Friday, August 26, 2016

How to Start a Small Group Bible Study in 9 Easy Steps

by Rick Howerton

Learn how to start a Bible study, create a setting where people can engage with God's Word and facilitate the growth of authentic relationships.
One of the biggest problems facing the American Church today is the fact that many people would consider themselves "unchurched."
So the challenge is this: can people be reached with the gospel despite their distrust of the local church?
The answer is yes, but we must offer an informal and relational study group in which people find personal identity.

Small-group Bible studies offer a secure and non-threatening opportunity for people to study God's Word and build authentic relationships. The key, however, is creating quality, intentional Bible study group experiences that grow out of a clear commitment to make them work.

1. Seek God's wisdom.
Pray about whether to start a small group and that God will prepare you for the next few steps in this journey. Without a doubt, this is the most neglected step. But this is a very important one because small group ministry requires leaders who have a heart for people and are willing to invest themselves in the lives of group members.

2. Clarify your vision.
Developing a mission based on prayer and commitment will help you set the course. A vision helps focus your efforts in one direction rather than chasing off in multiple directions.
3. Identify your target.
It's good to know who you want to reach through your group. Most of the time, you can figure this out just by looking around your community and asking a few questions:
·         Who is accessible to you?
·         Who do you already know?
·         Do you want to offer an early morning Bible study for business leaders?
·         Are there young moms in your community who need a support system?
·         Could you organize a prayer and Bible study group where young adults hang out?

4. Develop a strategy.
Think about the people around your church. How many have been there for years? Most likely, someone has tried this before. So that means that some have failed and some have succeeded. Bring together those people and other leaders who can offer fresh ideas and wisdom for creating something new.
5. Choose your approach.
How frequent will your group meet and what types of studies will you have? One way to choose your approach is to start with a calendar. Plan from a yearly perspective if possible, then focus in on each month. This is a great time to dream about what God can do in your community. Be mindful of your group members and what their needs are while you plan. Don't forget to allow for some flexibility in your planning.
6. Train small group leaders.
Again, the nature of small group studies is different from an ongoing Sunday School class. Identify potential leaders and their strengths, equip them based on the unique needs of the small group target and commission them to fulfill the tasks for which they have been trained.
7. Monitor the process.
The small group approach needs one central leader who coordinates the work. This leader can evaluate the effectiveness of current studies. He or she will also identify other needs to address and plan for groups.
8. Replicate.
Start every group with a leader and an apprentice. Every leader should be training an apprentice to someday lead his or her own group. Equip them to invest themselves in others as their leaders have in them. (Learn more about an intentional plan for discipleship.)

9. Learn and apply.
As you complete different studies or books, evaluate and plan new groups based on your experience. Never be afraid to adapt. Use all the organizational tools you can find to create a life-changing small group ministry.

Free Resources Recommended for You
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A small group is essential to a woman's spiritual growth. It provides acceptance, affirmation, accountability and much more.
Consider these three phases when developing a devotion to prayer among the people in your church.
Rick Howerton is the discipleship and small group specialist at LifeWay. He is founding pastor of The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tenn., and author of Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Group.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The New and Most Popular Studies at

The Heart of God's Story by George Guthrie

This 6-session Bible study explores the beauty and power of God’s unfolding story in Scripture, weaving the teaching around three key, interlocking themes: face, space, and grace. Face focuses on God’s presence as the central theme of Scripture; Space points to God’s creating a place for us to walk with Him and live for Him in the world; Grace refers to God’s outward focus as He gives humanity a mission in the world.

Unstoppable Gospel by Gregg Matte

This 6-session study journeys through the exciting early days of the church. As the Book of Acts opens, you'll see a room full of huddled, scared disciples, completely powerless and uncertain of the future. You'll also see these same followers become empowered men and women, advancing throughout the world, proclaiming the unstoppable gospel that turned the world upside down.

Other new studies at

  • More Than Enough: A 6-week study on peace by Jeff Iorg
  • Connect the Dots: A 6-week study for young adults on God's will by Mike Hurt
  • Samson: A 6-week study on God-given purpose by Chip Henderson

Monday, August 22, 2016

Seven Indicators of True Church Discipleship

By Thom S. Rainer president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Most church leaders want to see the people who attend their churches grow into fully committed followers of Christ. Unfortunately, many churches do not have a clear process for discipleship with clear expectations for members. Churches today are experiencing a disciple-making deficiency, with thousands of church leaders asking, “What do I do to make and grow disciples in my church?”

In our study of transformational churches, we began to see a common pattern in churches that were more effective in making disciples. The attendance rate of members was higher, and the dropout rate was lower. Here’s a look at some of the common indicators of true discipleship we found in these churches:

1. Members read and study the Bible daily. Research has shown that daily, personal Bible study is the clearest indicator a Christian is growing spiritually. Daily Bible reading has the highest correlation to other spiritual disciplines. So much of the Christian life flows from Bible reading—worship, evangelism, prayer, ministry, etc. Disciple-making churches exhort, encourage, and provide resources for members to be involved in daily Bible study. How are you motivating and modeling daily Bible reading?

2. Members are engaged in some type of Bible study group. We have found assimilation of those in a group is five times greater than for people who attend worship services only. Assimilation is strongly related to discipleship. What percentage of your people are involved in some kind of group? And how are you promoting Bible study as an essential part of church discipleship?

3. Members are sharing their faith on a regular basis. In Acts 4:20, Paul and John declare to the Sanhedrin, “We cannot help but speak of the things we have seen and heard.” True disciples of Jesus cannot be silent about their faith. How many of your people are sharing their faith with others? How are you regularly and systematically teaching your people about witnessing?

4. Members are generous with their giving. Stewardship is a clear indicator of whether you are making healthy disciples. How is your church’s total giving? What is the weekly per capita giving? What is your plan to teach your people biblical stewardship?

5. Members are expected to attend a corporate worship service each week. True disciples of Jesus are going to be connected to the body of Christ. They aren’t going to be Lone Ranger Christians. If your church has 700 members and only 200 in weekly attendance, you have 500 people missing something from their spiritual lives. What portion of your membership is actively involved in worship? How are you encouraging those who are forsaking the assembling together to join in worship?

6. Members are involved in ministry and missions. In the book Simple Church, Eric Geiger says church leaders should be monitoring what portion of the congregation is doing some type of ministry or missions every year. This is one of the most neglected metrics of church health. Does your church have clear expectations that members are to be involved in those activities that cause them to look beyond themselves and care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others?

7. The church has an entry-point class all new members attend. The class should not only provide information about the church (doctrine, polity, staff, etc.), but it should also establish the expectations of members (see items 1-6). Does your new members class define what it means to be a follower of Christ?

I often hear the objection: “If I led my church to have these high expectations of members, we would have a mass exodus.” But research shows just the opposite. Higher expectations bring more positive behavioral patterns. People want to be a part of something that makes a difference.

If church leaders expect little from church members, they will get little. If they raise the bar of expectations, most members will respond positively.

As more church members engage in daily Bible reading, group Bible study, evangelism, corporate worship, ministry, missions, and giving generously, they will become more effective disciples for Christ. And churches will grow stronger and become healthier.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Helpful checklist for starting a new group

Research shows that starting a new group connects an average of 10 new people to your church. So how do you get started?

Here's a useful checklist that can help lead you through the process. It includes many details that are often forgotten or overlooked.

Perhaps the most important decision is choosing a Bible study. Here are four reasons why Bible Studies for Life is ideal for starting a new group:
  • Easy to lead – clear directives and simple instructions are provided to help the leader guide a discussion based on Scripture.
  • Focused – each session stresses one main point that connects the Bible to life.
  • Educational – included commentary gives the leader a deeper understanding of the people, places, and Bible customs mentioned in the passage.
  • Inspiring – each session ends with a "Live It Out" section that challenges the group to bring the study's main point to life.
Learn more

Friday, August 12, 2016

How to Kick Off Fall Bible Studies

By Ken Braddy
Not only does fall signal the kickoff of football season, but it means a new season of ministry for churches. Fall marks the kickoff of Bible study groups and a focused time of fellowship, study, and ministry.
“Kickoff” is an appropriate term for what happens in Bible study groups during the months of August and September. Many groups begin again after taking time off during the summer. New groups are established. And year-round groups continue their practice of meeting weekly.
Each of these types of groups benefit from kicking off a new season of Bible study. Whether a group meets year-round or seasonally, here are a few ways for group leaders to prepare for the kickoff of post-summer studies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

See what's coming up next in Bible Studies for Life

The fall edition of Bible Studies for Life includes Unvarnished Truth (a six-session study that covers the important aspects of being in a community of faith) and Unstoppable Gospel (a six-session study about the early days of the church).
Order now
Save time and money* by creating a recurring order. Your future orders will be shipped automatically, and you'll receive up to a 5% discount on each. There's no risk; order adjustments can be made each quarter, as needed. Call 800.458.2772 to set it up.

* 5% on church account orders and 3% on credit card orders.

Lean more about LifeWay bible study resources at

Monday, August 8, 2016

Free Training for Ministry Leaders and Volunteers

Ministry Grid

Get Free Training for Ministry Leaders and Volunteers.

Are your church's leaders and volunteers ready for the new ministry year? Give them the practical training they need with Ministry Grid, an online training platform from LifeWay Leadership.
Ministry Grid offers free, two-week trials for leaders and volunteers that provide usable, essential information in five key ministry areas:
  • Kids Ministry
  • Student Ministry
  • Groups Ministry
  • Adult Sunday School
  • Guest Services
Just click below, select the training area you want, and get started for free!
5 Leadership Questions PodcastFree eBook: Developing Your Leadership Pipeline by Todd AdkinsLifeWay Leadership App

Friday, August 5, 2016

5 Current Views of Discipleship

I have been in many settings with church leaders where the question was posed, “What is your church doing for discipleship?” I am grateful that church leaders are asking questions about the church’s fundamental mission—making disciples. After all, a church can excel at anything and everything else, but if the church fails to make disciples, she has wandered from her fundamental reason for existence.

But the question almost always needs to be answered with a follow-up question: “What do you mean by discipleship?” People could mean at least one of these five common and current views:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

5 Common Myths Program Driven Churches Believe About Effectivenes

By Michael Moore

Today’s churches offer church goers more programs than ever before. Whether it is activities for men or women, couples or singles, young adults or seniors, many churches find themselves drifting towards complexity as more and more ministry programs are added each year.
So what exactly separates churches overloaded with programs from those who have found a simpler way? I believe the answer lies in how each church thinks.
With this in mind, here are five common myths that program-driven churches believe about effectiveness:

Myth 1: The road to simplicity begins with a focus on meeting needs.

Churches are made up of different demographics each with their own unique needs. In an attempt to better understand and meet these needs, some churches choose to pursue a program-driven approach. Over time, the total number of programs offered in these churches naturally tends to grow. This happens whenever pressure mounts within these churches to expand the number of programs offered in order to address the unique needs of each demographic group.
Instead of asking “How can our church meet a person’s need,” a different question to consider asking is this— “How can our church create steps that move people along a path that leads them closer to where God intends for them to be?”

Myth 2: Higher levels of participation in programs is a sign of spiritual growth.

Churches oftentimes measure program effectiveness by attendance. When participation percentages are high, it can be natural to assume that spiritual growth must be taking place.
But that may not always be the case.
Whenever people invest their time into anything, it will always require trade-offs. The more time church goers spend attending church programs, the less time they have available to connect with those outside of the “four walls” of the church.
So could it be that high levels of participation in programs are indeed a result of maturing believers choosing to invest back into their local churches?
Or it may just simply mean that the people within these churches are increasingly becoming more and more insider focused.

Myth 3: Adding more programs strengthens ongoing member retention.

Some churches believe that a foundation for an effective member retention strategy is in a wide offering of church programs. While it is possible that adding more programs may lead to better retention numbers in the short term, long term problems may arise if the programs themselves become a primary reason that church goers have for staying. That’s because it will only be a matter of time before another church comes along offering bigger and better programs than yours.
A stronger way for churches to retain members is to clarify and consistently communicate their vision. The more that church goers understand the vision and the vital part that they play in helping to bring that vision to pass, the more likely they are to stick around.

Myth 4: If the people in our churches are pleased, God must be too.

Reducing the number of church programs would be so much easier were it not for the emotional attachments that people develop with them over time. Change can seem difficult when it means upsetting those who expect for the church to operate the way that it always has. The problem comes when churches assume that just because people are happy with the way that things are happening within the church, then God must be happy with things there too.
Here’s what I have come to realize.

There will always be a group of people you can never please no matter what you say or do.

That’s because any God-given vision will always attract some people and at the same time repel others.
And that’s okay.
What if God was most pleased with His church when they chose to pursue the vision that He had given them, even when it meant upsetting a few insiders along the way?

Myth 5: Programs develop genuine community within the church.

Genuine community develops over time as people openly share and speak into each other’s lives. Oftentimes, churches create programs with intentions to allow people to spend social time together; however, because of their design, many programs actually offer little opportunity to get to know the people attending beyond the event itself. Without organic and authentic conversations, several programs within a program-driven church have the potential to fall short of ever developing genuine community, leaving the people who attend them no more connected when they walk out than when they first walked in.

No church ever intends to become overloaded with programs. Yet far too many churches find themselves stuck in such a reality.

If you feel stuck, the good news is that things can in fact change for the better. But before you can ever achieve the next level of results, you must first begin to think differently.

Is your church overloaded with programs? Learn how The Unstuck Group‘s 4 Phase Planning Processcan help you align church activity to vision.

Monday, August 1, 2016

9 Simple Ways to Begin Reaching Your Community for Christ

By Chuck Lawless

If you read this blog much, you know my heart for the nations that don’t know Christ. At the same time, though, Jesus called us to reach our Jerusalem – our community where we live – even as we go to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Here are some simple ways to move your congregation in that direction:
  1. Do a demographic study of your community, but then share the specific findings with your church. Great Commission-minded pastors often do this kind of study, but they then strategize without giving their church the demographic details. If you want your church to be burdened about the community, make sure they really know who lives there.
  2. Ask a local police officer to take your leaders on a driving tour of your community. You might be surprised what you learn. Years ago, I didn’t realize how little of my community I knew until I became a firefighter who had to know the city well.
  3. Invite local school leaders to talk with your church. They face the community’s needs every day. They can tell you about multiple languages spoken in the home, about children who have little to eat, about grandparents now raising their grandchildren. They’ll also let you know how your church might help local schools.  
  4. Invite leaders of ethnic churches in your community to speak to your church. Ask them to introduce your congregation to their culture, their needs, their struggles, and their lostness. Help your church to see the nations living among them.
  5. Map the homes of your church members so they see their Great Commission assignment. Make the map big, and place it in a prominent place. Show your folks that it’s not an accident they live where they live; they need to love, pray for, and reach out to their neighbors.
  6. Do community prayer surveys. They’re easy to do: knock on doors, talk to people at work or school, visit with people at the store and ask the simple question: “Our church is praying for our neighbors. How might we pray for you?” Somebody will have a need that begins what could become a witnessing relationship. 
  7. Lead members to develop a prayer list of non-believers. If all your attenders begin interceding for five lost persons, God will somehow move in response to those prayers – and your church will begin developing an outward focus.
  8. Reach out to the nearest local university. If it’s within driving distance, connect with Christian ministries there (or ask to start one). You might find students – particularly international students – who are seeking genuine relationships.
  9. Send out your church as witnesses with a testimony. On a Sunday morning, prioritize teaching your attenders how to share their testimony simply, and then challenge each of them to share that story with at least one person that week. Even if only 50% actually do it, that’s a lot more outreach going on than the week before. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

14 Things Leaders Tend to Forget

By Chuck Lawless

My experience is that even the best leaders tend to be forgetful at times. Usually, though, we talk about forgetting appointments or assignments or commitments – not so much these simple realities that many leaders I know (including me) forget too readily:
  1. God didn’t call me to lead because I’m such a good leader. He called me to lead because He wants His glory to fill the lands. It’s about Him, not about me. Period.
  2. Were it not for the people who graciously follow me, I would not be a leader. I get to do what I do because of kind, serving, faithful people who walk with me.
  3. My job is to point away from myself. I’m to point to others, and then ultimately to Him. If I point only to myself, I’m an idol rather than a leader. 
  4. I must raise up others to do greater things than I’ll ever do. If I wrap my ministry around myself, or if I get jealous when others do more than I, I’m not a good leader.
  5. God doesn’t need me. If I don’t believe that, He’ll teach me otherwise. I desperately need Him – it’s not the other way around.
  6. God knows everything I do, think, or say. That is, I’m not getting away with anything. Nothing’s hidden from the One who matters most.  
  7. Most of the people in the world have never heard of me. No matter how popular or famous I think I may be, billions and billions of people don’t know I exist. And, even if they heard of me, they wouldn’t be impressed.
  8. There are better speakers than I in the world. Actually, there are better speakers in my community. Perhaps in my church. Maybe even in my family. I’m never as good as I think I am.
  9. I’m a poor leader if I don’t love my spouse and family well. In fact, I might even disqualify myself for ministry if I’m a bad spouse and parent.  
  10. My church will do no more evangelism than I do. The evidence may be anecdotal, but it’s recurrent: non-evangelistic leaders lead their church to do nothing evangelistically.
  11. I can fool a lot of people, but not everybody. Somebody will see through any charades I play.
  12. It’s not my church . . . or my class . . . or my praise team . . . or my position. I don’t own anything I lead. God can take it all away in a heartbeat.
  13. I’m a bad witness if I don’t take care of myself physically. Even my deepest spirituality is hindered when I lack discipline to care for the body God gave me.
  14. Jesus’ return is always near. If I really believe that biblical truth, I would live with more urgency. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

FREE Bible Poster for The Gospel Project: The Divided Kingdom

The Gospel Project: Chronological


Get essential insight into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and God's ultimate plan to deliver them, with this free timeline poster.
The Gospel Project examines how all Scripture tells the story of redemption through Jesus Christ. This free timeline poster, part of The Gospel Project for Adults Fall 2016 Leader Pack, breaks down the events of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah and builds anticipation for the coming Messiah. This PDF resource is a great tool for your personal study and just a taste of what's included in each Leader Pack.


The Divided Kingdom timeline poster is your free gift when you sign up for a free, one-month preview of The Gospel Project for Adults, Students, and Kids. That's four weeks of studies for every age group in your church—there is no obligation to buy.

Friday, July 22, 2016

10 Small Group Lessons from Old-Fashioned Sunday School

By Chuck Lawless

When I started ministry many years ago, on-campus Sunday school was the predominant form of small groups. That trend has changed now, but the structure of old-fashioned Sunday school still provides needed lessons for small groups, regardless of their meeting place or time:
  1. The small group’s purpose must be clear. Frankly, even Sunday school has often lost its original historical purpose – evangelistic outreach – but a small group program works best when its purpose is most obvious and best known.  
  2. Intentional organization matters. In a good Sunday school program, class workers include at least a teacher, an assistant teacher, a secretary, an outreach leader, a prayer leader, a fellowship leader, and care group leaders (who do pastoral care of class members). The higher percentage of class members who have a role, the better in any kind of small group. 
  3. Workers must be trained. In a good Sunday school program, class teachers and other leaders are required to complete training in order to serve. That training is, in fact, ongoing as long as the leader serves. That's a wise approach for all small groups. 
  4. Concern must be focused on the lost. Originally, Sunday school was the evangelistic arm of a church, and one goal was to be the place where non-believers first connected with the congregation. The people who weren’t therewere as important, if not more important, than the regular attenders.
  5. Pastoral care via the small group must be organized. That’s where “care group leaders” come into play. Their role is to continually care for assigned class members to make sure everyone is shepherded at a personal level. Nobody is left without a care group leader. 
  6. The goal of the Sunday school class is to multiply, to “plant” another class from the current class. Generally, classes seek to multiply by beginning new groups when the current group averages 12-15 regular attenders. Sunday school classes are not intended to become large “mini-churches.” Nor are other types of small groups. 
  7. Space matters. Sunday school leaders and teachers recognize the 80% rule: when a classroom is 80% full, it’s unlikely that the class will continue to grow. The group must either increase its space capacity or send out some members to start a new class. That rule applies to other small groups, too. 
  8. The class must “go after” the lost. In an old-fashioned Sunday school, the class didn’t wait for guests to show up. Instead, they intentionally sought the unchurched and invited them to attend. That process still works. 
  9. The Bible must be the textbook. Other books may be good to study, but the Bible is the only God-breathed book that’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Sunday schools have been built around the Bible, and so must other groups. 
  10. Children matter. That’s one reason why I still like on-campus small groups: they often offer classes for little ones even while their parents and grandparents are learning the Bible.
If you understand old-fashioned Sunday school, what would you add to this list?   

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Preorder Entrusted, Get A Set of Entrusted Scripture Cards FREE

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Offer valid on Entrusted Bible Study Book or Leader Kit only. One set of cards for each Entrusted product will automatically be added to your cart. Learn More About Scripture Cards
*This free gift will ship immediately at no additional cost to you. The Bible Study Book or Leader Kit will ship September 1, or as soon as it is available. Offer available to church and individual purchasers. Not available for trade accounts.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Disciple-making: Taking the Assembly Line Out of Discipleship

By Ed Stetzer

What if we misunderstand the primary function of being a Christian? Jesus told us to make disciples. But is that what we’re actually doing in our churches

When people talk about becoming Christians, growing as Christians, and sharing how others become Christians, it sounds as if there is a series of steps. We treat it as if it were a process made up of isolated building blocks.

In this way of thinking, each part of the Great Commission is a sequence of events. Someone is evangelized, then baptized, then discipled, and then eventually goes on mission himself.

An Assembly Line?

In the industrialized West, we see this as an assembly-line process. A lost individual begins the process and, after going through specific stops along the way, a fully developed disciple emerges at the end of the line. Evangelism is distinct from discipleship, which is distinct from missions.

But is that really what Jesus is communicating to His disciples gathered on the mountain at the end of Matthew’s Gospel? Instead of seeing disciple-making as a series of steps, I believe there is a better approach. Look again at Matthew 28:19-20.

In the original language of the New Testament, the only verb in the Great Commission is “make disciples.” Everything else is a function of that. Going, baptizing, and teaching are all acts that occur within the command “make disciples.”

The command automatically leads into the activities of disciple-making. Because of this, I believe a better way to view disciple-making is as a holistic endeavor, not a step-by-step process.

Disciple-making as a Holistic Journey: Evangelism, Discipleship, and Mission

If we use the term disciple-making as our guide, that becomes our ministry focus—make disciples. Therefore, disciple-making must include people becoming disciples when they previously were not. That is where the evangelistic aspect is evident in disciple-making.
People need to hear and respond to the good news of the gospel. We are to take and proclaim the gospel to them. So Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations must include evangelism as an integral part of the approach.

But disciple-making also includes what we have traditionally called discipleship, or the spiritual growth part of the Christian life. It’s that part of the Great Commission that instructs us to baptize them and teach them to observe all Christ has commanded.

However, disciple-making is not only what we normally call discipleship. It is not something that happens only subsequent to conversion. Discipleship happens in the course of making a disciple. A person is made a disciple by being evangelized, learning and obeying the commands of Jesus, and engaging in the mission of Jesus.

A disciple throughout the Scriptures is someone who is on mission. In John 20:21, Jesus tells His followers, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” A disciple is one who is sent out by Jesus on His mission of reconciliation.
Disciple-making not only involves being made into a disciple yourself, it involves seeking to help make others disciples as well. Disciple-making involves sending people on mission.

A Journey, not an Assembly Line

As such, when we speak of disciple-making, we want to be clear we’re talking about a holistic approach that, to quote a well-worn phrase now, enables an irreligious person to become a fully devoted follower of Christ, who is personally involved in seeing others do the same.

As the church participates in the call to make disciples, atheists become active believers, materialists become missionaries. And disciple-making is the term that encompasses the fullness of that strategy: evangelism, discipleship, and mission.

As Westerners and Americans, we love to compartmentalize things and see a process as a collection of sequential building blocks with each one distinct and separate. Instead, I think the Great Commission calls us to something that is holistic and all-encompassing. It calls us to make disciples.

Disciple-making includes evangelism, discipleship, and ultimately being a mission-shaped believer who works so that others become disciples and engage in disciple-making themselves.

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