Disciple-Makers: The Keys to Growth is a project created by Liz Linssen that was born out of a desire to reverse the tide of declining Christian faith in Wales, and to see churches growing again. This course and its resources are completely free to church leaders in Wales. Disciple-Makers comprises of:
- Five video sessions addressing important topics
- A course manual for trainees
- Powerpoint presentation for the course leader.
All of the above can be downloaded at no cost from this website.
Understanding Church Growth
Many churches in Wales are struggling for survival. Most months a newly-closed church building comes on the market for sale, which are often converted into houses or restaurants. How did the church in Wales arrive at such a poor state of decline? What are the core issues of the religious crisis in Wales? That is what this project, Disciple-Makers, seeks to address.
Even in churches that are experiencing numerical growth, in interviews with church pastors within Wales and England, a reoccurring concern that has emerged is knowing how to move beyond numerical growth and encourage spiritual growth within the lives of its members. Even when evangelism programmes, such as Alpha, CAP, Street Pastors etc., have been successful in bringing in new members and converts into churches, the need to foster spiritual growth and maturity in their lives poses a huge challenge for many leaders. Knowing how to take new believers from new birth in Christ to maturity and life transformation is an area many churches and leaders struggle to with.
The Commission to Make Disciples
In our quest to see churches grow again in Wales, we need to go back and return to the original mission Jesus Christ entrusted to His Church. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus Christ, just prior to His ascension, entrusted His church with what became known as the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything l have commanded you. And surely l am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus Christ did not commission these followers to make converts to the Christian faith only, but to make disciples; to baptise and instruct new believers in the knowledge of and obedience to Christ’s teachings. But what exactly is a disciple? Is every person who walks through the doors of a twenty-first century church (whatever form it takes) considered a disciple? When a person signs a decision card to become a Christian or who prays the ‘salvation prayer’, is he or she then a disciple? Ogden provides a helpful definition of discipleship:
Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well.
A reading of New Testament Scriptures reveal how Jesus Christ and the Early Church placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of disciple formation and not merely converts to the Christian faith. Indeed, Jesus had some very high standards for those who truly desire to be His disciples:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his faith and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
Jesus placed stringent terms on anyone desiring to become His disciple, which included a reorienting of priorities and the need to make sacrifices if needed. Had He softened the conditions of discipleship, imaginably the crowds would have swept along behind him, but that was not His desire. He was looking for men and women of quality; mere quantity did not interest Him. In his message to the crowds concerning the conditions on which they could be his disciples, Jesus Christ employed two illustrations:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? … Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:28, 31)
Jesus employed these illustrations to demonstrate his disapproval of impulsive and ill-considered discipleship. Like the builder, He too is engaged in a building programme — “On this rock I will build my church.” (Matt 16:18) In this building and battling, Jesus Christ desired to have associated with Him disciples who are men and women of quality — those who will not turn back when the lighting grows fierce. The message Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship — not to faith alone but to faith and obedience. Jesus gave a solemn warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ‘ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 7:21)
Evidently then, the mission that Christ has entrusted to His church is to make obedient disciples and not converts to the faith alone. He did not ask His followers to create buildings full of believers, but to focus on creating disciples full of God and His Kingdom mission. That is, to not only focus on quantitative growth (numbers), but on qualitative growth (maturity and service) too. His expectation was that future church communities were to comprise of obedient and mission-focused disciples.
That brings us to the question, how then does one make such quality disciples of Christ?
Unfortunately, throughout much of the twentieth century, this call to make disciples has largely been either misunderstood or neglected in Wales. With the Welsh Chapel model equating spiritual maturity with mere attendance, the Sunday preacher or the Sunday School teacher being the main and often, sole source of spiritual education and formation, it’s not surprising how many churches in Wales have been in such spiritual decline, unable to withstand the powers of secularization. Wales is not alone.
In a published document entitled, The International Consultation on Discipleship, the authors acknowledged how the church worldwide is “marked by a paradox of growth without depth” and many converts to Christianity throughout the world fall away from the faith. Contemporary evidence confirms that the beliefs and discipleship practices amongst Christians in the UK are not what they should be. Immediately following the ONC 2011 census, Professor Richard Dawkins conducted a further survey and found that only 32 percent of those who stated they were Christian in the census believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and only 35 percent could correctly answer the question, “What is the first book of the New Testament?” These are quite shocking statistics for people who profess Christian faith.
Further, in Time For Discipleship? a 2014 report produced by the Evangelical Alliance (EA), less than one third of those Evangelical Christians surveyed said they set aside a substantial period of time for daily prayer, with only eleven percent praying more than three hours per week. In addition, 50.5 percent of Christians said they engage with the Bible daily, and only 40 percent agree that their church does very well in discipling new believers (a mere eight percent in strong agreement). Furthermore, only 26 percent feel they have been well equipped to witness and share their faith with others. The survey also found that 31 percent feel that that they had a good early experience in being taught good habits and disciplines for their prayer lives.
Despite the fact that a considerable number of those interviewed felt they were growing spiritually, it’s clear that we have a discipleship deficit within churches in England and Wales as the 2014 Evangelical Alliance Conference, 21st Century Disciplemaking further confirmed. At this conference, prominent British church leaders expressed their concern over a felt discipleship crisis, reflected in the census report and denominational statistics. One of the attendees, Dr. Lucy Peppiatt, Dean of Studies at Westminster Theological Centre, UK, writes, “There appears to be a corporate sense that the church has failed in some way in this area, and many are concerned that we recapture the truth that discipleship is at the heart of the gospel.” Alan Hirsch states it in bolder terms;
‘The Church in the West has largely forgotten the art of disciple-making and has largely reduced it to an intellectual assimilation of theological ideas. As a result, we have a rather anemic cultural Christianity highly susceptible to the lures of consumerism. This in turn works directly against a true following of Jesus. In our desire to be seeker-friendly and attractional, we have largely abandoned the vigorous kind of discipleship that characterised early Christianity and every significant Jesus movement since.”
Hirsch lays a strong indictment at the door of the Church, which cannot be ignored if churches in Wales are to grow out of their anemic state. This felt discipleship crisis calls for a re-examination of the processes and importance of discipleship if the Church is to prosper and see holistic growth in the coming decades. Welsh churches can no longer afford to neglect the formation of quality disciples who are not only strong enough to resist the force of secularization, but who are also mission-minded.
Evidence points to a discipleship deficit present in the UK, including Wales, together with the importance of creating healthy disciples. This begs the question: Would reversing the paucity of discipleship and investment in people’s spiritual growth have the power to reverse declining Christianity and churches?
Dallas Willard seems to think so. For him, the crux of the matter lies at what is going on inside the Church, in the spiritual lives of its members. He believes that most problems in contemporary Western churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ as Lord in the first place. Although it appears on the surface that attracting numbers may be the issue that needs attention, the issue behind the decline is deficiency of spiritual maturity in the lives of professed Christians. Willard writes,
“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.”
He agrees that the all-important Biblical mandate to make disciples has been lost, and churches in the West are reaping the consequences. It would seem that the growth of healthy churches cannot be separated from the growth of healthy disciples. For Willard, this focus on the quality of life experienced by disciples of Jesus Christ is so important, because it is key to seeing churches prospering both spiritually and numerically:
“Now, some might be shocked to hear that what the ‘church’ – the disciples gathered – really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ’s gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little or none of these. All it needs to fulfill Christ’s purposes on earth in the quality of life he makes real in the life of his disciples. Given that quality, the church will prosper from everything that comes its way”. 
He adds, “the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of Heaven into every corner of human existence.
Babatunde Adedibu agrees. In his book, Coat Of Many Colours, he explains how the general (and mistaken) notion of some preachers is that the numerical growth of a church is synonymous with good health. The term ‘growth’ is used almost exclusively to mean numerical growth: “If the numbers don’t go up, the church is experiencing a ‘plateau,’ a buzzword for stagnation. If the numbers are going down it must be unhealthy and in a state of decline.” Adedibu believes that a more healthy perspective of church growth emphasizes both numerical and spiritual growth for Christians. It’s not simply a matter of getting people through the church doors and onto seats. His concern is that RCCG churches are not simply dotting the landscape in Britain, but are growing holistically. After all, Jesus didn’t call His church to simply make believers or to fill church buildings with people. If that were the case, then attention to numbers alone would suffice.
Therefore, if we are to see churches growing again in Wales, and see the tide of declining Christianity begin to reverse, we know where we need to place our focus, on creating healthy disciples of Jesus Christ. This course, Disciple-Makers: The Keys to Growth will train and equip lay leaders within your church with the tools and knowledge towards that Matthew 28 goal of making disciples. May God bless your church as you fulfil His Great Commission.
- Greg Ogden, Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ (Downers’ Grove, IL: IVP, 2007), 17.
- International Consultation on Discipleship, “The Eastbourne Consultation Joint Statement on Discipleship” (Eastbourne, England, 24 September 1999).
- Richard Dawkins, “Census shows that Christianity in Britain is ‘on the way out’,” Telegraph, 11 December 2012, accessed 18 April 2014.
- Evangelical Alliance, “Time for Discipleship? 21st Century Evangelicals: A Snapshot of the Beliefs and Habits of Evangelical Christians in the UK,” 2014.
- Lucy Peppiatt, The Disciple: On Becoming Truly Human (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012), xiii.
- Alan Hirsch and Darren Altclass, The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Practical Guide For Developing Missional Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 64.
- Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (Oxford, England: Monarch Books, 2006), 5.
- , 4.
- Ibid., xv.
- Adedibu, 99.
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