How Many Disciples Are You Making?


      Why was the church staff referring to our team as their “insultants”?


When our consulting team arrived at a Michigan church, the youth pastor eagerly escorted us to the basement that had been transformed into the coolest hangout space in town–a game room, an internet café, a concession stand, and a big meeting room.  “We have 150 kids in here every Saturday night,” he told us.  It was impressive.

The next day we asked him, “How many adult volunteers are working with your youth?”

“Twenty-five,” he said.

“And how many of those know how to make disciples?”

A bit sheepishly he said, “Maybe five or six.”

“And of the youth who come on Saturday night, how many are integrated into the life of the congregation?”

“Fewer than ten.”

“Drawing a crowd on Saturday night is great if it leads to disciple-making relationships,” we reminded him, “But don’t forget: Your call is not to get kids off the streets; your call is to make disciples.”


What one person has had the greatest positive influence on your spiritual life?  A parent?  Grandparent?  Teacher? Spouse? That person is your number one discipler.

Drawing on behavioral science literature, Larry Richards identifies four characteristics of a disciple-making relationship:

  • The disciple needs frequent contact with the discipler leading to an open, caring relationship between them.
  • The disciple must observe the discipler in various settings and situations, giving the disciple opportunity to see into the heart of the discipler.
  • The discipler’s actions must be clear and consistent and line up with the ministry’s values.
  • The discipler needs to explain his or her lifestyle, with instruction accompanying shared experience.[1]

How many of these characteristics marked your relationship with your primary discipler?

When we think of making disciples, we often picture students sitting in a classroom or watching videos or filling out workbooks. Classes can be helpful, but what Richards is describing—and what we see Jesus doing—is vastly different.  It is people living life with their discipler, learning to become like their rabbi (Luke 6:40).


A year later, the Michigan youth pastor called us. “I confess that when you were here last year, what you said stung. In fact, we’ve been calling you our “insultants!’  But,” he conceded, “you were right.”  He then went on to report his new numbers to us.  He didn’t mention how many students were coming on Saturday night.  But he did report that all 25 adult workers now knew how to make disciples and that 25 youth were now fully engaged in the life of the church and growing spiritually.

He had changed how he measured success.



  1. In your area of leadership, how many people are in relationships that exhibit the four marks of disciple-making?
  2. How might it change your priorities if this became a key measure of ministry effectiveness?

[1] Adapted from Lawrence O. Richards, Christian Education (Zondervan 1975), pp. 84-85.

(This post is adapted from THE MORE-WITH-LESS CHURCH by Eddy Hall, Ray Bowman, and J. Skipp Machmer [Baker 2014], pp. 34-37.)


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Follow Eddy Hall:

Author. Pastor. Consultant. Coach.

My lifelong passion has been to help the church become healthier. I have lived this out through youth work, urban ministry, denominational staff work, and pastoring; through writing, editing, and publishing; through consulting with churches throughout the U.S. and Canada. During this season, I am living out my call to help churches become healthier by focusing on helping church leaders become healthier and more fruitful, through writing, coaching, and leading retreats and training events.

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