Keep Converts, Make Disciples, Experience Healthy Church Growth - the Foundation Matters

Keep Converts, Make Disciples, Experience Healthy Church Growth - the Foundation Matters

Jesus’ conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, spoke of the necessity of a good foundation. A good foundation is significant in anything that matters. 

To experience healthy church growth, having the right foundation is a requirement. Such growth does not come by accident, and is only sustainable because the right foundation exists. Let’s look at pouring concrete for this foundation from two different angles. 

Existing Church/Leadership

The basic necessities are:

  • A pastor who is sick and tired of watching people be born again, but then not become mature disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • A pastor willing to change his own priorities to invest significant time and money to establish a sustainable disciple-making effort. Far more want than work is put into creating these changes. Lip-service is given.  
    • “I want to keep more converts”
    • ”I’m willing to work hard, outside the pulpit, to keep more converts”
  • A leader who understands that reconciling people to Christ is an ongoing, overlapping work. There is an Apostolic Continuum, and the healthiest churches are engaged in every part of the Apostolic Continuum. 
    • Pre-conversion (Evangelism)
    • Strategic Outreach (Either a culture of lifestyle evangelism, events, or intentional ministry - such as Children’s Evangelism or Recovery Ministry)
    • Conversion
    • Disciple-making (Having an intentional strategy to turn converts into disciples)
    • Body Ministry (Having a second intentional strategy where recent converts serve in a meaningful role of ministry putting to work their motivational gifts, passion, and personality.)
    • Leadership Development (The Pastor multiplies himself by influencing those who are or can become influencers.)
    • Ministers in Development (The measure of a great church is sending. Should we send those we have not prepared?)

 Bedrock for Solid Disciple-making 

In disciple-making, starting right is vital. The question will immediately be asked, “What is meant by, ‘starting right?’” The question is best answered by several questions.

Anyone serious about disciple-making needs to answer these questions for themselves. I wasted quite a bit of time before realizing that our foundation was wrong. No wonder we were not being effective. 

  1. What is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? Look up the definition - it matters. 
  2. What Biblical characteristics did Jesus provide for those who were His disciples? Look up the word disciple in your concordance. When I began working on disciple-making, my building specs did not match those of Christ. 
  3. Is a church-attender a disciple of Christ, if they don’t read the Bible, spend time in prayer, serve in some way?

Shouldn’t our answers to the second question define what we work toward in turning converts into disciples. This question is a reason, Lane and I started using an intake process before connecting to help someone with Mastering Disciple-Making. Those who build toward the wrong specifications, will never end up with what Jesus wants His disciples to be. 

Goal:  Beyond Attendance to Transformation

Discipleship is more than a program. Being a disciple is a lifelong journey of growth and transformation. After decades in ministry, I’m still on the journey of growth and transformation. 

At its core, disciple-making is about walking alongside individuals, guiding people as they deepen their relationship with Christ, and helping them grow in their understanding of His teachings.

Disciple-making surpasses knowledge and attending church.

Disciple-making results in heart transformation, life-change, and practical application.

It’s essential to understand that little discipleship happens via a Sunday sermon or the average church event - no matter how exceptional the sermon or event may be. You only make disciples by an intentional investment in the lives of new converts. You have to go where they are, working at the level of their need and Bible understanding.

Second, it creates opportunities for authentic friendships to flourish. New converts are not looking for a friendly church, they are looking for a friend. Greetings and handshakes at church do not reach the level of making a friend. Friendship must involve activities away from church services.

Third, disciple-making provides the necessary support, a setting for questions to be answered risk-free, and guidance and encouragement for spiritual growth.

Successful disciple-making is when converts begin to be on the praise team, become teachers, strop into roles of leadership, etc. 

Examine Jesus' Disciple-making Ministry

The model to look at is Jesus Himself. Jesus prioritized investing in the lives of His disciples.

  • He taught them - giving them a fresh perspective on the Old Testament
  • He provided an understanding of His mission and the purpose of His life. His disciples had a change in world-view, so must every convert. To make disciples - this is a non-negotiable.
  • Jesus also challenged them as to what they could become. His plan was never for them to be static followers, He equipped them to DO meaningful things for Him.
  • Finally, He empowered them to carry on His mission, sending them out to practice what they had been trained to do.

On His ascension into heaven, they did not scatter, returning to being fishermen and tax collectors. Instead, they applied His simple instruction, “Tarry at Jerusalem, until . . .”

How did Jesus Do It? 

From Galilee to the hillsides of Judea, Jesus walked beside His disciples. In these quiet moments, He imparted wisdom, modeled servant-leadership, and equipped them for the task ahead. I’ve accomplished more in disciple-making while working alongside a convert in a fireworks stand or clearing a piece of ground than from the pulpit. Christ Jesus involved these newcomers in what HE was doing. You can do the same. 

Second, Jesus approach to teaching (the word translated doctrine can almost always be translated by the word teaching) was not to present abstract principle. Instead, He showed His disciples what it means to love God and love others.

You, and others who will be part of your disciple-making team, are never not teaching. Converts gain more insight from what they see you do, than what they hear you say.

  • Emphasize pre-service prayer in your orientation class. Challenge new converts to participate. However, if they do not later see you participating in pre-service prayer, your words are a waste.  
  • Equip and encourage converts toward lifestyle evangelism, seeking Home Bible Studies and bringing people to church. However, if they never see a guest get out of your vehicle you had as well not taught the subject.

Connect concepts with real-world living.

Pastors and church-leaders have the privilege and responsibility of following Jesus, and emulating His example of how to go about making disciples. By studying His methods, you gain valuable insights into how to effectively disciple others and lead them to become mature followers of Christ.

Recommended Reading:  The Training of the Twelve by A.B. Bruce - This is perhaps the best examination of the training methods of the Lord Jesus Christ. (If you purchase anything from Amazon using a link a bit of revenue flows to this ministry.)

Pastor/Shepherds are Vital to Disciple-Making

A shepherd has immediate responsibility in the care of lambs. Three times in a conversation with Simon Peter, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (KJV). Actually, the third time Jesus gave Peter the instruction the words were:

“Feed my little lambs.” 

The health and well-being of “little lambs” was put on Simon Peter. His sense of responsibility can be seen in his two epistles. Per Ezekiel’s job description of a shepherd/pastor, we are to lead, seek, heal the hurting, and feed the flock.

Interestingly, the only part of the flock a shepherd personally feeds are those too ill to feed themselves. Instead, they lead the flock to a pasture where they can feed themselves.

As a pastor, I’m challenged by the question, Have I raised up Christians who can feed where I lead?

Pastors are pivotal as shepherds, teachers, and mentors. As a shepherd, you are called to care for the spiritual well-being of the flock that belongs to Christ. You are to guide them with wisdom and compassion as they navigate the ups and downs of the Christian life.

As a teacher, you are entrusted with the task of imparting biblical truth and knowledge, helping converts grow in their understanding of God's Word and its application to their lives. And as mentors, we come alongside, offering guidance, encouragement, and accountability as the new Christian lives out their faith in practical ways.

Recognizing your multifaceted responsibility in disciple-making should empower you to make it a priority. Unfortunately, for the majority it seems this is not the case. Are you in the minority who hurt when a spiritual infant does not survive? Are you one of those who says, “I cannot keep any new converts,” instead of, “We cannot keep any new converts.” The “I” indicates accepting personal responsibility.  If you are in this group - email to schedule a conversation about your passion to see converts survive. 

Warning: Becoming a disciple-making pastor will mean stopping some of the things you are currently doing in order to make converts your focus. 

Disciple-making is not a one-size-fits-all effort but rather a dynamic relational process. You must be fully present and engaged in the lives of converts from the point of conversion.

Other Resources on Disciple-making:


Books on Disciple-making

  1. FREE: The How and Why of Disciple-making  eBook
  2. Disciple-Making - You Wouldn't Want an Ostrich for Your Mama - Print eBook for Kindle 

Next week, we'll explore the essential components of an effective disciple-making strategy. This provides practical insights and action steps. 

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