11 Steps to Creating a Discipleship Model

Make disciples. That’s our mission, right? Why do so many churches feel like they are spinning their wheels in trying to do so?11 Steps to Creating a Discipleship Model

Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Make disciples of all nations. How? By going, baptizing, and teaching.

So that means Sunday mornings are enough, right? I would propose to you that if Sunday morning worship services are all that your church is doing to make disciples, you’re not doing enough. There’s something BIG missing.

This past year myself and Jay Phillips – the worship and community groups pastor at The Crossing – set out to put together a discipleship model for our church. Up to that point we didn’t have a set out process for making disciples. We all knew we were supposed to do so, but we didn’t have any language or set out plan to use and follow. Now that we have created it and are in the implementation stage, it’s clear just how beneficial a discipleship model is.

I remember hearing Dave Ramsey once say, “to be unclear is to be unkind.” For churches, too often we’re unclear on what people’s next step is. When you take the time to put together a discipleship model, clarity comes in and people begin to understand what their next step is. It’s a beautiful thing.

Here are 11 steps to creating a discipleship model:

1. Understand what a discipleship model is.

We are all commanded to make disciples. There’s no question about that. A discipleship model is the strategy behind accomplishing the goal. Please, from the outset, understand that a discipleship model doesn’t replace the Bible or Jesus. This is for you, your staff, and lay leaders. It’s the invisible strategy behind everything you do and everything you don’t do

A discipleship model makes clear what you believe the best way to make disciples is. It also makes clear what things you won’t do. It gets everyone aligned and rowing in the same direction. Since churches have gotten crystal clear with their discipleship model, some have done away with Sunday school, Wednesday night Bible studies, and other programming that didn’t fit anymore. I’m not saying that’s your answer and what you need to do, that’s just what many other churches have done.

2. Decide who will be at the table.

If you’re in a church with a few staff people who will be at the table working out what your model will look like? If you’re in a church with no other staff, but yourself, then pull in some lay leaders. For us, the people who put this together were myself and Jay (who I mentioned above). We spent countless hours researching, discussing, and creating our discipleship model. 

We didn’t include Elders or executive staff until we were ready to present what we created. Depending on how your church is governed, you may or may not need to include elders or board members. 

3. Consult your mission statement.

If you have a mission statement then see what that says. Having a crisp and clear mission statement is vital to creating a discipleship model. It’s the point that everything else should point to. 

Ours was: we exist to welcome outsiders in, send insiders out, and turn our community right side up.

Our mission statement was being accomplished. We were growing numerically, involved in missions, and involved in our community, but something was missing. What about growing people up in Christ? Since this piece was missing in the mission statement, we re-crafted our mission statement and included it in our discipleship model. 

It now reads: we exist to glorify God by bringing outsiders in, grow insiders up, and sending insiders out.

What does your mission statement say? Does it need to be changed? 

4. Pray and research.

prayerPrayer needs to be happening throughout the entire process. As you research and see what is working in other churches, you’ll want to be going to the throne of God constantly and asking what will work in your context. Talk to your network of pastor friends. Join our Facebook group and ask 150+ pastors from all over the country and world.

What are you currently doing? Is it working? Honestly? 

Compile all your research and begin siphoning through it.

5. Decide on your primary vehicle.

Your mission statement expresses the goal for the very existence of your church. In order to get to the goal, you need a vehicle to get there. What will that be?

Some churches have small groups. Others have missional communities. Others stick with Bible studies. And others do Sunday mornings only. What will you do?

We checked out missional communities and went through a few day long discipleship workshop with 3DM. They are doing great things, but what we decided to do is take a couple aspects of what they’re doing and plug them into how we do small groups.

We decided, then, on small groups that are application driven. Sometimes we do sermon based. And other times we go through something different than what the sermon was.

6. Resolve to make your primary vehicle primary.

Odds are you’re doing a lot of different things so here’s what will happen when you decide on a primary vehicle… It won’t be primary. It will just be another thing your church is doing. You have to be intentional in making it primary. 

You may need to get rid of some other programming to do this effectively. You may need to use other programming to point to your primary vehicle. 

At The Crossing, I oversee a ministry called Crossing University. They are Sunday morning elective classes designed to help people develop spiritual disciplines and grow in their faith. At the end of our 4-6 week classes we promote small groups and pass around a sign up sheet. We believe that real discipleship happens in real community so we use other ministries to promote our primary vehicle.

7. Decide your core ingredients.

spice-370114_1920These core ingredients are those pieces that together make discipleship happen in people’s lives. We identified 6 for our context. Much of the verbiage isn’t original to us, but the ingredients made sense to us. Here are the 6 core ingredients: (1) practical teaching, (2) powerful worship, (3) private disciplines, (4) personal ministry, (5) providential relationships, and (6) pivotal circumstances. 

We can’t manufacture all of these ingredients as leaders so we need to create environments where these things can be nurtured. We’ll teach practically, worship creatively, teach and promote private disciplines, teach and promote personal ministry, and encourage relationships through community. If number 5 is present when number 6 happens, that’s a win. 

What are your core ingredients to discipleship?

8. Write it out.

It’s time to put it all together and write out what the model is. 

9. Present to elders or your equivalence.

Passionately present why a discipleship model is necessary, what the proposed model is, and what the implementation of the model will result in.

10. Set specific goals for the specific ministries you oversee.

In light of the discipleship model, what are some goals you can set? Identify some core ingredients that your specific ministries promote and teach, then set goals around those things. 

11. Implement the model through presenting to ministry leaders.

Remember, the discipleship model is not something that will need to be presented to the entire congregation. This is for the leaders in your church who oversee different ministries or the teams of leaders that oversee different ministries. 

Have as many small meetings as you can. Be sure to have all high level leaders present the relevant parts of the model to their leaders. Try to avoid having a big meeting for implementation purposes. Do it small and then follow it up with a big vision meeting if you so choose.

Want specific help?

I’d be happy to help you in the beginning stages of making a discipleship model. Feel free to email me and let me know how I can help.

Do you have a discipleship model? What is your primary vehicle? What are your core ingredients? Let me know in the comments below. 

Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.


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