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Upside-down Discipleship3 min read

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green_arrowsWhen we think of planting a church, what’s typically the first thing we may do? We typically do something like this:

  1. Start a small group bible study
  2. Start a Sunday meeting
  3. Grow a small group system in which discipleship sort of happens

At the Exponential West conference this past weekend, I heard a lot of great speakers talk about discipleship and church planting. But one concept that I really liked flows out of the idea that the primary practice of churches should be that of Making Disciples Who Make Disciples (MDWMD). And that concept is to build a new church in the REVERSE order of the list above.

What does it mean to build a church in reverse? Read on.

1. Discipleship

Begin by finding 3-12 people in your new location who will commit to being discipled in a structured manner, with these expected outcomes:

  • I will learn to develop my inner life with God
  • I will learn to apply the bible to all of the major roles of my life, including in my family, on my job, in discovering my callings, and in the Church
  • I will learn to disciple others as I have been discipled

We ought to be spending about 70% of our efforts on personal discipleship, and perhaps 30% on all the other things we do as a Church – but the truth is, we do exactly the opposite. Perhaps the first and main thing we should do is facilitate this practice instead of spending so much resources on Sunday services where most people are spectators.

2. Small Groups

After you have a significant amount of disciples, and those who also are discipling others, you can also start affinity groups, a.k.a. small groups. Do people then leave their discipleship relationships for small groups? I don’t think so, I just think that, now that you have more people involved, the small group discipleship model can help you scale up without losing quality. If you are careful, and if your small group materials include a MDWMD core principle.

3. Celebration Service

Lastly, you may want to spend time, money, and effort on a Sunday service to celebrate what God is doing in the REAL work of your church, already many months underway. But even here, you run the risk of shifting your energies to the Sunday service and away from individual discipleship.

One speaker at this weekend’s conference discussed how, after they finally launched a Sunday service, what they were doing got so much word of mouth response that they had more people attending than they had trained disciplers for, and when people asked how they could join the church, the pastor had to tell them that they had to wait until we had more people ready to train them, but they could come and learn on Sundays until new people were ready to disciple them – there were no ‘new members classes’ they could attend, since all such initiation was done STARTING with a discipling relationship. Now that’s kinda crazy, but it shows they wanted to “keep the main thing the main thing.”  Wanna be a member? Take a number!

Still, I would be jazzed if a church wanted quality instead of quantity, and I had to wait to get into their ‘program.’ Think about that!