In the dictionary definition of discipleship: “‘Discipleship’ and ‘following Christ’ are used synonymously. The canonical Gospels, Acts, and Epistles urge disciples to be imitators of Jesus Christ or of God himself… In several Christian traditions, the process of becoming a disciple is called the Imitation of Christ.”
I’ve spent a lot of time helping small churches grow thriving youth ministries, and I’ve never met a single one that didn’t care about growing disciples. In fact, as I write this column, I’m at a ministry conference for a mainline denomination that has very few churches with more than 100 people in their weekly worship service. Their mission statement is: “Making disciples for the transformation of the world.”
But how well do mission statements about discipleship actually translate to real-world practices in these small churches?
Lacking a clearly defined path to discipleship, smaller churches risk graduating students out of their youth ministry who’ve missed key aspects of their Christian formation. Complicating the challenge is a sobering fact of life—even families who call themselves regular church attenders show up, on average, just once a month. And Sunday school attendance has declined at an alarming rate. It’s difficult to immerse teenagers in a discipling environment when they rarely dip their toe in the water.
To address these challenges, a few suggestions:
- Gather your youth ministry stakeholders (parents, youth, volunteers, and staff) and determine together your key discipleship goals.
- Create a yearly teaching plan, and consider extending your strategy two or three years into the future. Determine key themes you want to hit every year, and topics that can be taught less frequently. Don’t re-teach what’s already covered in a Confirmation-type program. A simple Excel spreadsheet will do the trick for this.
- Add more memory-making milestones and rites of passage into your discipleship plan. Push beyond just celebrating Confirmation and graduation. Connect with young people and their families by recognizing big moments such prom, getting a driver’s license, moving from middle school into high school, and so on. When you help families remember these special moments, you’ll get them through your ministry’s doors more often.
- Be creative about where discipleship happens. High school kids aren’t flocking to a Sunday class at 9 a.m. anymore. What if your discipleship time happened online on a Tuesday night at 9 p.m.?
This article originally appeared in the recently released Special Discipleship Edition of Group Magazine. To request your free copy, click here.
Photo Courtesy of: Startaê Team