“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”
Before Jesus left this earth to join His Father in Heaven, He left us with instructions on what to do as His followers. He said in Matthew 28:19 that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations.” We call this the Great Commission and it is the sole purpose and calling of the Christian church in the world. There is no other reason for the existence of the Church. And yet so few churches actually make this the priority and focus of their ministry. Instead they create activities, such as worship services, fellowship events, Bible classes and even mission trips that they hope will eventually produce disciples. But activity is not necessarily accomplishment. In my global travels and experience I have found that there are very few churches that have a plan on how they intend to make disciples. Having a goal of making disciples and not having a plan on how to do it is just wishful thinking!
Several years ago I read a book by George Barna entitled “Growing True Disciples” (2001, Waterbrook Press). In his book Mr. Barna researched many churches in the USA and discovered that “Few churches or Christians have a clear, measurable definition of spiritual success.” In other words, they have no goals and no plans on how to effectively make disciples. They simply create church activities that they hope will inspire their members to seek God and to follow Jesus. This is rarely effective and typically results in churches with more people who are church goers rather than Jesus followers!
Pastor Robert Schuller, author, speaker and former pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California once said, “Fail to plan and you plan to fail.” He was saying that success rarely happens without a plan. We often have goals we want to achieve, such as losing weight, owning our own business, or competing in the Olympics. But without a plan to achieve them one is likely to fall short, lose interest, or miss the mark entirely. Planning helps us organize and focus our time, money and resources to reach our goal.
So if making disciples is the goal and priority of the church, why do so many churches lack a plan to achieve that goal? Perhaps it is because they simply believe its the work of the Holy Spirit and that it is just too difficult to measure. I agree completely that it is the work of the Holy Spirit but I would disagree on the measurement aspect. Yes, the measurements are not always easy to quantify and often hard to measure, but it is possible, especially on a church-wide basis. For example, one could measure worship attendance, small group participation, or Bible class enrollments, and then compare statistics from year to year to see if there is any growth. Another method would be to look at the participation rates in the service, prayer, mission and evangelism activities of the church. As church members become more committed to Christ we should see the evidence in terms of greater giving and involvement in ministry to others. Matthew 7:20 reminds us that “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
A discipleship plan for the church would then simply involve setting goals for these measurements every year and then organizing all church activities and resources towards achieving these goals. These measurements could also be tracked on an individual as well as a church-wide basis to see how individuals are growing in their faith. Then churches could evaluate all of their activities every year as to how they are impacting discipleship and the growth in faith of its members. They can see where they are having successes and they can also see where they are not effective. It is not rocket science, but it does take discipline to adhere to the goals and to track measurements.
Planning is nothing more than organizing one’s resources to achieve a goal or a vision. For the church to be effective in making disciples they must do two things. First, the church must set measurable goals for discipleship. This means they must determine appropriate measurements and stay focused on their goals. Second, they must develop a plan that will enable them to achieve those goals. This means they must have the procedures in place to track statistics and have ongoing evaluation of the plan. Failure to do both of these will ultimately cause the church to fall short of achieving the Great Commission and the vision that Jesus has called all of His followers to pursue.
Finally, it is important for the church to be intentional about making disciples and not to just assume that it is happening. We should also remember Proverbs 16:3 which says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.” To God alone be the glory!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: FaithLife Ministries was founded by Barry Voss & Kim Star-Voss in 2001 as a ministry to train and equip Christian leaders in the mission field. In 1996, Barry first heard the call to go to the mission field. On that mission trip to Kazakhstan, he sensed God’s call on his life to serve Him in a mission field ministry. He continued to respond to that call by going on several more mission trips to teach and minister in 1997. In 1998 he felt God’s call to organize and lead mission trips, and so he recruited and led teams to Peru in 1999 & 2000 through Missions International, a Nashville based mission agency. In 2001, God led Barry and Kim to decide to incorporate in order to lead mission teams on their own, and so FaithLife Ministries was born. They led their first mission trip to the Philippines in May of that year. On that trip Barry taught a workshop on Church Administration. Our Philippines host invited Barry to come back the following year and teach on that topic for an entire week at their Bible School. As a result, Barry developed the Management For Church Leaders™training course. Since then this ministry has continued to grow as God has led us to more mission field contacts and opened up more opportunities for us to train and equip the leaders of His church.
In 2005, Barry was called to work full-time in this ministry. His focus is on church leadership and management training. Kim has developed a series of Children’s Ministry Books that are available through this website and joins Barry to teach on leadership and management occasionally. The Lord has continued to affirm our teaching and has led us to seek more opportunities and foreign trainers.