Most churches will claim as part of their mission statement that the church exists to raise up disciples of Jesus Christ. The statement might be to raise up “Fully devoted followers of Jesus.” Or, in my own tribe, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The problem is that in most churches, including ones I have led and been a part of, discipleship happens by accident. As new persons enter into the church we just hope they will catch on to the myriad of opportunities one has to become a disciple. We hope they will catch on that Sunday School or Bible Study or participation in a small group is a good thing. Or, that part of being a disciple means serving outside of the church, in daily life or in the life of the church itself. Most churches lack any direction for newer persons (or persons who have been attending a long time for that matter) when it comes to how to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
There are at least two ways churches can begin to remedy such a situation.
First, stop defining discipleship as information transfer only. To be sure we are to love God with all of our mind and read, and learn and study. Too often, however, discipleship in the church has been reduced to whether or not a person has gone through Disciple Bible Study or Christian Believer. Yes, study both individually and collectively is an important part of growing as a disciple but it is only a part. It would be good to expand our definition of discipleship to include things like spiritual disciplines, stewardship, service inside and outside the church, and much more. It would be good for each church to spend time defining what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like using scripture as their guide.
Second, churches can move away from discipleship on accident to discipleship on purpose by having a clear pathway for persons to grow in their faith and love of God and others. Everyone knows that discipleship is not linear or is not just a bunch of boxes to check off but this should not stop us from providing some type of guidance for those who attend church to know how they can grow in their faith.
I remember attending a Conference where the speaker was talking about his realization about how the church needed to do better with discipleship on purpose. He said he had opened up the altar for prayer (remember when this used to occur?), and a young man came forward and with tears and in fervent prayer came to the altar and gave his life to Christ pledging to follow Christ and then with tears still running down his face asked the pastor “Now what?”
What is your church saying to the new follower, the new attendee, the revived attendee who asks, “Now what?” It is a good question to answer and is worth pondering.