12 Appendix C – Exemplars

Appendix C - Exemplars


Overall, exemplars exhibit more continuity of response than educators. While not all of their approaches to discipleship are the same, they share in common a clear vision and commitment, which permeates the culture of exemplary organizations.


For exemplar churches and organizations, discipleship is not a program or even a “ministry”; it is the foundation upon which the church rests. There is vision among the senior leadership for what healthy discipleship should look like, and this appears to trickle down to the entire body.

In general, the tone and nature of responses indicate that discipleship is a topic leaders have thought about at length, have a perspective on and maintain a passion for. They believe making and growing disciples is Jesus’ singular commission to the Church, and they are intentional about it. Three-quarters of exemplar churches say senior leadership vision or endorsement and a clearly articulated plan or approach to discipleship are critical to their efforts.


Additionally, the church’s priority on overall spiritual development reflects a clear commitment to discipleship—not just at the leadership level, but throughout the congregation. Two-thirds of exemplar churches say discipleship is among the top three priorities for their senior pastor; one-third considers it the top priority.

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

• Senior leaders who model discipleship

• Church-wide commitment to the Scriptures

• Well-trained lay leaders

On average, more than half of exemplar church members are involved in some sort of discipleship group or relationship. It is estimated that congregants spend an average of two to three hours per week (outside of church) devoted to spiritual development.

Defining Discipleship

Exemplars’ definitions of discipleship share a similar vision and approach, but they are not prescriptive as to the nature of discipleship groups or relationships. Many respondents say flexible design is important to meet the changing needs of individuals or communities. Some key themes and descriptors mentioned include:

• Following Jesus; becoming more like him

• Growing, maturing, pursuing and exhibiting life change for the purpose of showing others
who Jesus is

• Relational, “caught, not taught”

• Generational, passed down from one believer to the next

Most exemplar leaders say their definition has changed over time. Many have shifted away from an emphasis on “head knowledge” toward life transformation, usually in the context of relationship. Some say their definition has expanded from individual growth in Christ to include “making disciples.” This is because real, healthy disciples should naturally produce more disciples. More than half refer to “making disciples” as an important component of discipleship.


The composition and nature of discipleship groups or relationships varies. A portion of exemplars prefers the mature-to-new believer relationship, usually one-on-one. More use both this approach and the peer-to-peer/small group model, which is believed to be more appealing to members. However, only two among 37 respondents use the peer/small group format alone. Exemplars widely consider a one-on-one component—whether Bible study or conversation—essential to fruitful discipleship.

Exemplar leaders also feel strongly about the role of community, or the church body, in discipleship. Some describe the church as an “equipping station” from which members are launched into the “world” (workplace, neighborhood, school, etc.) as an “ambassador of Christ.” Many talk about the importance of the body in encouraging each other to be on mission and to grow in their spiritual lives.

In order to ensure healthy growth, exemplars invest significantly in leadership development (aka “disciple-making”). Many say this expectation is set when individuals join a group or initiate a discipleship relationship. Participants are ultimately expected to go on to disciple others. This is a key measure of success for most exemplars. Many also have leadership classes or other training regimens specifically for discipleship leaders.


Exemplars tend to be quite intentional about tracking the progress of discipleship in their churches. This is accomplished in part by observing “soft” measures: fruits of the Spirit lived out among members, passion for sharing faith, individuals making God-honoring life decisions. Participation and leadership are the most common objective indicators: the number engaged in small groups or Bible studies, the number of new leaders and the number of individuals serving inside and outside the church. Additionally, approximately half of churches use surveys or self-assessments.

Leaders of exemplar churches offer a vision of what good discipleship looks like and demonstrate that a variety of models can prove fruitful. It is clear from their responses that there are no shortcuts to producing disciples of Christ; hard work is non-negotiable. Exemplar churches and organizations are committed to this work and so create a culture of disciple-making.

Previous Section


Read Section
Next Section


Read Section