September 17, 2014

Most local congregations in Missouri have made great progress in internalizing the church’s mission of creating disciples for the transformation of the world, yet according to a recent survey conducted by the Core Practices team most churches continue to struggle to live out that mission in practical and meaningful ways.

An examination of 80+ Healthy Church Initiative reports showed that almost 70 percent of congregations receive a prescription for a discipleship process or related discipleship concern. The spring’s survey received 147 responses with 80% of respondents indicating clergy status. The strong response rate indicated a real interest in discipleship.

Several churches have developed a successful process and expressed that process creatively. The Core Practices team hopes that these churches may serve as teaching examples for other churches to develop their own process. Churches that did not have a discipleship process or had difficulty articulating a process also had difficulty defining a mature disciple.

“Many churches were innovative and clearly focused on being disciples and reaching out, but not the number I expected,” said Mitch Ross, lay member to the Core Practices team. “[Yet, many churches had] no plans to make disciples – no process to grow spiritually.”

Broadly speaking, the survey offered general insights about the disciple-making processes within local congregations:

  1. There is a lack of a common language about discipleship. Survey responses included a range of terms used interchangeably and with ambiguity (e.g., discipleship, spiritual formation, faith development, spiritual maturity, Christ-likeness).
  2. The responses indicate that “practices of faith” may be misunderstood. A recurring response of “small groups” was treated as a cure-all solution for the discipleship process rather than one tool for developing disciples. Other tools for “discipling” such as apprenticeship or mentor relationships or mission were not specifically mentioned.
  3. Most of the congregations responding in the survey did not articulate a multi- generational approach to discipleship. References to children and youth discipleship were noticeably lacking in qualitative survey responses as if discipleship is for adults only.
  4. Church mission and vision statements are not always consistently linked with making disciples. Many responses failed to associate their stated mission and vision with a discipleship process.

The survey’s results were a springboard for a pre-conference event on discipleship made up of conversation among conference local church leaders.

“The table discussion brought clarity to discipleship as an on- going journey versus an end goal,” said Ann Skiles, Gateway Regional district leader. “The session offered a framework from which churches could build their own strategy for making disciples of Jesus Christ based on how God is calling them.”

The Core Practices team is committed to resourcing local churches (those involved in HCI or not) in discipleship processes, as well as establishing multi-entry points for the unchurched and dechurched toward discipleship. If you are interested in moving forward in helping make and grow disciples and need additional resources, please contact Sherry Habben, Director of Connectional Ministries.

About Core Practices
The Core Practices Team provides a network of connections among Missouri congregations that are striving to strengthen their ministry through the core practices of radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.