By Daniel Im
After surveying and studying the discipleship pathways of thriving churches across North America for my book No Silver Bullets, I discovered that ownership matters. Let me explain.
Most discipleship pathways are typically organized around what the church can do for individuals. This is because churches typically see their discipleship pathway as the ways disciples are formed through the ministries of their church – weekend services, classes, events, groups, and service opportunities. And while I don’t disagree that the church needs to offer opportunities and environments for individuals to get plugged in and grow, I’ve come to discover that the goal for a discipleship pathway is to never get someone through it.
The goal is to get individuals to own it. After all, as long as the church owns the pathway, the only possible response for an individual is consumption. This is like the difference between renting and owning or being an hourly worker vs. a shareholder. When something is ours a shift happens inside of us and we tend to approach it in a fundamentally different way.
As a result, while the first and next steps of your discipleship pathway are environments where disciples can be formed through the ministries of your church, they are only ever intended to be temporary experiences.
The first steps are designed to identify and welcome individuals into the life of your church. Think about the ABCs of first steps – actions, biases, and classes. Actions are what you, your leaders, and your volunteers do. Biases are the way the actions are done. And classes are what your newcomers do.
The next steps are focused on stretching, enhancing, and, really, refreshing an individual’s spiritual life. And there are three categories of these next steps – discover, deepen, and deploy. Discover next steps are for those curious about the Christian faith. Deepen next steps are short term conferences, seminars, classes, studies, experiences with a clear beginning and end date that are focused on deepening an individual’s faith. And deploy next steps are opportunities to empower and release people into service.
The thing about first and next steps is that they are both short-term and they are intended to bring individuals back into the center of the pathway, which is the ongoing steps. The ongoing steps are where your church will learn how to self-feed and become a self-discipline runner in this race of faith. They include practices like reading the Bible, worshiping regularly, being in community, and serving. It is ultimately in the ongoing steps that the individuals in your church will learn how to own their faith and this discipleship pathway.
Now that you better understand a framework around creating a discipleship pathway, what are you going to do about it?