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The 3 Reasons We Aren’t Seeing Discipleship Results in American Churches Today

I’ve said it many times. The number one problem we are facing in American churches is we’ve gotten really talented at creating believers but struggled to produce followers, or disciples of Jesus. When I think of someone who is truly Jesus-centered and helping churches develop a real discipleship program to match their church culture, one of the very first people I think of is Greg Finke, the founder and leader of Dwelling 1:14. In this blog today, Greg will discuss three reasons why churches aren’t seeing the discipleship results they envision (and hope) would happen.

As you read, I hope you are stirred to action and plug in more with Greg Finke, and the work at Dwelling 1:14. And, for further study, sign up for our FREE webinar where I’ll interview Pastor Greg Finke on April May 16th. It’s called “Walking with Jesus: Creating a Discipleship Plan for Your Church that Transforms Lives in Your Community.”

Without further ado, here are his words.

Why aren’t we seeing the results we envision?


It may be frustrating, but it is also most certainly true: our churches are perfectly calibrated for the results we are currently getting in mission, discipleship, and multiplication. We envision our people reaching their neighbors and seeing them come to faith. We envision our people making disciples who are making disciples who are… (you get the idea).

But even after investing all that preaching, and visioning, and programming, and money, and volunteer hours – what are the results we are actually seeing?

In the gospels, in the book of Acts, and in many places across the globe today, wherever followers of Jesus are living, redemptive movements are breaking out. In other words, those followers live in such a way that more and more people around them are experiencing and hearing the Good News of God. However, in North America, despite having Jesus-followers in every community, we aren’t seeing those kinds of results in a majority of our churches.

Pastors and congregational leaders envision such results but they are not seeing such results.

Dwelling 1:14 has come alongside hundreds of congregations and thousands of leaders over the last dozen years, and in our experience, there are three common culprits that are responsible. I will briefly introduce all three in this article and then invite you to dig deeper with Zach Zehnder and me during our webinar on May 16, “Walking with Jesus: Creating a Discipleship Plan for Your Church that Transforms Lives in Your Community.”

The good news is that in the gospels Jesus has already shown us the fixes which will result in redemptive movements breaking out in our communities, too.

Why aren’t we seeing the results we envision?

Three reasons and how to fix them:


1) Leaders do not understand what it looks like to pursue the mission of God in daily life. And, not surprisingly, neither do the people in their congregations.


What does it look like for a person to join Jesus on His mission as a daily lifestyle?

The training, experience, and expertise of most professional church workers is in gathering people around God’s word at church (worship, study, ministry, etc.). Likewise, the experience of the people being gathered is in the “being gathered.” The people are discipled to gather, listen, sing, discuss, believe, and then head home until they gather again the next time.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, day after day, all those Jesus-followers are having very little impact on the people around them wherever they live, work, or go to school. People who badly need what the Jesus-followers have are left unaffected… year after year. As a result, a congregation full of Jesus-followers could be in a community for decades and no one is the community is better off because of it.

The good news is that there is a simple fix. Start asking: If I were watching someone who has been trained to pursue the mission of God with Jesus, what would that lifestyle look like?

Of course, the Scriptures already describe this lifestyle.

John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples [that you have been trained by Me], if you love one another.” 

Ephesians 5:2, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.”

What does a lifestyle of mission look like to a person watching? It looks like a lifestyle of love. It looks like someone intentionally watching for opportunities to love the people around them in such a way that those people know they have been loved. When hundreds of Jesus-followers are living such a life, the community is transformed – not after decades, but after months.

If, as leaders, we take up such a lifestyle of love in our own neighborhoods – and if we, therefore, become more experienced and skilled at it – then we can show our people how to do the same.

More about this on May 16.

2) Leaders (and their congregations) think scholarship is discipleship. It is not.


Unfortunately, for a very long time now, leaders have thought discipleship is accomplished through the accumulation of scholarship. We think that if we have preached and/or taught God’s Word to our people, we have discipled them in God’s Word. Turns out, Jesus’ way of discipleship is more than knowing correct answers about Him. Discipleship is being trained to follow His ways for the good of others in everyday life. This is why Jesus says, “Come, follow Me.” He told His trainees His teachings but then He showed them how to put His teachings into practice by how He lived.

The result of Jesus’ discipleship process was the multiplication of redemptive movements wherever His trainees went. The result of our discipleship process is more disappointing. After years of being discipled by us, our people may be confident theologians, but they remain untrained and inexperienced in what to do with that theology for the good of their neighborhoods.

Think of it this way: when leaders disciple their people in the teachings of Jesus, what is everyone’s expectation as they head back home? That the teachings will be understood and believed (no thought is given to what they may actually do with it to bless others). However, what is the expectation of Jesus? That it will be understood, believed, AND put into practice for the good of others.

In the gospels, when Jesus uses an action verb, yes, He wants us to understand it and believe it. But using action verbs mean He wants us to take action. Someone nearby needs us (the Jesus-followers) to put into action what He has given us to do. Understanding and believing what Jesus gives us to do doesn’t bless our neighbors. Our understanding, believing, AND putting it into practice does. When hundreds of Jesus-followers are sent home to put the teaching they understand and believe into practice, the community is transformed – not after decades, but after months. 

The reality is that a person will never change someone else by what they believe. They will only change someone else by putting what they believe into action.

The good news is that there is a simple fix. We can turn scholarship (which we are really good at) back into discipleship (which our people and our communities really need) by asking this important question: Now what?

When preparing a Biblical message or teaching, we can follow this simple outline:

·   Know what? What facts does the text communicate?

·   So what? What does this mean for us?

·   Now what? Now that we understand and believe this word from God, what will we do with it?

 The question, “Now what,” turns scholarship (I know the right answers about Jesus) into discipleship (I am gaining experience and skill in applying the ways of Jesus in daily life).

More about this on May 16.

3) Leaders overlook and underestimate the importance of relationship in discipleship.


If leaders want to start seeing the results they envision for their congregations regarding mission, discipleship, and multiplication, they will need to rediscover and prioritize the essential role of relationship.

To see our people join Jesus on His mission as a daily lifestyle, they will need to be discipled in HOW to join Jesus. To see our people begin discipling others, they will need to be discipled in HOW to disciple others. And to see our people be the epicenter of redemptive movements (multiplication) in their neighborhoods, they will need to be discipled in HOW to multiply redemptive movements in their neighborhoods.

 For that to happen, our people need more from their leaders than what we are giving them. We are settling for TELLING them how to do these things. That strategy is perfectly calibrated to get the results we are currently getting. We can TELL them how, but they need someone to SHOW them how.

The good news is that there is a simple fix. As leaders, our first priority can be to create a plan where people have a relationship with someone who models this lifestyle for them and then mentors them as they begin gaining their own experience and skill in living it.

Of course, we have already seen this in the Scriptures. We just overlooked and underestimated its importance.

Hebrews 13:7, “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

Philippians 3:17, “Join with others in following my example, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

What could a discipleship plan look like that prioritizes relationship and sees the results we envision?

Join Zach Zehnder and me during our webinar on May 16, “Walking with Jesus: Creating a Discipleship Plan for Your Church that Transforms Lives in Your Community” to get the full picture. It’s simpler than you think and a lot more fun!

 Red Letter Leaders Monthly Webinar - Walking with Jesus Creating a Discipleship Plan for Your Church that Transforms Lives

Further Calls to Action


Greg Finke is the leader of Dwelling114.org. If you need help launching more effective mission, discipleship, and multiplication strategies in your congregation, Greg can help. He would love to serve you in three ways:

1.  Books and video curricula which you can use to help your people clarify and simplify what a life of mission and discipleship looks like. Store — Dwelling 1:14

2.  Onsite or online training experiences that help your people craft simple, concrete plans for joining Jesus on His mission and then mentor them as they learn to implement their plan. 18-Month Missional Lifestyle Training Process — Dwelling 1:14

3.  First-Step Retreats which provide you and your team the opportunity to identify a strategy for introducing mission and discipleship into your congregation. Retreats are held at the Finke’s beautiful, historic headquarters in St. Paul, MN. Next-Step Retreats — Dwelling 1:14

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