Day One Discipleship: Creating a disciple-making culture from the jump.
I recently attended a church planting event on discipleship and during the Q and A time one ambitious future planter asked, “How do you start discipling from the jump?” He was implying that rather than waiting a few months or years into establishing a plant, how do you start off discipling people from day one. While the panel experts gathered their thoughts and tried to formulate a brief yet satisfying answer, I thought to myself – now we are asking the right questions.
Many Church Planters have a burden to reach new people with the Gospel. They have a deep passion for evangelism, and dreams of leading hundreds of people to a new relationship with Jesus. That is a great goal and one that aligns well with planting since it is often one of the most effective tools to lead the lost to Christ.
We need not just a passion for evangelism, but also a plan for discipleship.
And yet, that alone is not enough to fulfill our calling and mandate to make disciples and teach them the way of Jesus (Mat. 28:18-20). We need not just a passion for evangelism, but also a plan for discipleship. A healthy, fruitful church plant is prepared to start making disciples on day one, but how?
5 Steps to cultivate “Day One Discipleship” in your church plant:
1. Cast a vision for discipleship, not just evangelism.
Granted, the two go hand in hand. Biblically, one does not exist without the other. Yet many planters, in their zeal to reach their communities with the Gospel, will spend all their time casting a vision of how to reach the lost but fail to cast an equally compelling and clear vision for making disciples. We know the work doesn’t end when someone trusts in Christ for salvation, but do our people?
When you and your core people articulate the vision for your plant – is discipleship front and center or an afterthought?
Have we instilled in them a vision beyond conversion for the ongoing, grueling and refining work of growing together in the Gospel (Col. 1:28-29)? The only way to instill this type of holistic vision for disciple-making is to talk about it early, regularly and deeply. When you and your core people articulate the vision for your plant – is discipleship front and center or an afterthought?
2. Create culture with common language.
This principle goes for every area of your plant. Whatever you build into your common language will take the primary place in your church culture (1 Tim. 1:15, 3:1, 4:7-10; 2 Tim. 2:11-13; Tit. 3:8). So, if you want discipleship to be the core of your church, you have to embed it into the language of your mission and processes. I’m not talking about stuffy statements buried in your governance documents or catchy taglines you only pull out in membership classes.
Create a mission statement and discipleship language that defines the movement and process for your people.
I mean the every day, oft repeated, can finish each other’s sentences type of statements that define how your church lives out ministry on the front lines. Create a mission statement and discipleship language that defines the movement and process for your people. Rehearse it with them every time you meet. Make them memorize it. Display it on the walls of your space and on the swag you create. Saturate your people in your language of discipleship, and it will shape the identity of your plant.
3. Equip disciple-makers.
Here is the dirty truth about church planting, you need Christians to do it. Hopefully they are not all Christians just relocating to the new “cool” church, but if everyone is an unbeliever or even brand-new believer, the church will struggle to make disciples and you will drown trying to care for and disciple the whole group. You need a team of disciple-makers to help do the work (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
Equip and train [core believers] as disciple-makers in an 8-12 week Turbo Group.
This starts with enlisting other mature, healthy believers to partner with you in the new work and help disciple others. Without this strong core, most church plants will eventually implode on themselves because they cannot handle the weight of all the discipleship that is necessary. Once you have your core group of mature believers equip and train them up as disciple-makers in an 8-12 week Turbo Group. Use this group to both further disciple them while also teaching them the tools and techniques to disciple others. Taking time to pour into these starter leaders early will pay great dividends in church-wide discipleship later.
4. Build a discipleship pathway.
A primary part of casting a strong discipleship vision and creating a discipleship culture through shared language is building and communicating a clear discipleship pathway for the church (1 Cor. 11:1). There are lots of different models and types of discipleship pathways, and most can work well in the right context, but the key is picking the right one for your plant and then continually and clearly leading people to it.
Most of all, don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. Find one [discipleship model] that works for you and get to work making disciples.
Make it simple, clear and accessible for your people. Have clear entry points and transitions from one step to the next. Use your pathway to define what a disciple of Christ looks like so people can visualize the goal and know their next step to get there. Most of all, don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. There are lots of great discipleship models/pathways out there. Don’t waste a ton of time and energy trying to build something new or unique. Find one that works for you and get to work making disciples.
5. Eliminate distractions.
Finally, good is the enemy of great. If you want your church to be great at making disciples, it means you are going to have to forfeit some other good programs, ministries, and goals for now (Luke 9:62). Early on in the church plant you can’t do everything – at least not well. If you try to take on too many other priorities, discipleship will suffer and
get relegated to just another thing on the list.
Making disciples is not a second-tier ministry or goal. It is primary. It is the mission. It is why we exist.
So be ready to say no to certain outreach opportunities, mercy ministries, men’s and women’s ministries, MOPS, sports programs, pet projects, etc.… If you are going to breakthrough the darkness of your community with a lasting light for the Gospel, you need the precision of a laser not the spread of a shotgun.
Making disciples is not a second-tier ministry or goal. It is primary. It is the mission. It is why we exist. So make it a priority from day one, and God will be glorified in your church plant.