Discipleship as a Solo Activity?

Christian adults are split on their preferences when it comes to models of discipleship: small group, one-on-one or individual (solitary) format.

Among Christians who say spiritual growth is important, more than one-third say they prefer to pursue spiritual growth on their own (37%). Similarly, two in five of all Christian adults consider their spiritual life to be “entirely private” (41%). This is a greater proportion—though only slightly—than Christians who believe their faith, rather than being private, has an impact on relatives (37%), friends (36%) and their community (33%). In other words, one of the problems revealed by this research is that millions of Christians believe that discipleship is a solo affair, with only personal and private implications.

Even when it comes to what Christians are experiencing in the churches they attend, there does not seem to be much emphasis conveyed about the communal, relational nature of spiritual growth. Just one-third of Christian adults report that their church recommends meeting with a spiritual mentor; half of their churches publically endorse studying the Bible with a group; and half recommend studying the Bible independently.

Among Christian adults, one-quarter prefers a small-group setting for discipleship (25%). Another one in five prefers a combination of group and one-on-one discipleship (21%) and 16 percent prefer one-on-one only. Thus, in total, about one-third of those pursuing spiritual growth are including some element of one-on-one, person-to-person discipleship.

preferred method of discipleship

However, not all of those who prefer discipleship “pairs” are currently involved in a one-on-one discipleship relationship: less than one-quarter of Christians adults (23%) are currently being discipled by someone (29% of practicing vs. 12% of non-practicing Christians), and 19 percent are discipling someone else (25% of practicing vs. 9% of non-practicing Christians).

One-on-one discipleship relationships are established in various ways: Of those currently being discipled by another person, one-quarter say that person invited them (27%); one in five invited their mentor (20%); and about one-quarter were paired by the church (23%)—but the largest proportion, 28 percent, were matched “some other way.”

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