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What is a “Level 5” Disciple Making Church?


by Bobby Harrington: I am working with my team at Discipleship·org and the team at Exponential (church planting Network) on a new framework for disciple-making churches to measure what it means for a church to effectively make increasing numbers of disciples. What happens when a church gets sold out to making disciples who make disciples?

Now, this framework or lens is not an exhaustive or a comprehensive one because it doesn’t look at the more organic components that are vitally important in the Bible. For example, it does not directly measure the way the people in the church love one another, the faithfulness of the people to God in the face of persecution, the way they serve the poor and needy, nor the devotion of the church to prayer, etc. Each of these components (and more) is vitally important in the Bible and for church’s faithfulness to God. They are all BIG deals. And these items may or may NOT be related to the measurements of this particular model we are developing.

Our question is a mathematical one.

I believe we can maintain the importance of numbers without overstating their importance. We do this because we know that God wants more disciples. Jesus’ Great Commission was to make disciples from all nations, tribes, and people groups (Rev. 7:9; Matt. 28:19-20). True disciples are people who have been rescued from hell and they are a source of great joy in heaven (Luke 15:7, 10). Each disciple is a rescued person and that is an important number because this is why Jesus came to planet earth (Luke 19:11).

This is why God inspired Luke to celebrate the numbers of disciples who are being made in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42; 4:4; 6:7). For the gospel to transform a person represents God’s highest desire for that person. Like the apostle Paul, we relish helping people to be what God wants them to be, to live life as God intends it. Faithful disciples made in this life will represent real joy at the end of time.

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:19-20).

So we think it is important to measure how many people are being reached and made into disciples by a local church. That is why Discipleship.org is working on the “Level 5” Framework.

Disciple making is typically one of the things that a church does. But in a disciple making church, it becomes the focus of what a church does. Behind all decisions is a consciousness that we are called to be disciples and make disciples.

In 2017 in my role with discipleship.org, I worked with many of our partners and Exponential (a leading church planting network) and we developed a model for individual disciple makers built around mathematics.

That numerical description can be tricky. And easily mis-understood.

You can read the free eBook on the model Becoming a Disciple Maker) and take the free assessment we are doing with the level 5 model is describing a factual snapshot in time of the impact of an individual disciple maker.

Here in a summary fashion is the framework for the snapshot.

Level 1: Subtracting // Level 2: Plateauing // Level 3: Adding

Level 4: Reproducing // Level 5: Multiplying

Again, it is simply a mathematical snapshot and assessment of the impact of an individual disciple maker. At one end, there are individuals who lead people away from being disciples of Jesus (think of atheist or heretic involved in mentoring). Then at the other end, there are individuals who make disciples who individually make disciples – and those disciples make more disciples who make even more disciples – to the 4thgeneration. This is what the apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2:2.

Now, in a like fashion, discipleship.org is working to develop a model of disciple making churches built around mathematics. Again, that model can be tricky. And easily mis-understood.

But all we are doing with the level 5 model is describing a factual snapshot in time of the mathematical impact of a church in terms of disciple making. Look again at the following mathematical framework and think of how a church is doing at disciple making (as a family of God’s people).

Level 1: Subtracting // Level 2: Plateauing // Level 3: Adding

Level 4: Reproducing // Level 5: Multiplying

At the left hand side, there are churches who lead to the subtraction of disciples (think of churches that embrace heretical teachings and lead people away from the Gospel). Then, on the far right side, think of a very small percentage of churches around where individual disciple making is core to the church’s culture and disciple making is viral (spreading rapidly and widely). In this church people believe that disciple making is “what we all do,” it is the “way we all do things in this church.” In these churches, disciple making feels almost unstoppable.

So when we describe a level 5 church, we are describing what only God does through his leaders creating a culture in a local church. Stated differently, this kind of church is not something that humans can engineer. Only a very small percentage of churches around the world are at level 5. It is something that we pray that God’s Spirit would do through us again in our time in North America. God is doing this in various parts of the world today as described in the book, Kingdom Unleased(https://discipleship.org/ebooks/download-the-kingdom-unleashed-sampler/).

A Level 5 Disciple Making Church– individual disciple making is the core DNA and culture of the church, where the average church member makes disciples to the fourth generation and this disciple making activity is regularly produced in significant and diverse streams within the church and these streams multiply consistently into new churches.

Here are each of the 5 levels of disciple making churches.

Level One – Blind (to value of Disciple Making DNA) and Subtracting Disciples

The church leadership does not see, in a meaningful way, the imperative to make disciples. They may be turning heretical or dying. Little or insignificant leadership intentionality. They may think of discipleship as one of the things a church does or as a broad category that applies to lots of different things. No understanding that Jesus-style disciple making is fundamentally important. No key decisions, commitments, or practices are in place. This church is dying and they are losing at making disciples.

Level Two – UnFocused and Plateaued in Making Disciples

This church is unfocused. The leaders may want to learn about disciple making or discipleship. They will typically be focused on the past or on keeping the current attenders of the church happy. The church may have good leaders, but they are unfocused or uninformed or divided. They do not know how to champion disciple making.

Level Three – Programmatic and Adding disciples.

This is a church that adds disciples – either through individual conversions (through the programs of the church) or by adding disciples from other churches. This kind of church is typically built around the four P’s – pastors, praise and worship excellence, programs and preaching. They bred a dependence that the church and programs (by leaders) to make disciples. Individual disciples (everyday members) do not make disciples.

Level Four – Empowering and Reproducing Disciples.

The leaders are coaches equipping disciple makers. Discipleship groups are an everyday reality within the church. The leaders are creating systems that are reproducing discipleship experiences and are actively discipling other people in groups. The leaders actively advocate for discipleship. They champion agreed upon discipleship practices and groups. The leaders are living out discipling relationships and advocating them for the whole church. All the leaders and the clear majority of those who are considered part of the church (75+) are actively involved in discipling groups and they are based upon and practicing a good philosophy of reproduction.

Level Five – Viral DM-DNA and Multiplying Disciples

Reaching and multiplying disciples of is the norm and it has led to regularly multiplying groups to the 4thgeneration in the church. The multiplication to 4 generations happens in most of the streams of ministries within the church. The church multiplies consistently into new churches that are planted.The church is a reflection of a disciple making movement. There is such a movement of disciple making and the DNA is so clear and real that something would have to happen to stop it and for disciple making to come to an end. It is the DNA of the church culture and leadership.

I hope that you will join me as we carry on this conversation. Next week I will share what we are learning about the DNA of a level 5 disciple making church.

We have been teaching this material at the Exponential Conference, where Discipleship.org as we hosted a pre-conference on this topic. I was joined in this conversation by Jim Putman (Relational Discipleship Network), Bill Hull and Ben Sobels (the Bonhoeffer Project) and Dave Clayton (Renew Network). There was so much interest in this teaching that they had to switch us to a bigger room. We hope to make the audios of the training available in the future through discipleship.org.

We are excited to see such vivid interest in Jesus style disciple making. We want to encourage every possible leader and Christian to join with us in these important conversations.

By Bobby Harrington

Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a collaborating ministry of disciple–making organizations, a host for National Forums, and a distributor of free content. It is a ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).

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