Craig Miller defines a faith community as made up of two cooperative, interacting components: worship and a discipleship system;
The primary evangelistic strategy of the 21st century is the establishment of new faith communities . . . A faith community is created when a worship experience is tied to a discipleship system. A worshiping group without a discipleship system is not a faith community; it is simply a place to worship God. A faith community intentionally creates settings that link worship to discipleship and spiritual formation. The primary purpose of this community is to reach out to new people to offer them experience of the grace of God that can transform them into disciples of Christ.
One of the critical steps for turning around an existing congregation is to evaluate and improve its current discipleship system. The way to approach the development of a discipleship system in either case – a new church or an existing congregation – is to ask: ‘What does our faith community need to offer to help a person reach spiritual maturity in the first three years of being a part of the faith community?'”
A WARNING … be careful of merely asking people how they would define a disciple or what they consider to be the proper discipleship pathway. If your congregation is shrinking, it’s likely that your definition of a discipleship pathway will be unhelpful or unhealthy.
JESUS has a discipleship pathway. It begins here: Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The discipleship pathway concludes here with this final instruction: Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Every command of Jesus between these two verses is a step along the discipleship pathway. The end result of the discipleship pathway is a disciple who makes disciples, because obeying the Great Commission is an essential part of being a disciple. For every step you name along your discipleship pathway, there should be a verse from the gospels that supports that behavior … because disciples learn, observe and teach observance of the commands of Jesus.
SO … HOW do we measure discipleship? What are the metrics of a discipleship pathway? If a discipleship pathway is a sequence of steps which follow one after another by which one becomes a disciple, grows to become a better disciple, and eventually becomes a disciple maker, it should be easy to measure. There is a simple critical path which should be easy to follow through all the busyness of the church; avoid tangents and detours by focusing on the destination, which is to become a fully equipped maker of disciples.
Just identify the steps in sections, and count the people on each step.
Reflection Questions: Yes … or … no?
1. Is your church “simply a place to worship God”? Is worship the priority?
2. Is the primary purpose of your local church “to reach out to new people to offer them experience of the grace of God that can transform them into disciples of Christ”? Does your budget show this priority in spending? Does your church calendar show this priority in church activity? Where are the majority of funds and time expended in the life of your local church?
3. How would your church answer this question: ‘What does our faith community need to offer to help a person reach spiritual maturity in the first three years of being a part of the faith community?’
4. Who is making disciples now in your congregation? C. Peter Wagner suggests that 5% to 10% of church attenders have the spiritual gift of evangelism. How many would that be, based on your average church attendance? Do you know who they are?
Craig Kennet Miller, NextChurch.Now: Creating New Faith Communities (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2000), 114, 116. Balancing the dual aspects of the large group worship service and a discipleship system of cells in a “two winged church” is a major emphasis of cell church author Bill Beckham, The Second Reformation: Reshaping the Church for the 21st Century (Houston: Touch Publications, 1995).
Craig Miller, NextChurch.Now, 6; see also 50-51. (Emphasis mine.)
Craig Kennet Miller, NextChurch.Now: Creating New Faith Communities (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2000), 114, 116, 108. (Emphasis mine.)
 Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), 34-35.