Most church people would be comfortable believing and sharing that the church is about introducing people to a relationship with Christ and growing deeper in that relationship over time.  In the church world, we refer to this in a variety of ways such making discipling, becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, or having a pathway for intentional discipleship formation.  One might say we are in the disciple-making “business.”

In a recent Barna Group study, a startling statistic was revealed given that we are in the disciple-making business. Just 28% of Christians are actively involved in a discipleship community!  It is important to keep in the mind that the working definition of a discipleship community for this study was when those participating were being discipled and discipling others.  Another 28% surveyed are being discipled, but not discipling others.  Only 5% are discipling others, but not being discipled themselves.  And a whopping 39% of Christians are not involved in discipleship at all.  This means that nearly half (44%) of Christians are not being discipled and only 33% are discipling others.

In the same survey, the barriers to making disciples are identified.  The survey indicates that 37% indicated they felt unqualified or ill-equipped followed by 24% stating that no one had ever suggested or asked them. In addition, 22% indicated they had just never thought about discipling others.

A third category asked respondents to indicate why they were not in a discipling community.  The top answer revealed they had just never thought about it with a 38% response followed by 35% stating they had not found someone they wanted to have a discipling relationship with.  Another 16% stated they didn’t know how to begin this kind of relationship.  Another 15% indicated it wasn’t easy for them to be vulnerable and 14% said they didn’t know what it would require of them.

What does all of this mean for the local church?  How are we to respond?  It seems to me there are some key take-aways from this survey which are backed up from my coaching and consulting work with hundreds of congregations around the country.

  1. Local churches need to be more intentional in their expectations, offerings, and implementing of discipling.  This includes accountability conversations, quality opportunities for discipling communities, and on-going starting points for discipling communities. 
  2. Help connect all the church offers to each congregant’s next steps in their discipleship journey.  Don’t leave people trying to guess how to connect the dots. Often the discipleship pathway and the activities of the church don’t always intersect intuitively.  Make it obvious to the most casual observer!
  3. Local churches need to provide basic, hands-on experiential equipping opportunities to help their congregants grow more comfortable in discipling others.  Clergy and laity leaders need to model this behavior on-going and set this expectation for others.
  4. Local churches need to reimagine what a discipling community experience looks like for younger generations.  What other generations might define as a discipling experience might be different than what another generation would desire.  Either allow the younger generations to define their discipling experience (as long as basics are covered) and/or look for churches who have a growing discipling community of younger generations for guidance.
  5. Invest in discipling leaders who will lead discipling communities to model the kind of community disciples desire with the intention of groups disbanding after a period of time for those participants to lead another discipling community.