05 Commitment



If, as the findings show, apathy is the primary obstacle to healthy discipleship, the solution is to make discipleship a priority. In exemplar churches, discipleship is not a program or even a “ministry”; it is part of the church’s core identity. There is vision among the senior leadership for what healthy discipleship should look like, and this vision appears to ripple out to the entire Body. Two-thirds of exemplar church leaders say discipleship is among the top three priorities for their senior pastor; the other one-third considers it the top priority.

Exemplar interviews make it clear that these leaders have thought deeply about discipleship, have a clear perspective on it and maintain a passion for it. They believe making and growing disciples is Jesus’ singular commission to the Church, and they pursue it with intention and intensity.

Three-quarters of exemplar churches say that the vision or endorsement of senior leadership and a clearly articulated plan or approach to discipleship are both critical to their efforts. Additionally, their church’s prioritization of overall spiritual development reflects a clear commitment to discipleship—not just at the leadership level, but throughout the congregation.

Three-quarters or more of exemplar leaders say the following factors are critical to their discipleship efforts:

• Senior leaders modeling discipleship

• Church-wide commitment to Scripture

• Well-trained lay leaders

Pastors agree in principle that the engagement of senior leadership in discipleship is important. Among the broader population of church leaders, 61 percent say it is among their church’s top three priorities and 26 percent consider it their number-one priority. Eight percent say it is not a top-three priority and 4 percent say “discipleship is not something they are actively addressing at this time.” Although most leaders believe they are prioritizing discipleship, participation rates in most churches do not reflect this pastoral emphasis. Leader assessments of discipleship’s priority thus appear to be overly optimistic.

One reason for skepticism about the priority placed on discipleship by many churches is the level of senior-pastor involvement in discipleship: Half of church leaders say the senior pastor has primary responsibility for discipleship. Only 8 percent have a discipleship pastor to whom the responsibility falls. The balance of responsibility for active discipleship falls on elders and deacons, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders and other lay leaders.

As mentioned above, exemplar leaders say that having a clearly articulated plan is a key factor in a thriving discipleship program—and this is an area where many church leaders see room for improvement. When asked what they would like to see improved in their discipleship programs, a clear plan is selected by a plurality of senior pastors (28%) and discipleship leaders (23%). Increased interest is second, with 16 percent of church leaders mentioning this factor.

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