Discipleship is a Who, Not a What

What is the best way to move people forward in their faith? The answer is staring us in the face.

Last year, I wrote an article (“Are You an ‘Evangelism’ or ‘Discipleship’ Church?”) on the tension that I experience between having a very evangelistic heart and seeing the need to disciple people. As a pastor, I am increasingly burdened that we don’t do a good enough job discipling our people.

So I identified the problem: People need to be discipled. But I didn’t know the solution until very recently. At least I think I’ve discovered the solution. Bear with me as I share what I’ve found to be true.

At my church (and in many others), we say discipleship happens best in small groups. We push our LifeGroups very hard and encourage people to be a part of them. Nothing wrong with that, but is it the answer? We also believe we grow through our weekly teaching of the Word, even though we know that’s just one way people grow.

However, research and history seem to indicate something else. The book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, shares some startling lessons from Willow Creek’s REVEAL study and research of over 1,000 churches:

1. The most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement. The authors note that biblical engagement is “not just getting people into the Bible when they’re in church … but helping them engage the Bible on their own outside of church.”

2. Serving experiences appear to be even more significant to spiritual development than organized small groups. Why is that? I have a theory I’ll come back to.

3. We don’t challenge people to reflect on Scripture. This is huge. The REVEAL research reveals that if leaders could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, “they would inspire, encourage and equip their people to read the Bible.”

4. Though many churches believe small groups are the solution to spiritual formation, Move reveals, “there is no evidence that getting 100 percent of a congregation into a small group is an effective spiritual formation strategy.”

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Greg Atkinson
Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant and the Editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm. As a consultant, Greg has worked with some of the largest and fastest-growing churches across the United States. Greg’s latest writing project is entitled Church Leadership Essentials available on Amazon through Rainer Publishing.