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.