8 Characteristics of Disciple-making Churches

I admit that the North American church has done a poor job of making disciples. Too often, we expect baby believers to grow on their own—and then get frustrated with them for not growing. On the other hand, I’m seeing an increase in churches who are trying to correct this problem. Here are some characteristics of these churches:

  1. They’re led by a pastor who invests in others personally. Most of these leaders can name the church members they’re mentoring—often beginning with other staff members and prospective ministers. They take Ephesians 4:11-13 seriously.
  2. They have an intentional discipleship pathway. Ask them, and they can show you a clear plan to move new believers toward becoming growing, mature disciples. They want all that they plan to fit into this pathway in some way.
  3. The discipleship pathway often begins with a required membership class. That class is more than a content-based, vision-casting entrance into the church; it’s the place where church leaders explain what they expect of new members—and how they will help members be committed Christ-followers.
  4. Small groups are a critical part of the pathway. I’ve never known a disciple-making church without a strong, intentional small group ministry that promotes life-on-life Christian growth. Accountability, training, and encouragement mark these groups.
  5. The pastor focuses on exposition and application of the Word. That is, he presses the “so what?” and “now what?” questions of preaching, striving to help hearers know what to do in response to the Word. Information transfer is not enough without life transformation.
  6. Often, they emphasize family ministry that promotes parents as disciplemakers. Thus, the church expects equips parents (and grandparents) to help their children grow in the Lord. In my world of Southern Baptists, I’m seeing more churches promoting the use of catechisms to train children.
  7. They tend to be “sending” churches. They raise up Christ-followers not only to help them reach their community, but also to go the nations. Disciplemaking churches are committed to sending out their best for the sake of the gospel.
  8. They continually evaluate their effectiveness. A church genuinely committed to discipleship always sees room for improvement—and strives for further excellence.

How does your church compare to this list? 

1 Comment

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    This article, like most of your articles, is thought-provoking, and it ,like a number of your articles, ends with a painful question – often along the lines of how does your church stack up. I say “painful” because the article is a reminder of how the church with which I have been involved for the past 3 odd years “misses the mark.” Shortly after I first became involved in the church, I proposed the formation of a Sunday school class before the Sunday morning worship service. The church had had such a class at one time. The response was not positive: I was told that the church members were not going to come an hour earlier for a Sunday school class. My proposals for a midweek small group at the church building or at a church member’s home were similarly rejected. I concluded that the only discipling that could be done was through the sermon on Sunday morning. This is often the case in small churches. In retrospect I should have taken more time to get to know the church members better. My sermons did not sit well with two church members who made a point of showing their disapproval by boycotting my sermons. It proved an effective way of silencing me since my supervising pastor became concerned that I might cause a split in the church and advised me to remove my name from the preaching roster and take a less active role in the worship ministry of the church. At the time I was a pastor candidate for the church but these developments and my supervising pastor’s impression from conversations with two church leaders that the church and I were mismatched derailed that candidacy. I guess that I have not really worked through the experience because I keep writing about it. One thing that I did learn is the importance of taking time to get to know the members of a church before attempting to make any kind of change.

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