4 Fundamentals of Effective Discipleship Pathways


We’re going to look at church model strategy and intentionality for a series of posts. Stay tuned and subscribe to follow along. TO GET US STARTED: 4 Fundamentals of Effective Discipleship Pathways If we hope to create an intentional and strategic pathway to discipleship, we need to understand (1) how to best define "discipleship" and (2) the fundamentals of the journey. Growing disciples through a buffet of programs and events is no longer possible. Today's world requires more intentionality. To begin constructing our pathway, we must begin with the foundation. If you find this helpful, feel free to pass it along to a friend, and be sure to check out the course and masterclass options, as well. Thanks!

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We’re going to look at church model strategy and intentionality for a series of posts. Stay tuned and subscribe to follow along. 

I say it all the time because it’s so very true:
Your model, not your mission, determines your success. 

So let me ask you a question: Are you a strategic thinker?

I don’t necessarily mean, “did a personality profile label you ‘strategic’?” But do you think in steps, plans, and strategies?

I do. I can’t help it. It’s a blessing and a curse! 

So it shouldn’t be shocking that I love strategy and intentionality in the local church. I love seeing a preferred future or end-in-mind and developing a step-by-step intentional process to get there.

If ever there was a place where intentionality is needed,
it’s the church.

I suspect you’ll like this post if you are bent more strategically. If you’re not a natural strategist, I hope this content helps you understand the importance of intentional methods and gives you something to consider in your church and for your community.  

NOTE:  I’m writing several posts about adding more intentionality to church models, plans, and methods for the next few weeks. This is the first in the series. 

Intentional Churches on an Intentional Mission

All churches exist for one reason. The mission statements may be unique, and denominations different, but their purpose is the same — discipleship.

You have some predisposition when you hear that word, so let me define it as I’m using it.

To me, discipleship is the combination of reaching and growing. It’s evangelism and edification. Both are part of the “renewing of the mind” process. We must determine how discipleship happens best with this definition as our foundation.

This post may be helpful on discipleship: 10 Questions to Better Understand Your Discipleship Pathway

Accidental Success

I should preface this entire conversation with “God does the work, not us.” But we participate in the work. Not to put anything past God, but it’s hard for him to use the Bible in our life if we don’t pick it up. It’s challenging for God to use people in our life if we isolate. It’s nearly impossible for God to use a preacher or sermon to grow our faith if we don’t listen.

The problem is that most church leaders have a story (or once heard a story) of God doing the miraculous outside of a strategy. You’ve heard it before: “We didn’t have a plan, and God just came through!” Since it happened that one time, God can do anything in their mind, and we shouldn’t get in the way.

Not to be overly cynical or sarcastic, but let’s not forget that blind squirrel. Even he finds an occasional nut. Churches don’t save people — God saves people. But churches can (and should) create the most conducive context possible for God to do what only he can do. If we ignore our models, plans, and approach, we’re running around like a blind church squirrel hoping for the best. 

Here’s a similar post: You Can’t Fix What You Can’t See – 6 Steps to Define and Redesign Your Church

Planning for Success

“By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail” — Benjamin Franklin

Let me tell you why I believe your church needs a foundational strategy. It’s simple, really. Just follow the logic.

Our calling as a church is to create disciples. Discipleship is a journey. Journeys happen through a series of steps, not programs, events, or church moments. If we want to make disciples, we need to encourage and equip people to take steps of faith toward their Heavenly Father.

These journeys don’t often happen by accident. Encouraging and equipping people to engage in a discipleship journey requires sequential and incremental steps. And that’s our key idea.

To help people along their faith journey, we must create a path of sequential and incremental steps.

Fundamentals for a Discipleship Journey

Think of it like a moving sidewalk. We need to create a sidewalk of faith, where people can step on the sidewalk wherever they are in their faith journey and begin moving in the direction of growth. That’s what our plan should do.

To build this moving sidewalk, we need to embrace some fundamentals for the journey:


Our journey needs to be founded upon relationships. Environments and experiences may be attractional, but it’s relationships that stick. If we hope to encourage and equip people to take steps of faith, we must engage them relationally.

As we construct a discipleship pathway, we must ensure the sidewalk is wide enough for multiple people to hold hands and walk side-by-side. There are moments along the journey where people can and should engage privately. Still, even these moments are best developed in the context of community. 

The first fundamental for the journey is to design it for people to experience with people.


People today need smaller steps. There are plenty of reasons this is true, but the greatest may be the fall of cultural Christianity. When Christianity was cultural, most people affiliated (even loosely) with a church felt somewhat confident attending and engaging. Not to say everyone did, but this was certainly more true than today.

What functioned as a step a decade ago now looks like a chasm requiring a leap. We may enjoy hearing stories of people taking “leaps of faith,” but the vast majority of people in your community would rather stay still than leap. This is why we love the story of Peter walking on water, but let’s remember, there were 11 other men just watching, all afraid to take the “leap.”

Our second fundamental is incrementalism. Faith steps today need to be much, much smaller. People will only continue a faith journey if their next steps seem easy, obvious, and helpful.

Omnichannel or “hybrid”

Like most buzzwords, these are not well understood in the context of church. You can’t add an online service stream and Instagram and automatically be “omnichannel” or “hybrid.”

We use these terms interchangeably, but they are indeed different.

Omnichannel uses many channels but in a way that puts the community and individual person at the center of the plan. Just using a lot of in-person and online expressions is what we’d call “multichannel.” Omnichannel means using these in-person and online expressions to engage with people in the right way, at the right time, and with the right message. 

Similarly, “hybrid” doesn’t mean using online and in-person. Hybrid is a scientific term. It’s what happens when you marry two dissimilar origin stories to create something new. So again, adding Facebook groups and using email doesn’t make you “hybrid.” A hybrid church, by definition, would mean taking our physical gatherings and pairing them with digital offerings to create something “new.” I like to define a hybrid church as “a fresh expression of church for a networked society, where physical and digital experiences are seamlessly integrated into people’s lives.”

Our third objective is to ensure we leverage the 70 hours of discretionary time throughout the week by integrating digital discipleship into the pathway.


Our final fundamental is a bias toward movement. In the past, churches could host services, small groups, and such, and people would attend, listen, and potentially grow. But there wasn’t much of a “plan” for building a path of incremental steps. There we plenty of programs and opportunities to be in church, but an intentional plan was hard to find. 

Remember, discipleship is about movement. Therefore, we must create a path of incremental steps that move people forward along a faith journey. This means, with every single thing we do (and I mean EVERYTHING), we should know by design what step likely came before and what incremental steps we will encourage after.

This is often a pretty massive paradigm shift for pastors and church leaders. Let’s think of it this way: A moment is complete only after inspiring movement through offering incremental steps.

And that’s our final fundamental. We attempt to never create a moment disconnected from progress. We do this by consistently offering and encouraging next steps at all times.

NOTE: We can’t necessarily build a custom discipleship pathway for EVERY single person in our community, but we can create categorical pathways. And that’s what we’ll cover in our next post.

If your church isn’t experiencing growth from reaching through edification, I’d like to suggest a lack of clear and planned pathway could be to blame. In today’s culture, churches must engage people where they are, help them onto a sidewalk of faith growth, and hold their hand as they progress down their path. 

Potential Next Steps for You and Your Church

If your church doesn’t have a clear discipleship plan, I encourage you to consider one of the following: 

  1. Read more about how to accelerate your church model,
  2. Take the Remodel Your Church Model Course, or 
  3. Experience the Remodel Your Church Model Masterclass.

In each, I help you discover the unique challenges facing your church today and design a hybrid church discipleship model to once again reach your community and grow your congregation. 

Remodel Your Church Model

The Remodel Your Church Model Course and Masterclass contain SIX SESSIONS and FREE RESOURCES to help you remodel your church model to meet the needs and context of your local community. 

SESSION 1 – BUILDING A BETTER CHURCH CULTURE: In our first conversation, we’ll focus on the foundations of our communities, what’s changed, and how we must adjust.

SESSION 2 – THE CHURCH ENGAGEMENT JOURNEY: We examine a new church and discipleship model design for today’s culture and your community.

SESSION 3 – LET’S FIX THE PHYSICAL: Your in-person experiences are critical to a comprehensive discipleship pathway. But they need to change.

SESSION 4 – LET’S INTEGRATE DIGITAL: Every person has approximately 70 hours of discretionary time outside of Sunday morning. How are you leveraging this time?

SESSION 5 – DELIVERING A NEW MINISTRY MODEL: Best practices for implementing a new model, including staffing structures, funding, and metrics.

SESSION 6 – FUNDING AND VOLUNTEERING IN THE MODEL: Incorporating best practices for accelerating generosity and volunteerism within the model.

Click to learn more about the COURSE or MASTERCLASS

If you’d like to discuss this in more depth, shoot me an email or message me through the site. I’d love to help you add more intention to your mission.