How to Build a Culture of Discipleship at Your Church

Many leadership development programs don’t take advantage of the ways people really learn. Here’s how to do it better.

Are you happy with your existing vision, strategy and values, or do you need to revisit them?

Are you producing disciple makers, disciples or consumers? Are you worried that what you’re currently doing isn’t sustainable or scalable? Do you need to overhaul your church, but aren’t sure what to do differently?

The fact is, we often lead the way we’ve been led, disciple the way we’ve been discipled and teach the way we’ve been taught … unless we consciously decide to do otherwise.

And with the accelerated pace of life, the unceasing demands of ministry, and the relentless fact that Sunday is always around the corner, who has the luxury of time to stop, audit and make systemic changes to the way we lead, disciple and teach?

As a result, the two things that we often (unintentionally) end up neglecting are self-development and team-development.

In a previous article, I address the issue of self-development and provide you with a list of questions from my book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry. So be sure to go back and answer those questions before moving on.


The fact is, as a pastor and church leader, you are both a boss and a disciple maker—and this applies whether or not you’re the senior leader.

(Now I understand that you may not like the word boss because it sounds domineering, but I’m simply trying to emphasize the fact that you’re the leader and that you have responsibilities that directly affect others.)

So take a moment and think about everyone on your team—whether it’s your staff team as the senior leader, or your volunteer team as a staff member.

On the one hand, you are responsible for the ministry that God has entrusted you with.

So in order to get things done in a scalable manner, you can’t do it yourself. You need to work with and through your team—just think about Exodus 18 and the account between Moses and Jethro. This makes you the boss, the leader or depending on your culture, the chief cheerleader or number one servant.

On the other hand, you are also responsible to equip those under and around you for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12–13).

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And I’m not talking about equipping others to make coffee, clean the toilets and carry your purse (or … murse). I’m talking about “equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12–13).

While making coffee and cleaning toilets can definitely be a character shaping exercise and be a part of moving you to maturity, that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about building a culture that allows your team to develop both professionally and spiritually.

In my book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry, I have a chapter entitled, “From Sage to Guide.” In this chapter, I unpack what it looks like to move from being a sage on the stage to a guide on the side when it comes to discipleship and leadership development.

There’s a concept in this chapter that I’d like to share with you. It’s called the 70:20:10 principle.

This principle originated with Dr. Allen Tough in his book Adult’s Learning Projects and has since been elaborated and expanded by many others.

The principle states that 70 percent of our learning comes by doing.

This is informal, on-the-job development that comes through trial and error and growing in experience, like when we’re preaching, fleshing out strategic ends into key result areas, writing a ministry action plan, recruiting leaders, discipling others or when we’re teaching a class. It’s learning that comes by doing.

Next, 20 percent of our learning happens when we receive informal feedback from others or through more formal coaching, mentoring and employment relationships.

The last 10 percent of our learning is through conferences, seminars and courses.

This is structured formal education.

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Is this principle true for you?

Why do you preach the way you preach? Disciple the way you disciple? Lead the way you lead? Is it because you’re following the steps outlined in a textbook or from a course? Is it because someone coached you? Or is it because you’ve just done it over and over again and learned what works and what doesn’t through trial and error?

Most likely it’s a combination of all three, but according to this principle, one of the most significant ways to develop is just by doing it.

Now I’m not talking about swinging the pendulum the whole other way. Doing something without actively seeking out feedback, coaching, and new perspective through conferences, seminars, or courses is unwise. And that’s why it’s not the 100:0:0 principle.

All that to say, if you want to develop in an ongoing manner, don’t just relegate development to formal education. Think of the 70:20:10 principle.

What’s interesting is that most churches are unintentionally aware of the 70:20:10 principle and are living it out, but their application of it is backwards.

Seventy percent of their time is devoted to teaching, 20 percent to talking about it and 10 percent to doing it.

What would happen to your church if you applied the 70:20:10 principle accurately?

What if 70 percent of the time that you spent developing your team and discipling them was helping them do the very things that made them a great leader and disciple maker? You would then talk about what they’ve done and provide them feedback 20 percent of the time, while only formally teaching them 10 percent of the time. Imagine the transformation that would happen in your church.

Imagine what kind of culture would develop.

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Daniel Im is the founder of, a teaching pastor at The Fellowship Church in Nashville and the director of church multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources. This article originally appeared on