The Barna Group, in partnership with the Navigators, published a pre-COVID (2015) research project entitled THE STATE OF DISCIPLESHIP focused on disciple-making in the North American context. The information contained in the report highlights the challenges and opportunities renewal congregations face as they seek to make more and better disciples. Much has changed in the way churches think about disciple-making since the pandemic, but this information remains pertinent despite those changes. The research did a deep dive into discipleship attitudes and practices through: 1) interviews with 36 educators at various seminaries and Bible colleges, 2) interviews with 30 church leaders who exemplify excellence in disciple-making, 3) interviews with 2000 practicing and non-practicing Christians and, 4) interviews with 800 senior pastors and staff specializing in disciple-making.
Here are some take-aways from Barna’s research on disciple-making:
Take-away 1: Discipleship Lacks A Clear Goal and Definition
Most churches struggle to identify the goal(s) of disciple-making. Practicing Christians and most church leaders land on the idea of “becoming more Christ-like.” This definition is preferred over the less descript term “discipleship.” This, of course, begs the question, “What does it mean to become like Christ?”
Take-away 2: Successful Disciple-Making Churches Are Marked By Committed Leadership And A Plan
Exemplar disciple-making congregations were set apart by senior leaders for whom disciple-making was their primary focus. These congregations were also marked by a clear plan that was uniquely tailored to the local congregation based on the passions of leaders, the needs of congregants and the context of ministry.
Take-away 3: The Greatest Challenge To Successful Disciple-Making Is Apathy And Busyness
Only 1 in 5 Christians report participating in any disciple-making activity beyond worship and prayer. The research identifies the primary reasons are busyness and the lack of desire to grow in Christ. Most Christians are generally satisfied with their own spiritual maturity and with the disciple-making efforts of their churches.
Take-away 4: Successful Disciple-Making Demands Intentional Relationships
Four of ten Christian’s preferred to engage in disciple-making completely on their own. In fact, one out of three Christian adults use only a non-personal discipleship method such as a podcast or listening to music to enhance their Christ following. Exemplar discipleship leaders insist, however, that intentional relationships are key to maturity.
Take-away 5: Creating Tools Of Assessment Helpes Empower The Disciple-Making Movement
High-impact disciple-making congregations identify ways to measure progress towards the goal of Christ-likeness. This may include measuring servant-oriented practices, identifying evidences of the fruit of the Spirit, noting increased spiritual conversations with others or increased daily practice of Scripture and prayer.
Take-away 6: High Impact Disciple-Making Processess Equip Disciples To Make Disciples
Disciples making disciples is the least commonly chosen goal for discipleship named by practicing and non-practicing Christians alike but exemplar discipleship leaders identify this as a leading outcome for the disciple-making process. Disciples mature as they invest in those who are on a journey to God.
Take-away 7: Great Disciple-Making Is Relational, Intentional, Organic, And Transformative
Barna summarizes the research by noting that the best disciple-making processes are relational (especially life-on-life mentoring), intentional (there are agreed upon commitments with expected outcomes) organic (it is flexible and customizable), and transformative (moving beyond head knowledge to authentic life change).
The 144-page STATE OF DISCIPLESHIP report contains many additional insights and nuances worth considering and discussing. A copy of the report can be purchased at www.barna.org.