Breakdown of the Disciple Factories

Breakdown of the Disciple Factories
July 11, 2017 Thom Schultz

by Thom Schultz

The disciple-making machine is broken. Though most church leaders would say discipleship is a crucial part of their mission and ministry, they fear it’s not working.

A recent Barna study revealed that only one percent of church leaders say “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.”

The church’s role in discipling will be a major point of discussion at Group’s annual Future of the Church Summit, where we will explore a new paradigm for the church’s work in discipleship.

Churches typically view their work in “making disciples” to be largely a mass-production academic endeavor. The thinking seems to be if people just know enough doctrine, memorize enough scripture, accumulate enough Bible knowledge, sit through enough sermons, attend enough classes, they’ll become disciples.

That’s not working—for a number of reasons. People are spending less time at church, especially in academic programs. Fewer churches even offer an education hour.

And, the old academic model itself is crumbling. The concept of an all-knowing teacher lecturing a room of passive students produces few lasting results. Outside the church, academia is recognizing this collapse. Experts in primary, secondary and higher education are abandoning the old methodology. Eventually this epiphany will reach the church, and ministry people will reconsider the routine of monologue-based teaching in sermons and studies.

The church has attempted to propagate the faith as one more academic subject. But here’s the problem. Faith is not a subject to be studied. Faith is a relationship to be nurtured.

If we truly care about helping people grow a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we need to understand how relationships develop. Relationships—with people and with God—develop relationally, not academically.

Effective churches will relook at how the original discipling process worked. Following Jesus’ example, ministry people will approach discipleship with more relational emphasis, interactivity, dialog, question-asking, teamwork, risk-taking, participatory experiences, shared adventures, mentoring, and deep prayer.

Academic endeavors have their place. But discipleship isn’t merely about academics. It’s not merely about the transmittal of information. It’s about personal transformation.

And it’s about reaching that point, as did the original disciples, that Jesus no longer calls us mere servants, but calls us his friends. (John 15:15)

(Join the discussion surrounding the future of discipleship, church growth, generation z, and much more at the 2017 Future of the Church Summit coming October 25-27 in Loveland, CO. Register before July 28th and save 25%. Learn more at thefutureofthechurch.com)

President of Group Publishing and author of Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore and Director of When God Left the Building.

2 Comments

  1. Will Nelken 2 years ago

    I think the early-bird discount is $25, not 25%.

    • Adam Bohlmeyer 2 years ago

      Hi Will! The regular, non early bird rate for the Future of the Church Summit is $375. So if you’re able to register by July 28th and take advantage of the Super-Early Bird pricing, that would entitle you to an over 25% discount. I hope you’re able to join us.

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