02 Spiritual Health

Spiritual Health


Discipleship Effectiveness

How are churches doing when it comes to discipleship? Christian adults believe their churches are doing well: 52 percent of those who have attended church in the past six months say their church “definitely does a good job helping people grow spiritually” and another 40 percent say it “probably” does so. Additionally, two-thirds of Christians who have attended church in the past six months and consider spiritual growth very or somewhat important say their church places “a lot” of emphasis on spiritual growth (67%); another 27 percent say their church gives “some” emphasis.

Church leaders give lower marks. Only 1 percent say “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.” A sizable majority—six in 10—feels that churches are discipling “not too well” (60%). Looking at their own church, 8 percent say they are doing “very well” and 56 percent “somewhat well at discipling new and young believers.” Thus, pastors give their own church higher marks than churches overall, but few believe churches—their own or in general—are excelling in this area.

Leaders in non-mainline churches report doing better at discipleship (59% “somewhat well” and 8% “very well”) than do leaders of mainline churches (46% “somewhat well” and 7% “very well”). Likewise, leaders of mostly non-white congregations are more likely to say they are doing “very well” (16%) than pastors and ministry leaders of majority white faith communities (6%).

Not surprisingly, emphasis on discipleship is correlated with higher faith engagement. Threequarters of practicing Christians, who have attended church in the past month and consider their faith very important, say their church places “a lot” of emphasis on spiritual growth (73%), while only 40 percent of non-practicing Christians say the same. Discipleship may be a driver of more active faith, or perhaps those already inclined to be more active in their faith are drawn to churches with a heavier emphasis on discipleship. Whatever the causal relationship, there is a clear need for more effective discipleship among Christians who are less active in their faith.


Despite believing that their church emphasizes spiritual growth, only 20 percent1 of Christian adults are involved in some sort of discipleship activity (attending Sunday school or fellowship group, meeting with a spiritual mentor, studying the Bible with a group, or reading and discussing a Christian book with a group). Practicing Christians (26%) who say spiritual growth is important are more likely to be involved than non-practicing Christians (7%) who say the same.

Navigators alumni practice more active and rich spiritual disciplines, even compared with practicing Christians. The vast majority regularly pray (94%), study the Bible on their own (94%), meditate on Scripture (88%) and attend worship (94%). Most also are engaged in some form of interactive discipleship, whether small groups (Bible study 69%, book study 47%) or mentorship (53%). Historically, nearly all (94%) have been in a one-on-one mentoring relationship; 88 percent were in a Christian group in high school; and 84 percent participated in such a group during their college years.

Church leaders’ estimates of their members’ involvement in discipleship activities vary widely: Equal proportions estimate 15 percent or less and 75 percent or more of their congregations. Leaders’ median estimate is 40 percent. Discipleship leaders are somewhat more optimistic than senior pastors, with most estimating about half of their members are involved in discipleship (50%). Both leader groups guess that a typical church member spends three hours per week (median) doing something to further their spiritual growth.

Among exemplar churches, estimates are slightly better. Typically, more than half of church members are involved in some sort of discipleship group or relationship. Exemplar leaders estimate that congregants spend an average of two to three hours per week (outside of church) devoted to spiritual development.

Spiritual Growth

How do these investments in discipleship affect the spiritual health of Christians today? Most practicing Christians feel they have made “a lot” (40%) or “some” (51%) progress in their personal spiritual growth in the past year. By comparison, one in five non-practicing Christians has made “a lot” (20%) and 43 percent “some” progress. Those currently involved in at least one discipleship activity (attending Sunday school or fellowship group, meeting with a spiritual mentor, studying the Bible with a group, or reading and discussing a Christian book with a group) track closely with practicing Christians: 37 percent say they have made “a lot” and 57 percent “some” progress in their personal spiritual growth in the past year.

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering their level of investment in discipleship activities, 100 percent of Navigators alumni are satisfied with their spiritual life. Nearly all (94%) consider it “very important” to see progress in their spiritual life. Their continuing commitment has resulted in 43 percent making “a lot” of spiritual progress in the past year, and another 53 percent making “some progress.”

Thirty-eight percent of Christian adults say they are “happy with where they are in their spiritual life” and another 36 percent are “almost to where they want to be.” In this case, more practicing Christians (39%) than non-practicing (30%) are “almost” where they want to be with respect to spiritual growth, indicating an ongoing attention to spiritual health. Indeed, three-quarters of practicing Christians (77%) but only 37 percent of non-practicing Christians believe it is “very important to see growth in their spiritual life.” Non-practicing Christians are more likely to consider spiritual growth “somewhat important” (42% vs. 20% of practicing Christians).

The two groups also report different motivations for seeking spiritual growth. Practicing Christians are most motivated by “a general desire to know Jesus, or God, more” (46%); “a general desire to be more like Jesus” (41%); and “the Bible instructs us to be more like Jesus” (34%). Non-practicing Christians, on the other hand, say they “think it is important to be improving or growing in general/in all things” (51%); “have been through a lot, and growing spiritually will help me” (41%); and “have a general desire to know Jesus, or God, more” (36%).

Why do Navigators alumni pursue spiritual growth? They align with the organization’s mission “to know Christ and make Him known” and with the most common definition of discipleship: “becoming more Christ-like.” Eighty-two percent of alumni say they desire to be more like Jesus, and nearly as many (78%) desire to know Him more. Half simply feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to grow (51%).

In addition to being personally spiritually healthy, those discipled by The Navigators want to have an impact on the people around them. They are evangelists, with three-quarters desiring to have an impact on friends (78%) and relatives (76%), and even more wanting their faith to impact the world around them (their community, 84%; society, 78%).

Q&A with Mike Jordahl

Mike Jordahl and his wife, Nancy, have served with The Navigators in Iowa, Kansas, New England and Colorado. Mike previously served for six years as the U.S. Collegiate Director for The Navigators. Today he serves on the Leadership Team of The Navigators 20s Mission and as the National Director of CityLife. Mike is passionate about empowering men and women in their 20s to live intentional and missional lives rooted in a vibrant relationship with God.

Here are three things a pastor can do to increase the disciplemaking efforts in their church:

1.  If you have never experienced it, ask someone you trust to disciple you. Of course, this takes humility, but if your training consists primarily of classroom learning, you might actually benefit from the arm-around-the-shoulder approach of someone who can help you walk not only as a pastor but as a committed follower of Christ. (Many Navigators staff have discreetly discipled a pastor. To see if there are Navigators staff in your area, visit www.navigators.org/FindStaff.)

2. Do all you can to free those in your church with discipleship training to practice what they have learned in their natural contexts—and to pass it on to others.

3. If you are interested in considering a program to transform your whole church into a disciplemaking church, contact Navigator Church Ministries at LifelongLaborers@navigators.org.


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