A lot of my clergy colleagues have been asking for an outline of the disciple-making process we are using at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church and I thought I’d pass along a description for those who are interested in seeing how it works. We’re seeing great success with this process as about 130 people from our congregation have gone through the process in the first year of its inception. With our average weekly attendance around 370, that represents more than a third of the congregation who have been through the first round of courses, including potential new members. We thought we’d reach that number in three years, so it’s clear that people are responding to an intentional process of making disciples that closely models our Wesleyan “operating system” (a phrase used by one of our lay members to describe how we do things around here).
The basic premise of the process is that disciples are not made by accident or osmosis. We want to build followers of Jesus Christ who love and serve God and neighbor ,who (to use Wesley’s terms) live out “holiness of heart and life,” and who “spread Scriptural holiness” across our neighborhoods.
Here’s how the process works:
Social Networks:Disciples at TLUMC identify those in their social networks who are open to the gospel, share their faith with them, and invite them to attend worship as the first step in belonging to a community of faith. Most of the people who come to our church (which is not easy to find) do so because they have been invited by one of our members.
First worship service: People who respond to the invitation to worship attend their first worship service where they experience what we call the “Five Wows” (I heard these from Pastor Oscar Muriu at Nairobi Chapel in Kenya and thought they were great for looking at Sunday morning strategy):
- Welcome – People experience great hospitality on entry, including several points of personal contact before the service.
- Worship – People experience a high quality, meaningful worship experience. We also offer Holy Communion weekly at all three services as an opportunity for people to respond to God’s offer of grace.
- Greeting – Greeting time in the service. We encourage every member to meet someone new during the greeting time and we often use a discussion question related to the sermon to get conversation started.
- Word – Sermons that are biblical and engage people where they are. We preach in series that go deep on a biblical book or topic.
- Fellowship – Post-service fellowship, food, and conversation.
The goal is for first-time visitors to leave saying, “I’ll be back.”
Regular attender: People move from visitor to regular attender, beginning to engage the life of the church community.
Coffee with the Pastor: Regular attenders are invited to meet with the pastor and members of the staff for a two-hour orientation to TLUMC, which takes place the second Sunday every month from 4-6pm. The orientation includes some history of Methodism and TLUMC, our basic beliefs and practices, and an orientation to our discipleship process. We also take some time to hear about each other’s stories and faith journeys. Those who attend the session are invited to join the next Blueprint for Discipleship Class, which is our pathway to church membership.
Blueprint for Discipleship: This is our basic membership course, which is offered three times per year. The purpose of the course is to introduce people to the theology and practice of Wesleyan Christianity, and provide participants with a weekly experiment in small group accountability. The ten-week course utilizes Kevin Watson’s book A Blueprint for Discipleship. The course covers the General Rules, basic Wesleyan theology, and provides an experiment in covenant discipleship. The course also includes two sessions on spiritual gifts and spiritual type. Our desire is that those who go through this course together will form their own covenant discipleship group after course graduation, or they will join another similar group for the purpose of accountable discipleship.
Covenant Discipleship Group: Those who have taken the Blueprint class are invited to form a Covenant Group. Covenant Groups are different than a typical small group that meets for Bible study (although Bible study can certainly be part of the meeting). People meet with their group weekly for mutual nurture and accountability using the covenant discipleship model of the General Rules and the classic question, “How is it with your soul?” The group provides first-line care for its members and each group encouraged to take on a collective mission project in the community.
Frontline Engagement: The goal of the entire process is to make disciples who will engage the frontline sectors of society that they frequent: their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, etc. They will be agents of transformation in those areas, representing Christ and offering a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. They will invite others into the life of discipleship. Strengthened and shaped by Christ via the means of grace, they will make the world around them look more like what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Let me know if you’d like to learn more by messaging me on Twitter @revbkaylor or leaving a comment below.