums.