By Peter Meier | March 15, 2018
How are disciples made? One disciple at a time.
Those of us who are passionate about church multiplication know that disciple-making is critical to multiplication. Multiplication begins with the making disciples who make disciples.
Biblical Disciple-making is making disciples (one at a time) who then make more disciples, who make more disciples. This is multiplication. Jesus sends disciples (John 20:21) to go and make more disciples (Matthew 29:18-20). These disciples then gather in faith communities and send and go and make more disciples who start new faith communities – and on and on into infinity it goes! This is how God Himself designed movement to take place.
However, in our addition-growth culture, we face three significant problems.
First, we replace Jesus’ design for making disciples (one at a time, who make more disciples, etc.) with man-made growth strategies (marketing, outreach, programs, etc). These are not bad or evil things in themselves, but they end up appealing to cultural Christians (“members”) who desire to be kept happy. Ever-expanding growth strategies replace simple disciple-making as churches work harder and harder to accumulate and keep members rather than send and multiply disciples. If we concentrated on intentional disciple-making, which includes the sending of disciples to reach new people in new places, God would open our eyes to the most powerful growth strategy. After all, He designed it! (Read about it in the book of Acts!)
Second, many churches position evangelism against disciple-making. Many don’t even realize they’ve done it. We are so focused on efforts to make converts, or to gain new members, or get new people who gather in our site(s) for worship, that Biblical disciple-making is not an intentional part of who we are. This results in an unnecessary imbalance of evangelism and disciple-making where these strategies should be balanced and integrated. Evangelism is simply the sharing of the Good News, but, as Alan Hirsch points out in his free e-book, Disciplism, “Evangelism gets done along the way as we do discipleship… The Great Commission is just about discipling the nations. Know what happens? As you disciple people, evangelism takes place because it’s done in the context of discipleship.” I’ve often called evangelism the “secret sauce” of church multiplication, but only as it takes place within the process of making Biblical disciples.
The third, and perhaps the biggest problem, is that we have found ourselves making cultural Christians rather than focusing on making Biblical Disciples who follow Jesus and invite others to follow Him too. A normal part of Christian maturity is making other disciples, just as a normal part of human maturity is having children who will mature and have more children. One becomes many (although in the case of human beings, two are needed). Cultural Christians, on the other hand, consume. You add one and then continue having to feed them to keep them happy. They never fully mature and reproduce.
Consequently, we double down on addition-growth strategies. We add more staff and classes and small groups, we create more worship services and programs, we do more marketing, and add more space and larger mortgages in order to increase our numbers. Our measurement of success becomes how many people come to events, worship services, classes and so on. Instead of intentionally making disciples who mature to make more disciples, and then blessing and sending them to start new faith communities and make even more Biblical disciples, we find that we are struggling to stay “even” or grow slightly (addition). We are lacking in multiplication.
What’s the solution to these three Disciple-making problems? Start by recognizing them in your own experience. Then prioritize disciple-making as your primary purpose, both for yourself and for your church. That will drive your decisions and your actions in new ways to advance God’s Kingdom. That’s God’s growth strategy. It’s called multiplication!
Is your church making and sending Biblical disciples, or are you focused on making cultural Christians and keeping them happy? Why is this distinction so important? Why is this so challenging for so many of our churches today?
The Center for US Missions exists to equip disciples to multiply faith communities. If we can help you in your goal to multiply, give us a call!
This tension between Biblical Disciple-making and Growth Strategies is one of the critical dimensions of multiplication addressed by Todd Wilson, in his book, Multipliers: Leading Beyond Addition. Download this free e-book and other free resources from exponential.org.
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