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The Crisis of Discipleship

Posted on December 21st, 2015

The explosion of change (e.g. the impact of new technologies) is happening so fast in Western culture that it is difficult to get perspective on its long-range impact in our churches.

Willow Creek’s Reveal study, released in 2008, demonstrated conclusively that people are not experiencing spiritual transformation in our churches. Now seven years later, another comprehensive, multi-phase research study on The State of Discipleship in the United States has been released by the Barna Group.


Their findings confirm the continuing crisis around discipleship. The study is so important that I want to highlight a few applicable points for you to consider:

  • Only 1% of church leaders say “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.” Few believe churches – their own or others –are excelling in this area.
  • Participation in discipleship activities (e.g. Sunday school, spiritual/mentoring group Bible study) is weak – as low as 20% in our churches.
  • The 2 most significant barriers to spiritual growth are the “busyness of life” and a lack of commitment to discipleship. Among a significant number of Christians there is simply no “drive to prioritize spiritual growth.”
  • Less than 1% of leaders report using a survey or evaluation instrument to track the effectiveness of their discipleship efforts.
  • A large number of Christians prefer to pursue spiritual growth on their own (this is of the 37% of those who say that it is important); an even larger number (41%) consider their spiritual life “entirely private.” This is a big problem when we consider the importance of relationships to transformational discipleship.
  • Among Christian adults, 35% are using only some sort of non-personal discipleship (podcasts or listening to music).
  • In order to create a healthy culture of discipleship, senior leadership must lead the way and a clear plan needs to be in place. In exemplary churches, discipleship is not a program or even a “ministry”; it is part of the church’s core identity.
  • Millennials (born 1984-2002) are isolated by personal technology and crave real life, face-to-face relationships with individuals and small groups. They feel overwhelmed and struggle to make connections between faith and the rest of their lives.

I highly recommend you read the summary of the report and consider spending the $29.00 to read it in its entirety. Jesus spent the largest portion of His final prayer in John 17 praying for the twelve disciples. He knew they were the key to bring the gospel to the world.


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