10 Markers of Strong Discipleship Programs

If you’ve read this website for long, you know my concern about poor discipleship in most churches. I want churches to evaluate whether they are disciplemaking churches, and I want us to avoid the wrong responses to this problem. On the other hand, I’ve seen some churches that are, in fact, doing discipleship well. Here are some of the characteristics of those churches.

  1. The leaders recognize that everything the church does contributes to discipleship. They think in terms of, “how does everything from the website to the parking lot to the small group to the mission field contribute to our people becoming strong followers of Jesus?” They understand that discipleship is never-ending.
  2. The church knows what a “disciple” is. They can answer the question, “What do we expect a disciple to be, know, believe, and do?” They can describe their “Discipled Dave,” a concept I describe in my book, Membership Matters.
  3. Participation in the discipleship process is highly expected or required. Prospective and new members learn quickly that “inactive membership” is an oxymoron for these churches. If you don’t enter the discipleship process, you need to look for a different congregation.
  4. A church orientation class is the primary starting point. Most often, the membership class is required – and it’s there that prospects learn about the priority of discipleship in the church.
  5. The pastors use the pulpit to disciple. They evangelize as well, but they don’t miss opportunities to guide members to apply the Word in practical ways. They preach for life change.
  6. Small groups are essential to this process. Fellowship, teaching, accountability, and service all occur in the small group. Each is essential to growing as a disciple of Jesus. That’s one reason small group participation is often required.
  7. Mentoring is assumed. Jesus and Paul both invested themselves in a few. Strong discipleship churches train members to do the same, and a few mentors promote discipleship reproduction through the church. Particularly, mentors pray for their mentees to become strong followers of Jesus.
  8. Accountability is built in to the process. Discipleship without accountability becomes more like information transfer in a classroom than life-on-life transformation. Via mentoring and small group leadership, these churches build accountability into their system.
  9. Members are working toward some types of certificates. They don’t participate in discipleship simply because they want a certificate, but there’s still something about working toward fulfillment in the process. Recognition that remains God-centered can positively strengthen a discipleship process.
  10. Leaders are expected to be involved in the process. Members who choose not to be continually involved in the church’s discipleship processes simply don’t hold leadership positions anymore.

If your church is not a strong discipleship church, try to improve in only one of these areas. Start somewhere! If you know other markers of strong discipleship churches, let us know. 


  • Aaron Swain says:

    I’d love to hear you elaborate on about what it looks like to offer certificates in the discipleship process. I’ve never gotten one and never thought about giving them out. You’ve piqued my curiosity…

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Aaron, I think in terms of, for example, a church member completing five courses that give an overview of the Bible — and then receiving a Biblical Studies certificate from the church. You could follow this pattern in several directions: leadership, parenting, finances, etc. The goal is simply to give folks something to work toward, and then to recognize them for their faithfulness when completed. Feel free to email me directly if you want to talk more.  

  • John Finochio says:

    Love this article!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.