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4 Fundamentals for Effective Discipleship

Not to be overly cynical or sarcastic, but let’s not forget that blind squirrel. Even he finds an occasional nut. Churches don’t save people — God saves people. But churches can (and should) create the most conducive context possible for God to do what only he can do. If we ignore our models, plans, and approach, we’re running around like a blind church squirrel hoping for the best.

Planning for Success

“By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail” — Benjamin Franklin. Let me tell you why I believe your church needs a foundational strategy. It’s simple, really. Just follow the logic. Our calling as a church is to create disciples. Discipleship is a journey. Journeys happen through a series of steps, not programs, events, or church moments. If we want to make disciples, we need to encourage and equip people to take steps of faith toward their Heavenly Father. These journeys don’t often happen by accident. Encouraging and equipping people to engage in a effective discipleship journey requires sequential and incremental steps. And that’s our key idea.

To help people along their faith journey, we must create a path of sequential and incremental steps.

4 Fundamentals for Effective Discipleship

Think of it like a moving sidewalk. We need to create a sidewalk of faith, where people can step on the sidewalk wherever they are in their faith journey and begin moving in the direction of growth. That’s what our plan should do.

To build this moving sidewalk, we need to embrace some fundamentals for the journey:


Our journey needs to be founded upon relationships. Environments and experiences may be attractional, but it’s relationships that stick. If we hope to encourage and equip people to take steps of faith, we must engage them relationally.

As we construct a discipleship pathway, we must ensure the sidewalk is wide enough for multiple people to hold hands and walk side-by-side. There are moments along the journey where people can and should engage privately. Still, even these moments are best developed in the context of community. 

The first fundamental for the journey is to design it for people to experience with people.


People today need smaller steps. There are plenty of reasons this is true, but the greatest may be the fall of cultural Christianity. When Christianity was cultural, most people affiliated (even loosely) with a church felt somewhat confident attending and engaging. Not to say everyone did, but this was certainly more true than today.

What functioned as a step a decade ago now looks like a chasm requiring a leap. We may enjoy hearing stories of people taking “leaps of faith,” but the vast majority of people in your community would rather stay still than leap. This is why we love the story of Peter walking on water, but let’s remember, there were 11 other men just watching, all afraid to take the “leap.”

Our second fundamental is incrementalism. Faith steps today need to be much, much smaller. People will only continue a faith journey if their next steps seem easy, obvious, and helpful.

Omnichannel (or “hybrid”)

Like most buzzwords, these are not well understood in the context of church. You can’t add an online service stream and Instagram and automatically be “omnichannel” or “hybrid.”

We use these terms interchangeably, but they are indeed different.

Omnichannel uses many channels but in a way that puts the community and individual person at the center of the plan. Just using a lot of in-person and online expressions is what we’d call “multichannel.” Omnichannel means using these in-person and online expressions to engage with people in the right way, at the right time, and with the right message. 

Similarly, “hybrid” doesn’t mean using online and in-person. Hybrid is a scientific term. It’s what happens when you marry two dissimilar origin stories to create something new. So again, adding Facebook groups and using email doesn’t make you “hybrid.” A hybrid church, by definition, would mean taking our physical gatherings and pairing them with digital offerings to create something “new.” I like to define a hybrid church as “a fresh expression of church for a networked society, where physical and digital experiences are seamlessly integrated into people’s lives.”

Our third objective is to ensure we leverage the 70 hours of discretionary time throughout the week by integrating digital discipleship into the pathway.


Our final fundamental is a bias toward movement. In the past, churches could host services, small groups, and such, and people would attend, listen, and potentially grow. But there wasn’t much of a “plan” for building a path of incremental steps. There we plenty of programs and opportunities to be in church, but an intentional plan was hard to find. 

Remember, effective discipleship is about movement. Therefore, we must create a path of incremental steps that move people forward along a faith journey. This means, with every single thing we do (and I mean EVERYTHING), we should know by design what step likely came before and what incremental steps we will encourage after.

This is often a pretty massive paradigm shift for pastors and church leaders. Let’s think of it this way: A moment is complete only after inspiring movement through offering incremental steps.

And that’s our final fundamental. We attempt to never create a moment disconnected from progress. We do this by consistently offering and encouraging next steps at all times.

NOTE: We can’t necessarily build a custom discipleship pathway for EVERY single person in our community, but we can create categorical pathways. And that’s what we’ll cover in our next post.

If your church isn’t experiencing growth from reaching through edification, I’d like to suggest a lack of clear and planned pathway could be to blame. In today’s culture, churches must engage people where they are, help them onto a sidewalk of faith growth, and hold their hand as they progress down their path. 


This article on effective discipleship originally appeared here, and is used by permission.