Making Disciples Exponentially

Set a compelling vision for your ministry. Create five-, ten-, and fifteen-year strategic plans to grow your Kingdom impact. Recruit A-list teachers and preachers. Bring greater diversity to your leadership and congregation. Launch a marketing campaign to get the word out about your church or ministry. Add more programs and classes to meet the needs of the people. Host more evangelistic events to further your reach into the communities around you.

As leaders in the body of Christ, we are committed to seeing God’s Kingdom advance to the ends of the earth. We want to see God’s Kingdom grow and more people come to faith in Christ.

However, I wonder if in the process of trying to maximize our reach, we have unintentionally overcomplicated things. That by trying to add more we are actually accomplishing less.

Don’t get me wrong. The strategies listed above are good things that can help us in our commitment to advancing God’s Kingdom. In my own work in leader development within The Navigators (an international Christian ministry), we equip our leaders with several of the above competencies, skills, and perspectives because we believe they are helpful to our leaders in their leadership.

But perhaps in focusing on these strategies we’ve lost sight of the main thing, Jesus’ original strategy for advancing his gospel to the ends of the earth—making disciples.

Well, that seems inefficient.

Okay, hear me out.

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ final words here on earth from Matthew 28:18–20, the Great Commission:

“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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This calling is not just for the superstar Christians who have their lives perfectly together or for individuals who are in full-time ministry. This is a calling for all followers of Jesus.

There’s one problem, though: According to a study conducted by The Barna Group (a Christian research firm) and commissioned by The Navigators in 2020, only about 30% of those who profess to be Christians in the American church are actually doing it.

Yikes. Somewhere along the line from when Jesus gave the Great Commission until now, we’ve lost our way.

The good news is that more than half of American Christians are at least somewhat interested in making disciples and that many of the challenges and barriers they identified in doing so are actually quite conquerable. Lack of confidence. Not wanting to make things weird with the people in their lives. Lack of resourcing. Figuring out how to add yet another Christian thing in their lives.

In our current cultural climate where there is a decrease in the number of those who call themselves Christians, what if the unleashed potential of the continued advancement of the gospel into unreached places rests not on the strategies that Christian leaders employ, but on the faithfulness of everyday followers of Jesus to make disciples right where they live, work, and play? What would it look like as leaders of the gospel movement to shift our attention from our strategies and instead to mobilize and equip everyday people to be disciple-makers as our primary vehicle for advancing the gospel?

It’d start slower, that’s for sure. But the potential impact is endless.

The Barna study revealed that 70% of Christians do not believe that discipling someone is expected of them as followers of Jesus, which at first glance is concerning. At the same time, 84% of those surveyed were at least somewhat willing to invest time to pass on to others what they have learned in life—the very nature of what discipleship is. My hypothesis is that more than an unwillingness to disciple, there is a lack of familiarity with the terms “discipleship” and “disciple-making” that makes people think, “That’s for super spiritual Christians. I can’t do that.”

When we begin by talking about discipleship and bring others back to the Great Commission as often as we preach the gospel, we regularly remind those entrusted to us of the calling for all followers of Jesus to engage in disciple-making.

When we share stories of how we are intentionally passing on what we know about walking with Jesus with those in our lives by praying and reading the Bible with them, we demystify these uber-spiritual sounding, elusive terms, and it becomes easier to picture actually doing it.

When we model discipling and being disciples, we begin to create a disciple-making culture, where discipling becomes as normal a part of the Christian life as going to church, attending a Bible study, reading your Bible, and praying. We can then hold one another accountable to disciple-making in the same way.

When we resource and equip those we lead with the very basics of creating a plan for discipleship, we empower them to be able to disciple others for as long as they continue to walk with and learn from Jesus (which hopefully is all the days of their lives!).

When we share vision for what God could do through their lives right where He has placed them for such a time as this—in their workplace, with their family and friends, within their communities—to share the love of Jesus with those who may never otherwise set foot in a church, we open their eyes to the reality that the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few … and that God can and wants to use them to invest in eternity.

What could God do if everyday men and women were faithful to reach even one person in their circle who could then go on to reach someone in their circle who could then go on to reach someone in their circle and on and on throughout history, for all time?

Call me overly simplistic … but I think it could change the world.

It’s time for us as the body of Christ to go back to the basics and for us as leaders in the body of Christ to lead the way.

Alice Matagora
Alice Matagora

Alice Matagora is the Leader Development Initiatives program coordinator for The Navigators and Navigators Collegiate staff at the University of California at Irvine. She lives in California with her husband and children. How to Save the World: Disciple-Making Made Simple releases from NavPress in August 2022.