The study shows how pastors and church leaders are thinking about discipleship. When asked to choose the single method of discipleship they believe is most effective, church leaders tend to select small group formats (52%) nearly two-to-one over discipleship pairs (29%). For good or bad, small groups are the disciple-making format preferred by most of today’s church leaders.
Do church leaders engage in discipleship themselves? Somewhat. Fully 94 percent are currently discipling at least one other Christian. However, only six in 10 are being discipled themselves. Discipleship pastors (72%) are somewhat more likely than senior pastors (59%) to have a spiritual mentor.
One of the compelling findings of the study is that developmental relationships are more common in larger churches: Eight out of 10 church leaders of 500+ member churches report being currently discipled by someone else (78%), compared with 64 percent of those with 100 to 499 members and 55 percent of those who lead in churches with fewer than 100 members.
According to pastors, the most critical elements of discipleship are matters of the heart rather than of structure. Aside from prayer and time with God, the top three spiritual disciplines pastors believe are essential to discipleship are “personal commitment to grow in Christlikeness” (94%), “attending a local church” (91%) and “a deep love for God” (90%). Having “a comprehensive discipleship curriculum” is by far the least-important element of effective discipleship according to pastors, 44 percent of whom select it as essential.
When asked how they want to improve in their discipleship programs, a plurality of church leaders says they would “develop a more clearly articulated plan or approach to discipleship” (27%). Additionally, churches need to develop assessment criteria to track the effectiveness of their dis- cipleship efforts. Less than 1 percent of leaders report using a survey or other evaluation instrument to assess the results of their programs. This underscores one of the previous conclusions, that church leaders and congregants need better methods of thinking about and evaluating their discipleship efforts.
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