Discipleship is vital in the church. Found in the Great Commission, God instructed us to go to the ends of the earth to make disciples in His name, something that starts within our churches.
The following are three stories of churches that are using different discipleship models among various age groups that we hope will serve as an encouragement for you and your church.
Discipleship with children
Every moment is an opportunity for discipleship at Del Sol Church in El Paso. More specifically, the Children’s Ministry offers a wide array of opportunities for children to grow in both their knowledge and love of the Lord.
Cheryl Reed, children’s minister of the east campus, noted that they utilize multiple days a week to disciple their kids. On Sundays, the children attend Sunday school where leaders and volunteers use carefully selected curriculum to teach the students; on Tuesdays, during the church’s adult Bible study, the children are presented another Gospel-lesson and activity by teachers; on Wednesdays, the children, ages two to 6th grade, are given the opportunity to participate in AWANA; and in the summertime Vacation Bible School is offered as a discipleship tool.
It doesn’t stop there: the children are also encouraged to serve alongside the church. Mustard Seed Faith is a group of 6th grade students and their families who serve in community projects to show God’s love in practical ways. “This is one of the ways we teach the children to unleash compassion,” said Reed.
During VBS, a special mission offering is collected by the children. Additionally, “Outside the Bowl” is an ongoing offering where their children are encouraged to bring one dime per week to provide meals for underprivileged children for a global ministry.
Not only are the children discipled by the church through these programs and events, but parents are also encouraged to disciple their children in the home by discussing the lessons, helping memorize Scripture and volunteering in the ministry.
When it comes to equipping their children’s ministry volunteers, Reed said, “I feel that a good curriculum, and training in how to use it, is key so that your church’s mission and kingdom vision happens in your children’s ministry. Keep communication open with your teams. Be open to ideas from your volunteers about opportunities.”
She continued, “As a church our mission is to help people to love God and others by encouraging and equipping them to follow Christ, build community and unleash compassion. That’s exactly what we teach our children.”
First Baptist Church in Clifton has built a unique connection by facilitating relationships between youth and adults in their congregation.
Steven Payne, youth pastor at FBC Clifton, understands the importance of showing students they are loved and have a support system in the church. “A lot of kids don’t get the encouragement they need at home,” he said. “So it’s important to find those adults who will really love them and care about them.”
Payne started multiple activities to create this much needed support system for the young people in the congregation. The newest activity they integrated to form this unity was an intergenerational game night where they played Wagon Wheel and other get-to-know-you games. Sixty-two youth and 55 adults were present.
Payne said that before the game night, both the adults and youth were feeling a little doubtful about the event. But he promised them that at the end they would all get hugs and have smiles on their faces. And they did. “Two, three, four months later, I still have adults talking to me about it and saying, ‘That was so great and how is this kid doing?’ because they learned their name,” he said. They had never interacted with people this way.”
One senior adult in her 70s began writing notes to students as a form of encouragement. Payne said that when his church had a ministry Sunday, the youth was integrated with the adults, rather than separated into independent projects. “Together they were all doing yard work, filling backpacks or painting a fence in a nursing home,” he said. “Someone told me it was the best Sunday she’d ever experienced at church.”
Payne said that students are not just the future of the church, they are participating and active members now. Not only that, but they will one day replace the adult members.
FBC Clifton’s ministry has been so positive that about one-fourth to one-third of the students in the local high school participates in their annual Disciple Now weekend. Payne owes the success the ministry to the grace of God and the efforts put forth by the adults in the congregation.
“It’s important to talk to the adults about the value of building those relationships,” he said. “Help them realize that teenagers won’t just walk up to an adult and start talking to them, so the adults need to take the initiative. Churches who want to do something similar should provide an avenue where the adults can interact with the students.”
Discipleship for Boomers
In First Baptist Church in San Antonio, a group of Baby Boomers went from seeking to grow as disciples to seeking to help others do the same. It all started with a group of Boomers that met to do Henry Blackaby’s 12-week Bible study, Experiencing God.
“We went through ‘Experiencing God’ with the boomers in our church and asked them to form small groups so that they could continue learning about the word and make disciples,” said Administrative Assistant for Missions Kappie Coffee. “So they formed those groups within their circles of influence.”
Coffee, a Baby Boomer herself, said she expected the groups to stay within their generation, but the Boomers were already plugged in and serving all sorts of ministries and age groups. “If they were working with young marrieds, then that’s who they formed groups with and so on,” Coffee said. “You know how it is when you think you know what is going to happen, but it becomes something different.”
She said that the Boomers also led their groups through Blackaby’s Experiencing God.
“It was one of the first studies that the Boomer group had done, so we decided to share it with the new groups they started,” Coffee said. “At any age you take it, truth is truth. It didn’t seem dated and I loved seeing the young groups respond the same way we did.”
She said it was really great to see this movement start with Boomers because they are in a very unique stage in life. “It’s a time in life when all the kids are gone, and you think, ‘Lord, where do you want me? What do you have to say?’ Well, he has a lot to say.”
Coffee said the groups in FBC San Antonio are still learning, but they are so glad to be emphasizing discipleship and seeing people help each other grow closer to God.
“It’s a growing process,” she said. “We are pushing ourselves forward. It’s not always easy but we know it’s right. And it is so rewarding.”
For more resources and training on discipleship strategies for your church, visit texasbaptists.org/discipleship.
For Childhood Discipleship:
- Give a volunteer manual to all Sunday leaders that helps them understand expectations and understand their vision for reaching children.
- Require at least two teachers per team/class and this allows them to know they are not alone when it comes to preparing and teaching.
- Offer at least two planning/training sessions each year where you bring your leaders together to keep us all on the same page.
- Provide parent handouts for the curriculum used so that they can talk with their children about their lesson.
- Provide parent classes for parents whose child accepted Christ and is awaiting baptism.
For Intergenerational Connections:
- Pick one or two Sundays a month to let members of the youth serve as junior ushers.
- Hold a meeting with adults to encourage them to lift up the youth and build relationships with them.
- Organize an intergenerational game night that gives all age groups a chance to bond over card and board games.
- Encourage your church members to participate and serve in Disciple Now Weekend or other youth-focused events.
- Create opportunities for youth to share testimonies with the rest of the congregation.
- Host an annual or biannual get-to-know you event to help youth and church adults come together.
For Adult Discipleship:
- Start with the group you’re in. Begin discipleship in a group you’re already a part of. It can be in the workplace, with friends or with another type of church group. If you’re not already in a group, you can make one.
- Keep the group size to about five people. It gives everyone a chance to participate and get to know each other.
- Rather than making the study a priority, make the group a priority. You don’t want them to just come in, do a study, and check it off. You want them to be committed to each other.
- Make disciples who make disciples. The idea is to disciple people and prepare them to disciple others. When you help others grow closer to Christ, it pushes you closer to Christ, too. It is all a part of God’s plan.