It’s Time to Move from Making Members to Making Disciples

It’s Time to Move from Making Members to Making Disciples

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As a pastor, one of the most helpful breakout sessions for me at this year’s New Room Conference was Bryan Sim’s session on Lay Mobilization.  I continually pray and reflect upon the Church’s mission of making disciples. I have personally grown frustrated with ineffective programming and gimmicks that require great amounts of time and energy without producing fruit.  I have experienced the disappointment of investing time and resources into program and event driven ministry with false hopes of building enough excitement and enthusiasm to convince people that the Church is worthwhile.  There must be a better way!  I am beginning to catch a glimpse of a better way through the tools offered through Lay Mobilization Institute.

This session introduced a model of Christian formation based on a four stage process intentionally designed to create a shift away from the stale membership model to a model that focuses on missional discipleship.  The problem with a membership model is that it tends to create a culture of consumerism supported by solo leaders who shamelessly beg for volunteers to pull off endless programs and events.  Experience has taught me that this model leads to burnout and frustration when enthusiasm runs out of steam.  At best this model produces temporary results.  Let me pause here to say I am not totally against programs and events.  There are legitimate occasions for churches of all sizes and contexts to use these as ministry tools.  I am, however, against haphazard programming and events that create a culture of busyness without investing in spiritual depth.  Rather, programs and events should flow naturally out of a missional model of discipleship that is birthed out of deeply transformative conversion experiences.  Then once these programs and events have served their purpose . . .  STOP THEM!  Too many times churches get stuck in nostalgic programs and events that once were vital ministries but now continue to unnecessarily drain resources and energy that could be better invested elsewhere.  A missional discipleship model offers a natural transition to begin the process of realigning the church’s resources and energy with its mission.  This model shifts away from solo leadership to team leadership and away from “volunteers” to “disciples” equipping everyone to take ownership in carrying out the mission of the Church.

What I most appreciate about this model is the intentional centeredness upon our covenant relationship with God in proclaiming that God is the one who initiates, equips, and sustains the Church’s work of making disciples.  This work of making disciples is first God’s work not our own.  We are invited to be co-laborers with God in this process.  We get into trouble whenever we place more reliance upon our own efforts than upon God’s presence and purpose.  Notice this emphasis upon God’s presence and purpose in each of the four phases of the process:

  1. God causes a spark
  2. God ignites a passion
  3. God fans the flame
  4. God causes the fire to spread

I invite you now to visit the website for yourself to see how each of these phases help to equip church leaders in a process of building a missional discipleship model with the power to create a cultural shift away from making members to making disciples of Jesus Christ!  After visiting the website pray about how this model might better equip you as a church leader.  May the peace of Christ abide in you and lead you in every good work of making disciples of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

For more on Lay Mobilization Institute please visit


2 Responses

  1. “Make disciples”, a phrase running rampant within the United Methodist Church. All well and good except, nowhere do I hear any talk about connecting individuals to God in a vital relationship 24/7. What was missing in the first 59 years of my life as a Methodist and then United Methodist was an understanding of who God is on Monday morning away from the church. I finally reached a point of confusion and brokenness, I was forced to distance myself from church and that is when I finally was introduced to a God who loves me more than I could ever think about loving myself. I realized that the church had done a good job of making me feel good about myself, but what I really needed was to feel better about God. The fuzzy middle I had been living in was eradicated because I had an understanding of who God is that I never thought possible. I found myself wishing that somebody had introduced me to this God a very long time ago. I keep waiting for church leadership to talk about getting people excited about God because that is when true discipleship starts. It is possible to instill a robust and life changing understanding of the triune God of holy love in the rank and file person. I recently tripped across this stanza from a less familiar Charles Wesley hymn; given our Wesleyan heritage, it makes me question even more this quest to just “make disciples’:

    When first sent forth to minister the word,
    Say did we preach ourselves, or Christ the Lord?
    Was it our aim disciples to collect,
    To raise a party, or to found a sect?
    No; but to spread the power of Jesus’ name,
    Repair the walls of our Jerusalem
    Revive the piety of ancient days,
    And fill the earth with our Redeemer’s praise.
    -Charles Wesley

  2. Hi Betsy, thank you for the insightful comment and for sharing your personal story. Yes indeed, discipleship is first about bringing people into a vital relationship with God. I give God thanks for your own witness to having now discovered a spiritual depth in Christ that satisfies the deepest longings of your soul. I pray that you continue to grow in this relationship with Christ and for our churches to be places that nurture people into a personal relationship with Christ that bears fruit in our world of God’s Kingdom at hand . . . this is the aim of disciple making intended int his article. Peace be with you my dear sister.

    – Roger Brown

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