How to Develop a Strategic Approach to Discipleship

  • 31 October 2017
  • Randy Wollf

In my experience as a pastor and in my interactions with other church leaders, I know that churches sometimes struggle with how to make disciples most effectively. Approaches that worked well in the past may not be as effective today. 

In this blog, we will look at a holistic process for making disciples that involves churches growing in 11 key areas. This strategic pathway of discipleship attempts to integrate a biblical understanding of discipleship with an understanding of contemporary culture. Obviously, some elements may be more important in a particular context while other elements not included in this list may need to be considered.

1. Prayer Saturation 

Prayer permeates disciple-making churches. How can we grow a culture of prayer—a culture in which God delights to work deeply in peoples' lives? Here are nine suggestions I have for how churches can grow in prayer

2. Loving Christ-Centred Community 

Discipleship occurs best in deep communities where people lovingly practice life-on-life discipleship. What can leaders do to develop this kind of intimacy? I believe leaders need to create opportunities for people to develop and grow disciple-making relationships and then model how this is done. Here are 8 characteristics the flow from a Christ-centred community.  

3. Growth Orientation 

When everything in the church is geared toward helping people take next steps, growth becomes normative and expected. Discipleship can flourish in this kind of growth-oriented environment (click here to read how leaders can foster a growth mindset).  

4. Personalized Approach 

Even though programs can provide a context in which discipleship can occur, we must strive to come alongside individuals and help them take next steps. This personalized approach is a requirement for in-depth discipleship. You'll know you've implemented this approach when you see evidence of four characteristics

5. A Missional Mindset 

Without a strong desire to reach lost people, churches are unlikely to have the passion and motivation to devote a significant amount of time and energy to making disciples. A main goal of making disciples is so that we can make more disciples.  

6. Biblical Teaching 

Good sermons can help people know and follow Jesus. We need strong biblical teaching that exposes people to the whole counsel of God and motivates them to greater depths of obedience (here are recommendations for preaching to millennials). 

7. Practical Training 

What are the training needs in your church that will help people grow in their relationship with God, to develop godly character, to understand and live out their calling, to invest more deeply in the lives of others, and to hone skills for serving God more effectively (see Seven Dimensions of Leadership Development)? Providing timely and relevant training in these areas will help people grow as disciples of Jesus.

8. Robust Small Groups

In their book, Small Groups Big Impact, Jim Egli and Dwight Marable share about their research with 2,000 small group leaders. Groups that want to grow have leaders focused on prayer, reaching out to the lost, caring for people, and empowering group members to serve (see Strategies for Growing Your Small Group). These kinds of robust small groups are effective in making disciples.

9. Accountability

Dr. Dave Currie, President of Doing Family Right, has said, "Accountability is the volunteer surrender of your life to the regular and frequent scrutiny and encouragement of another person for the purpose of ongoing life transformation that brings glory to God." This is a missing ingredient in many of our churches. Without it, discipleship suffers. Thankfully, there are ways of incorporating accountability in the relational structures that already exist in your church

10. Coaching/Mentoring Culture

In a coaching/mentoring culture, people recognize that every conversation holds disciple-making possibilities. People regularly make disciples as they engage in structured and spontaneous mentoring conversations.

11. Personal Spiritual Discipline

We all recognize the importance of spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditating on Scripture. As important as these are, their purpose is to help us live a life of spiritual discipline where we surrender every part of our lives to Him. As people grow in their capacity to live spiritually disciplined lives, they will live as vibrant disciples of Jesus who actively make disciples of others. 

Curious about the next step you can take? MinistryLift members can access the full training video on this material (half-day workshop) as part of their subscription. 
You can also read blogs on each of the 11 steps: 

Subscribe to the MinistryLift blog to receive the next blog entry in this series. 

Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary