7 attributes of an effective discipleship program

According to a recent Lifeway Research poll, U.S. pastors say their number one ministry difficulty is developing leaders and volunteers. Of the 1,000 pastors surveyed, they also agree that disciple-making is a top skill they need to prioritize in their mission to shepherd God's people. 

As ministry leaders, you understand the importance of offering a strong discipleship program, but knowing where to start can be challenging.

Remember that biblical discipleship is a lifelong process of becoming like Jesus Christ that requires dedication and investment. It's about fostering genuine spiritual growth and transformation in the lives of disciples and their mentors. This is a process the whole congregation should be involved in. They need to know the church’s approach to discipleship—how it works, where to start, and what to expect. 

With that in mind, let’s explore the seven foundational elements of a solid church discipleship program.

7 attributes of a strong discipleship program

1. Clear objectives & goals

What spiritual milestones do you expect your members to reach throughout the program? The intentions you set will direct the efforts of both teachers and students toward a shared vision of spiritual transformation. Make these goals measurable and consider how you'll track individual progress.

Christian discipleship is a learning process for everyone involved, and priorities within the congregation can change over time. Encourage program participants to give feedback and make suggestions along the way, and be open to making adjustments to current objectives as needed.

2. Daily prayer & Bible reading

Transformative church discipleship programs prioritize both theological study and an intimate relationship with Christ. So, build your program on a solid foundation of scripture and prayer. 

These daily practices honor the legacy of biblical discipleship and help cultivate an unshakable personal connection to God. Bible reading plans, daily devotionals, and weekly group studies are great ways to get your community excited about studying scripture and engaging in prayer.

3. Qualified & passionate leaders

Trusted leadership is essential for creating a culture of discipleship, so choose a team of church leaders with an undeniable passion for nurturing spiritual growth. Evaluate their maturity, knowledge of scripture, and willingness to lead others. Observe how they currently interact with the church community and if they have the capacity to take on the role of disciple-makers.

It’s essential to prepare and equip the leaders you’ve selected with ongoing leadership training that’s easy to access. Consider providing them with video or audio modules they can watch or listen to during the week.

4. Structured discipleship training curriculum

A structured discipleship curriculum helps you deliver assignments on a regular schedule. Be sure to select or develop a curriculum that aligns with your objectives. This could include written materials, videos, podcasts, and practical activities.

Organize the content into a coherent structure, with lessons that build on each other. Aim to balance theological education with practical application. Believers ranging from middle school students to senior citizens should be able to easily navigate and understand the program.

5. Accountability & support

Maintain a spirit of unity, living out the sentiment of 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just in fact as you are doing.” You can do this by facilitating small groups where participants can share their struggles, victories, and questions in a safe and intimate setting. 

These gatherings provide a space for deep connections, vulnerability, and mutual encouragement. As students provide accountability and extend hands of support to each other, they organically create a community bound by love.

6. Flexibility & adaptability

As you create your program, cultivate an environment where participants feel valued and understood. Check in with students and leaders regularly to gain insights into the discipleship process. What’s working and where are opportunities for improvement?

Consider developing new tracks as your program progresses, catering to various stages and needs of Christian life. Whether for newcomers, mature believers, or those facing specific challenges, a variety of program options can help students feel better seen and supported.

7. Emphasis on relationships & mentorship

Discipleship, at its core, is relational. Pastor Francis Chan said it best in his book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples: “Discipleship is all about living life together rather than just one structured meeting per week.” It’s an ongoing process that happens inside and outside the walls of the church. 

Your program should cultivate a culture of discipleship, where seasoned believers invest in the spiritual growth of newer disciples. Create a path within the program for disciples to transition from student to teacher, effectively perpetuating the cycle of healthy discipleship.

Increase engagement with personalized discipleship content

As you construct your discipleship program, consider leveraging resources you already have. Students are more likely to engage and connect with content from the pastors and church leaders they know and love. Encourage students to use the church’s website or church app to access your collection of sermons, videos, or podcasts. 

With the Subsplash Platform, you can keep your students connected to gospel-centered content every day through built-in customizable Bible-reading plans. You can also create a searchable library of all your media items, making it easy for students to find content using search filters.

To learn how Subsplash is helping over 16,000 churches make disciples, [.blog-contact-cta]reach out to our team today![.blog-contact-cta]

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Ashley Powell, Guest author

Ashley is a writer and lover of all things handmade, living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children. Through research and collaboration with marketing teams, she creates informative and educational content such as reader-focused blogs, guides, and product reviews.

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