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How To Become A Disciple-making Movement.

A disciple-making movement results in a rapid and exponential increase in disciples making disciples.

Cris Rogers

A disciple-making movement results in a rapid and exponential increase in disciples making disciples.  Many of our churches are monuments to a past story that we remember together.  However, the early church was not a monument to Jesus' death, but a movement dedicated to Jesus' resurrection life.  This movement produced exponential church growth which has rarely been seen again in the last 2000 years.


1. Think intentionally

Discipleship does not happen by osmosis. Many of us think that if someone hangs around long enough then they will just pick up the ropes. In some small ways, this may happen if they are an attentive person or want to learn, but most people don’t know what is to be learnt, and will simply pay little attention. Discipleship as seen in the scripture is intentional and focused. Jesus invited a group of people (seventy-two) to be disciples, he invited twelve to be in a core group and three of which were his close students. 


This intentionality and focused apprenticeship meant that Jesus had a group who knew they were being discipled by him; they knew they had access to him and his teaching but also reflected back together on what they were doing. If we are going to be a disciple-making church, then we must think about being intentional and focused.  This includes being aware of the manner of our discipleship, not only the content of our discipling: the "how" as well as the "what".  Practically, this involves not only what is taught, but how it is taught, not only what is modelled, but how it is modelled and not only revealing who we are, but how we invite relationship with our authentic selves.  Churches that are able to be intentional in their program, groups and one-to-ones as well as in their process of reflection and feedback are the ones that are making disciples.

2. Think sticky

There can be a danger of overcomplicating things to the point where no one can remember what they are supposed to be doing. Thinking about how we intentionally apprentice people and what language we use is essential. 


Good teaching is ‘sticky’, or you could say memorable. When showing or teaching someone, we need to be thinking about how to make it memorable (see the article on sticky language here). If someone can remember what they were taught, if it’s sticky enough, then they will be able to repeat it. This repeatability is essential for discipleship. If we look at the historical model of apprenticeship found in the New Testament and around the life of the Jewish Rabbis, we see this need for things to be anchored in memorability. People were not able to rely on note-taking in the same way as we do today. The early church didn’t have the ability to pull out their mobile and type a quick note.


Are you able to distil things down to a memorable thought? If not, it will simply get lost or confused. Simplicity is key to replication. The early church was able to share the gospel with very simple doctrinal statements. For example, “Jesus Is Lord” was the earliest doctrinal statement which was easy to share. Alan Hirsch has been known to describe this as so simple they could sneeze it.


3. Think corporately

We live in an individual culture which has bred a desire to make our faith individualistic. Historically, reading of scripture was done in a group or a family.  As a book about the family of God, it makes sense that reading it should not be a private affair, in isolation, but a shared experience. Many Christians struggle with the modern view of reading our Bibles and praying every morning. Pulling the spiritual disciplines into a corporate event helps those who struggle to be held and led by others. John Wesley found that gathering people into small groups was the most effective way of getting people engaged with their discipleship. It was in this small group that they connected, were honest about struggles, and allowed for challenge and encouragement.


4. Think private 

Alongside getting people into small groups we still need to be thinking about what we are doing to help people engage with their faith daily. We often tell our congregations that they need to be reading the Bible and praying at home but then do not give them the skills to effectively do so. In order to make disciples, churches need to have a simple, daily church rhythm which is regularly promoted allowing people to join something that they previously struggled to activate as individuals. If a church can promote a simple daily practice in their own language and spirituality and have this available for people to take away, it will activate a corporate sense of private discipleship.


5. Think multiplication

Disciples-making-disciples is essential to being a disciple-making movement. This means we need to bring all four of these points together to make a fermenting point. We must be intentional in making disciples, we must have reproducible practices and teaching, and we must practice communal as well as private discipleship to create a fermenting point.  Something exclusive then happens when these practices unite with the work of the Holy Spirit. Kreider, in his book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, tracks the impossible growth of the early church down to a moment when everything just came together. Intentionality, simplicity, commitment to community and private prayer. It was at this fermenting point that the church grew exponentially. Creating a “moment where everything just comes together” in our churches requires us to form the same fermenting point - the combination of the Holy Spirit with the intentional, reproducible, communal and private practices of disciple-making.  


Further reading

Alan Hirsch - The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Especially Chapter 5)

Alan Kreider - The Patient Ferment of the Early Church

Cris is a Church of England church planter, artist, maker and Star Wars fan. In 2010 Cris and family took on the leadership of All Hallows Bow which had shrunk to seven people and is situated in one of the toughest estates in East London. Cris and his family moved to Tower Hamlets with the desire of restarting the church and seeing people flourish. Cris has a deep passion for discipleship and apprenticeship in the way of Jesus.

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