The Real Reason We Don’t Make Disciples

Changes in how we play church aren’t going to matter at all if we don’t address the core problem: we’re not making disciples who make disciples. Our churches have seen a seeker-sensitive revolution, innovations in guest services, advances in technology, and great improvement in our worship experiences. But take a look at the disciple-making dial, and it seems frozen.

Sermons, books, and podcasts are great, but certain dimensions of discipleship can only happen in the context of relationships. Disciples are formed by disciple makers—intentionally, personally, one soul at a time.

There’s just no shortcut.

Lack of Strategy

Tragically, most churches don’t even have an explicit strategy for addressing this. At our church, we have adopted the phrase, “We exist to create a movement of disciple-making disciples in RDU (our city area) and around the world.” We’ve put forward plumb lines that we repeat ad nauseam, like, “Every member is a missionary” and “We measure our success by sending capacity, not seating capacity.” We say that the best ministry ideas are in the congregation, and we end every service with, “You are sent.” We’re trying to ingrain into every member of The Summit Church the truth that the Great Commission belongs to themIt takes time, repetition, and intentionality to create a culture, but it’s one we desperately want to create.

It’s the culture that spawned the greatest missional advance in history.

The gospel didn’t advance in the early church through professional Christians and expert pastors; the gospel spread by the power of God working in and through the lives of normal people. Gospel advancement happens when ordinary people are empowered by the Spirit of God and march forward into the world demonstrating the generosity of Jesus, the forgiveness available through his cross, and the eternal hope of his coming kingdom.

Does your church have a clearly outlined path for raising up disciple-making disciples?

In the church I grew up in, we went out “soul-winning” every Wednesday afternoon. I got saved on a Friday and went out on my first soul-winning cold call that next Wednesday. It was my first act of sanctification! Because of that practice, within my first two years of being a Christian, I had shared the gospel dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

Most churches have moved away from this cold-call methodology, and perhaps for good reason. The problem is, we haven’t replaced it with anything. How are people in your church learning to share the gospel, and how are they getting experience in doing so?

“The gospel spread by the power of God working in and through the lives of normal people.”

When it is prayer request time, are a significant number of the requests about people who don’t yet know Christ that people in your small group are sharing the gospel with? Or are they about Great-Aunt Ruth, who is having a strange growth removed from her back next Tuesday? We sometimes referred to our Wednesday night prayer meeting as an “organ recital,” where we got all kinds of updates on church members’ relatives’ organs. What if, instead of organ recitals, we prayed in boldness and faith with our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who don’t yet know Jesus?

Again: if God, in one fell swoop, answered all the prayers members in your church prayed last week, how many new people would be in the kingdom?

Lack of Belief

Maybe it’s not lack of strategy. Maybe it’s more basic than that. Maybe it’s just good, old-fashioned unbelief.

I believe many Christians don’t share the gospel because they’re not convinced in their hearts that people actually go to hell.

The creed they endorse may claim that, but functionally they are universalists. In their hearts, they assume that God grades on a curve, and most good, sincere folks out there of whatever religion will eventually make it.

God is a God of love, right?

“I believe many Christians don’t share the gospel because they’re not convinced in their hearts that people actually go to hell.”

Can I be candid for a moment? I struggle with this too. In fact, I never realized how deep-seated my own lack of true belief was until I met Rhonda.

Rhonda was in her mid-twenties and had grown up in New England, far from my Bible Belt background. It’s rare, even today, to find an American who has never heard anything about Christianity. But that was Rhonda.

So I started with the basics—who God is, why Jesus came, and how we could receive him as Lord and Savior. She asked lots of questions. But I wasn’t prepared for the question she asked last.

“You actually believe this?” 

“Yes, of course I do,” I said.

She replied, “Because you don’t act like you believe it. If I believed what you are saying—that everyone in my life who didn’t know Jesus was separated from God’s love and headed to hell—I’m not sure how I would make it through the day. I would constantly be on my knees pleading with people to listen.”

She kept going.

“You don’t seem that bothered by all this. You lay out the details pretty well, but it seems like a philosophical question, not what you say it is—a matter of life and death.”

I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I knew she was right.

Gospel-Centered Apathy?

If we really believe what the Bible says about the gospel—both the good news and the bad news that precedes the good news—how can our hearts remain unengaged? Charles Spurgeon was once asked by a student whether those who had never heard about Jesus could be saved.

“A troubling question indeed,” he said. “But even more troubling was whether we who knew the gospel and were doing nothing to bring it so the lost could be saved.”

Mic drop.