Mass Produced Disciples

Why has the church fallen for the lie that bigger is better, that more is the goal?  The bigger the church congregation, the larger the youth group, the more successful the church.  We are trying to mass produce disciples, which goes against everything we know and believe to be true.  In schools we know that the lower the student/teacher ratio the more effective the teaching is and the better the students are able to understand and put what they are learning into practice.  If the church were to adopt this strategy, perhaps some of our mega-churches would not be held up as examples and church growth talk would not be about numbers, but about actual growth in the people of the church.

After all, Jesus did not try to train thousands at a time, but picked 12 to walk with daily.  His  investment in the few eventually had a real impact on millions, but he didn’t try to do reach tens of thousands at a time.  Discipleship cannot work the way we are trying to do it, and we see the evidence in the stats about the church today.  Perhaps it  is time to look to the past to find the model for the future.

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8 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Discipleship

8 responses to “Mass Produced Disciples

  1. I think there are seasons of faster growth as well as regular, steadier growth that should be taking place all the time. To me discipleship means, among other things, creating a net that allows for a larger catch of fish without losing any strength.

    Recognizing the giftedness in our leaders and allowing them to function within that gift (pastoral? teaching? prophetic?) will provide for different types of inputs into people’s lives and also allow the newer disciples to grow according to who they are not and not according to our “brand.” This requires courage all the way around but is the only way to go from having 1-4 competent leaders to having 40, and then…

    • jeffabel

      Nick, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I guess I see discipleship more as what happens to the fish after you catch them. And I think to truly make a disciple (in the New Testament sense), as opposed to a convert, takes more individual attention and nurture than I can give when we are trying to minister to hundreds and thousands at a time. In that setting, you can make a convert, but I don’t think you can make a disciple. I agree with your comments about allowing leaders to work in their giftedness and the idea that we often view our churches as a “brand”. Again, thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation.

  2. This concept of mass discipleship reads like a large church movement that will go unnamed and reads like Francis Schaffer’s book the The Next Evangelical Disaster. The “more, super-size it is better”mentality has severely crippled the church and its ability to produce quality disciples who are walked with, talked and taught to at a slow and steady pace to ensure they are developing the right spiritual norms and anchors for the long haul i.e. devotion, prayer and worship and the word. Unfortunately, this type of work is the tougher work, and therefore, often neglected, fast-tracked and or under emphazised to the detriment of the local church and community of people they serve. The 1:100 discipleship approach is and has produced and wounded a generation of men, women and youth. There is lots of carnage around us that we have rework; God help us to the realization that LESS is more!

    • jeffabel

      Dan,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing. As I was reading your comments a thought came to mind that ties this post back to an earlier one this week. Perhaps our misunderstanding of faith has contributed to this. If faith is simply making a statement about what you believe and lacks the component of works and obedience, there is really no need for one on one individualized attention. The “let’s get them into heaven” mentality makes mass production of converts possible, but does not effective make disciples. As I read Scripture, we are called to make disciples not converts, an is takes much more effort as I see it. A clearer, more full understanding of God’s purposes and design moves us away from this escapist theology and allows us to love the person here and now in practical ways as well as care about their eternal state.

  3. Jeff,
    I love this post. Jesus is still choosing us and making disciples one at a time BECAUSE he loves us! Not the numbers / not the membership / not the followers – but US!

    We need to love individuals created in his image the same way. One at a time, never viewing people as products or church growth as a measure or means of production.

    Just my humble opinion. Nice blog. I’ll RT. 😀

    • jeffabel

      Kelly, thanks for the encouraging words. I agree and think it is important to remember that God loves me, He loves us, and He loves all of His creation. God not only calls us as individuals, but He calls us as a group to be His people (just like He called Israel to be His people). The more I remember it is not all about me the better off I am. Yet, at the same time I need to be constantly reminded that He does love me, so much so that He is working to restore me daily.

  4. Ben

    Jeff,

    There is a disturbing practice in business to measure people, process, and products with things that are easy to count instead of qualitative measures that require understanding and wisdom. Counting is done under the guise of “maturity” but instead it seems to be the result of a “don’t make me think” attitude — a thing that is the opposite of maturity. This seems to produce low-quality commodity people and products that put on a good show but have little substance. This also seems to lead to thinking about, and treating, people like interchangeable parts of a machine rather than the unique individuals with unique experiences, skills, and gifts. I find this very disturbing.

    I find it even more disturbing that this attitude seems to permeate the church. In my experience, many (definitely not all) church leaders who have fallen for measuring success by counting the easily countable have also fallen for a false gospel — a gospel that says God loves us because we are such wonderful people rather than God loving us in spite of our sin and paying a horrible price to restore us to him; a gospel that says we need to be entertained rather than discipled; a gospel that honors man over God. I find this offensive.

    In the search for numbers, quality gets lots. The truth gets lost. People become numbers instead individuals. Church leaders start relying on their own strength and programs instead of God.

    So rather than looking at size, let us each examine the heart — our own heart.

    1 Samuel 16:7b “for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. “

    • jeffabel

      Ben, great thoughts. I especially like the picture of “treating people like interchangeable parts” that you painted. As soon as we lose sight of the person and treat them like a number it is impossible to minister to and train them, let alone love them.