What Are the Elements of a Level 5 Disciple Making Church?

A Level 5 disciple making church epitomizes our highest aspirations for churches in North America and beyond.

These disciple making churches emphasize the ministry, priesthood, and disciple making mandate of every believer. They are not dependent on preachers, programs, and praise and worship gatherings as is the case with popular North American churches, although there is still an important place for these elements.

A disciple making church is a church where the majority of people within the church practice the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20:

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.”

The people in these churches see their lives through the lens of being disciples who make disciples.

Here is our working definition of a Level 5 disciple making church:

Life-on-life 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.

This definition combines many elements…

It will be helpful to note the following components in this definition.

  • Life-on-life disciple making – behind this expression is the focus of disciple making. It is how Jesus and the apostle made disciples. It is not focused on the Sunday morning gathering (while that is still important). The focus is the everyday lives of everyday disciples. It is Monday through Saturday as they share their lives with a focus on being disciples who make disciples.
  • Core DNA – the values and beliefs of disciple making are a living reality, practiced and talked about and lived everyday in these churches.
  • The average church member makes disciples – it is not just the ministry and the priesthood of all believers that you find widely practiced and truly valued in these churches, but the disciple making mandate. Almost everyone sees life through the lens of being disciples who make disciples.
  • To the fourth generation – Paul’s injunction in 2 Timothy 2:2 is the norm of the church culture: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Paul (1st generation) told Timothy (2nd generation) to find reliable people (3rd generation) who would in turn received the message of Jesus (4th generation).
  • Disciple making activity is regularly produced in significant and diverse streams – because the culture is a disciple making culture and everyone is infected with this wonderful virus, it manifests itself in every part of the church. Students are disciples making disciples, musicians are disciples making disciples, teachers are disciples making disciples, etc. Because disciple making is viral, it is found in all the streams of life in the church.
  • These streams multiply consistently into new churches – these churches are producing so many disciple making disciples that an army of disciple makers is being regularly created. Among this army are those with leadership gifts to plant new churches, so they naturally are raising up and sending out teams, guided by leaders, who start new churches that are established with the same DNA. This viral DNA, when maintained and effectively passed on, then creates church planting movements.

The Key Elements at work in the Culture of a Disciple Making Church

What are the micro-elements of a disciple making culture?

We recently brought together a team of leaders from national and international disciple making networks/organizations to collaborate on the profile of a Level 5 disciple making church. Everyone worked together and we identified 50 elements. They form the DNA of disciple making movements.

But before you read the list, lets pause so that I can give you the context of this article. I am sharing them with you to give you a high-level understanding as an overview. It is simply a survey of fifty elements that have been identified. If you read the list thinking, “I have to embed each of these fifty elements in my church,” that would be defeating.

But for now, as we investigate Level 5 disciple making churches, just scan through these items to give yourself a general sense of the DNA of a disciple making church. In future Discipleship·org newsletters we will help you to see how to apply them.

Here are the fifty elements. They are in no particular order.

  1. Focused on reaching and discipling Lost People
  2. Holy Spirit guided and dependent
  3. Bible based
  4. Gospel clarity
  5. Simple, Repeatable Disciple Making tools
  6. Focus on Persons of Peace
  7. Obedience based disciple making
  8. Bible centered
  9. Relational focus
  10. Disciple Making is taught obsessively
  11. Disciple making to the 4th generation mindset
  12. Clear definition of disciple, disciple making, language
  13. Leadership aligns itself and everything around disciple making
  14. Disciple Making Multiplication at every level
  15. Training, training, and re-training in disciple making
  16. Everyone sees themselves as disciple makers
  17. Serving the community in the name of Jesus
  18. Love in action for unbelievers in the community
  19. Risk and Failure Embraced
  20. Leaders Live Disciple Making and preach Disciple Making all the time, in every context
  21. Everyone is a missionary making disciples
  22. Strategic Disciple Making Leadership
  23. High conversion rate
  24. Empowering the mobilization of members
  25. Mobilization of giftedness
  26. Serving hurting people
  27. Intentionally reaching Persons of peace
  28. Measurable Wake of Redemption
  29. All Ministries purposed for disciple making
  30. Tracking metrics
  31. Strict discipline around disciple making practices
  32. Alternative Lifestyle to the Culture
  33. Financially generous
  34. Clear definition of a disciple upheld
  35. Coach focus on developing everyday workers
  36. Praying and fasting for lost people
  37. Disciple Making model easily and widely understood – disciple making process
  38. People know where they are at in Disciple Making Process
  39. Planting churches
  40. Multiplication at every level
  41. Send out proven multipliers
  42. Common Disciple Making terminology -Language and stories focus on disciple making
  43. Commonly understood disciple making process
  44. Leadership is focused on raising disciple makers
  45. Ministries evaluated and measured based upon reproduction (metrics)
  46. Finances support a disciple making focus
  47. Their Gospel requires discipleship
  48. Their understanding of the kingdom requires discipleship
  49. Everyone is a missionary
  50. Regular rhythms of prayer and fasting for the whole church

As you can see from this survey, these elements are not typical for the average North American church. They describe – in composite – an alternative operating system for the way leaders envision church.

I am sharing them with you, the Discipleship·org family, so that we can all be together on this journey. As I often say, we are still in the early stages of our learnings about disciple making movements for North America. We have a church culture that was built around the assumptions of the modern world, and now, in a post-modern world, we are learning to go back to the Bible again. As we go back, we keep asking again and again, “how did Jesus make disciples and how can we emulate him in our context?”

As you reviewed the 50 elements you surely identified that many come directly from the life and ministry of Jesus.

By Bobby Harrington

Bobby Harrington is the point-leader of Discipleship.org, a collaborating ministry of disciplemaking organizations, a host for National Forums, and a distributor of free content. It is a ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is also the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN) and the point-leader of Renew.org (a ministry that renews the teachings of Jesus to fuel disciple making). 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 over 10 books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick), and Becoming a Disciple Maker: The Pursuit of Level 5 Disciple Making.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

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