There is a lot of talk about discipleship in the American church today, and I believe it will heat to a boil within a few years.
Over the last few decades we have learned how to grow big churches — we have more mega-churches than ever in history. (The list of the 100 largest churches start at 8,000 attendance today, up from 4,000 in 2000.) But in the process we have discovered that it does not mean we have more disciples. The purpose of the Church Growth Movement (starting with Donald McGavran’s writing in the late 1960’s) was “to make make more and better disciples”. We figured out quantity, but not quality. As a result, we have many huge churches, but our society is not deeply impacted, and research shows attendees do not live much differently than unbelievers.
So, where to turn? The answer is probably not to launch a “church shrinkage movement”. Small churches are not better at making disciples, either. I am not bashing mega-churches; I think they have been a very positive development for the Kingdom.
The point is to focus on what makes disciples. The truth is, we have not built our churches, large or small, on a disciple-making foundation. The problem is our assumptions and starting points in our churches. We assumed that if we could get a lot of people in a room who sing and hear truth, then the kingdom would come. That didn’t happen.
Someone said “Start with disciples and you will always get the church. Start with the church, and you will rarely get disciples.” Wow, that’s a radical statement, and if true, it explains a lot.
We used to say that church planting was the most effective means of disciple-making. That may not be true any more.
Brian Hook, the church planting pastor at Northwood Church in Texas (where I will be for training again next month) said “…in the years ahead we will be talking disciple rather than church planting.”