The term “discipleship path” means different things to different people.
For some, it means getting a person connected, involved, contributing, and leading in a church. For others, it means getting a person saved, baptized, maybe Spirit Baptized, growing and living out their faith, then pouring into others who are on the same trajectory. Or even a combination of the above.
Your ability to create a successful discipleship path is determined primarily upon the eco-system of your church, your organizational focus, and your definitions of success.
For me there are a few things to keep in mind when creating a discipleship path that go beyond the scope of this article but must be considered at the same time.
- Your Discipleship Scale: How do you measure where a person is at and what level of discipleship they have attained? Is it knowledge, behaviour, heart, or a combination of all three? Is it simply information you want to pass on? Is it only application?
- Your environments: How do you want to ensure people are given the opportunity to grow? Sunday morning services, classes, a ministry, groups, retreat, personal mentor, online video library, etc.? Is it a combination of all of the above?
- Your culture: Are you going to be open or closed? Will you force people to go to step one, step two, step three or will you give people the path and let them navigate it themselves? Will you look at all you do and the people in your care and create a discipleship scale then deliver content where you believe most people are at in a shotgun format? Will you create a culture of awareness that allows people to tailor their path to where they believe they are at?
No matter the size of your church, building a clear discipleship path can be much easier than you might think – but it can also be much harder than you think. Clarity is the key. Here are some examples that I have found work in different contexts.
You can give new believers a book to the various areas of personal growth you would like to see them achieve over a few years as markers of information they will receive and track their progress as each page is stamped by the event, weekend, group, or class they attend. This perspective is focused primarily on information transfer.
Create a track with as few or many markers that you track along the way: Salvation, Baptism, New Believers Class, Newcomers Class, Join a Group, Serve (Discover Gifting, Abuse Prevention, Department Training), Membership, Lead(Leader Orientation, Leadership Bootcamp), Reproduce (Church Planting Track). You can create on-ramps and off ramps and the ability to skip steps but pre-requisites for different lines. This tries to amalgamate spiritual growth with church activity with the idea that new church plants are the final step.
Focus on creating a variety of group environments where people can grow in their faith no matter where they are at. Micro groups for one-on-one mentoring, small groups for ongoing growth, interest groups and community groups as entry level groups. Train leaders in disciple-making and focus on their ability to reproduce in others who they are. Groups can follow a pre-developed curriculum or follow along from the main Sunday teachings. This model relies on less staff and official classes and is focused on lay leadership.
Here is an example of what it can look like in your church
A discipleship path is concerned with the spiritual maturity of a person. Therefore, understanding spiritual maturity is essential to this process. There are several models to work from – Frank Gray, Avery Willis, Dan Spader, etc. Here is an example of a discipleship path.
> New Believer – committing faith, baptism
> Spiritual Infant – learning how to read and approach the Bible & learning how to pray
> Spiritual Child – awareness of scripture, the Holy Spirit, obedience to Jesus
> Spiritual Young Adult – growing in scriptural awareness, maturing behavior in multiple areas
> Spiritual Parent – seeing others begin, grow, and mature in faith
Once that is accomplished, map out what discipleship looks like for your church. Here is an example of a system with small groups and classes working together.
- Alpha > Baptism > New Believers Class > Classes (Freedom Session, Spiritual Gifts, Finances, Marriage Class, Bible Survey, etc.) > Online Bible Classes (Masters College, GlobalUniversity.ca)
- Small Groups offered simultaneously (leaders focused and trained in discipleship)
Communicating and tracking the path can be done through your church software or a simple spreadsheet. In addition, some churches create a “passport” that people can have stamped as they complete individual classes.