Discipleship ministries have become the forgotten element of many church programs...
Five Ways to Boost Discipleship in Your Church
by Stan Toler
Did you hear about the elderly couple struggling with memory loss? When the wife asked her husband if he wanted something from the kitchen, he said, “Sure. How about some ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream?” Twenty minutes later, the wife returned with a plate of bacon and eggs. He stared at it for a moment and said, “You forgot my toast.”
Discipleship ministries have become the forgotten element of many church programs. Here are five great ways to boost the effectiveness of this vital aspect of your church program.
Just Do It
Although 95% of churches in North America have a Sunday School program, discipleship ministries are often the last thing initiated by new churches and the first item cut by struggling churches. The past 10 years saw a 12% decline in the number of congregations offering a VBS program and a 10 percent decline in the number of churches offering midweek discipleship for children.1
The first prerequisite for an effective discipleship strategy is to have one at all. Be sure you offer discipleship ministries for every age-level in your church.
Discipleship ministries often languish because church leaders do not value them. Unfortunately, only 15% of pastors believe Sunday school is the church’s top priority—down from 22% in 2002.2 As a pastor, what you promote will thrive; what you ignore will starve.
Teach a class, join a small group, mention Sunday school from the pulpit, invite others to join you in the life-transforming study of Scripture. Make discipleship a priority, and others will too.
Spiritual formation ministries may account for as little as five percent of a church’s budget. Yet in a recent survey of churches that both reach and keep new people, pastors were asked to rank the key elements of successful assimilation. Sunday school ranked first, ahead of morning worship—and even children’s and youth ministries—as the essential ministry for assimilating newcomers.3
Budget for your discipleship program. Designate funds for teacher training, resources, and equipment. Raise funds if you have to. Don’t allow this vital element of the Great Commission to be underfunded.
Strengthen your discipleship program by building a core of capable leaders. Invite a prospect to be your co-teacher and spend some time in mentoring. Take prospective teachers to a local or regional Christian education conference. Provide training books and DVDs. Meet with your leaders frequently to train and encourage them. Your teachers are the backbone of your discipleship ministry. Build them, and they will build your congregation.
Given that roughly half of all worship attendees do not participate in weekly discipleship events, we must ask, “Whom are we not reaching?” Target those missing demographics with new discipleship strategies. Consider starting a midweek program for fifth and sixth graders.
Create new Sunday school classes that offer need-driven teaching for those who are grieving, divorced, or in recovery. Ask, “What will it take to get college students involved in Scripture study?” then do it.
The most significant threat to the church in the twenty-first century is not that it will fail to reach the lost. We are seeing success in evangelism, and churches are growing. The greatest threat, I think, is that we will make converts to Christ but fail to disciple them, leaving the second half of the Great Commission unfulfilled and the church spiritually underpowered.
I was led to Christ by a Sunday School teacher at age four. I believe it takes teachers to love the children of the world. It is up to us, pastors, to keep discipleship ministries thriving in our churches. Together, let us teach them to obey everything Christ commanded.
About the Writer: Dr. Stan A. Toler is a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene. He has served for 40 years as a pastor in Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Toler has written over 70 books.
1. Barna Research Group, “Sunday School is Changing in Under-the-Radar But Significant Ways,” (Jul. 11, 2009) http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/175-sunday-school-is-changing-in-under-the-radar-but-significant-ways, viewed Oct. 6, 2009.
3. Assemblies of God Discipleship Ministries Agency, “Twenty-first Century Sunday School: Teaching, Evangelizing, Assimilating, Mobilizing," http://www.ag.org/sundayschool/Training_and_Helps/Trends_and_Statistics/SS_Statistics.pdf, viewed Oct. 6, 2009.