When You Need a Discipleship Strategy But Don’t Know Where to Begin

Below is a new weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

How do churches make disciples?

It is perhaps the central question churches face, and only some of them actually have a well-defined answer. As Mike Breen says, “The problem is that most of us have been educated and trained to build, serve, and lead the organization of the church. Most of us have actually never been trained to make disciples.”

Do we now define disciple as someone who attends worship somewhat regularly, gives to us financially, and engages in acts of evangelism and kindness every once in a while?

Solution: Lead people to know God, not just know about God.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen

Building a Discipling Culture is the product of more than twenty-five years of hands-on discipleship practice in a post-Christian context that has turned into a world-wide movement, dealing specifically with making the types of missional disciples Jesus spoke of.

We all want to make disciples – most of us are just unsure how to do it.

Jesus did not command us to build the church; He called us to make disciples. Building a Discipling Culture shows that effective discipleship creates the church, not the other way around.


The truth is that many churches equate discipleship with knowledge. Churches who view discipleship as simply information to be transferred want to cram as much biblical knowledge into as many people as quickly as they can.

The command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 is to “Go…and make disciples…teaching them to observe everything I have commanded.” The end goal of discipleship is not merely knowing all Jesus commanded, but obeying all Jesus commanded.

And that is a big difference.

The truth of Scripture is meant to be worked out in us, not something that we hold as an abstract reality.

Why are we assuming that simply by giving people information (e.g. pray, read the Bible, read doctrinal statements, be a part of a small group) they actually know how to do it or can figure it out by themselves? I can read a book on how to perform open heart surgery. If you go into cardiac arrest, do you want me to operate on you?

We have become so acculturated in our Cartesian, Western world that we believe knowing about something and knowing something are the same thing. What we have managed to do is teach people about God. Teach them about prayer. Teach them about mission. The point isn’t that they would just know about it but to know it.

Discipleship isn’t a random assortment of facts and propositions and behaviors, discipleship is something that is you to the core and is completely incarnated in you. If it is information, it is information that has worked its way into you and is now part of you, in the same way that John talks about the logos being wrapped up in the person of Jesus: “The Word became flesh.” It goes from being information to being knowledge.

Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture


The discipling relationship you must have with God is a real and personal one. The Scriptures contain many examples where individuals and groups had a real, personal, and practical relationship with God. They knew God, not just about Him. What was true in the Old and New Testaments remains true today.

  • Briefly describe an experience in your life when God was real and personal in His relationship with you.
  • As you recall that experience, what key words or phrases stand out to you that demonstrate your knowledge of God, not just a knowledge about God?
  • What challenges do you face in growing a real and personal relationship with God?
  • What intentional actions must you begin in order to sustain a real and personal relationship with God?

To learn more about developing your discipleship strategy, start a conversation with the Auxano team today.

Taken from SUMS Remix 10-2, published March 2015

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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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