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What Does a Disciple Look Like?
Determine and evaluate the characteristics of an assimilated member.

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Jesus said, "Go and make disciples." You've heard it. You've studied it. You've preached it. But, have you ever defined it? What, exactly, makes someone a "disciple"?

May I suggest that, for all practical purposes, a "disciple" is synonymous with an "assimilated church member." Or, at least, it should be.

If you agree, then try this exercise with your church leaders: list the qualities of an ideal member for your congregation. How would such a person act? What would he say? How would she feel?

Once you have listed the ideal qualities of a disciple, examine your church's programming to see how—or if—you are helping people reach this ideal. After all, it seems reasonable that church activities are intended to lead people toward some goal.

Here are nine characteristics I would suggest could begin your thinking about the ideal characteristics of your church members.

An assimilated member:

  1. Understands and identifies with the goals of your church. Goals are what church leaders have determined to accomplish in the coming year. How many of your members/attenders could list at least two of your church's goals for next year? (Perhaps a prior question would be, "Does your church have goals?")
  2. Attends worship regularly. It's hard to imagine an assimilated member who is not in church regularly; it's key to being a part of the body of Christ. And fluctuation in worship attendance has been shown to be the first sign a person will drop out.
  3. Experiences spiritual growth and progress. The Christian life is like Pilgrim's Progress … journeying toward the ideal of Christlikeness. New believers especially need to be learning, questioning, stretching, and growing in their new faith.
  4. Has taken a formal step of affiliation with your church. While some churches are moving away from formal membership, there are good reasons for people to make a public commitment to Christ (i.e., baptism) and to his church (i.e., membership).
  5. Has friends in your church. The typical active, assimilated church member has over seven friends in the church; drop-outs have less than two.
  6. Is using his/her spiritual gift. Giving one's time and talent to the church is even more important than giving one's money, from an assimilation perspective. Plus, a role or task in the church provides a great opportunity to make friends.
  7. Is involved in a fellowship group. People in small groups seldom drop out of church. Groups are one of the best ways to build common bonds among members.
  8. Tithes to your church. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also" (Mt. 6:31). Assimilated members are financially dedicated to the ministry of Christ's church through their congregation.
  9. Participates in the Great Commission. The disciple-making mandate was given by Christ to every disciple. The equipping process to participate in this command come through the local church.

Now what?

Here are four suggestions to increase the number of people in your church who develop these discipleship characteristics:

  1. Create your own list. Discuss with others, pray, and then decide what ideal (and preferably measurable) characteristics you would like to nurture in your members.
  2. Review and redesign your new members class around this definition.
  3. Evaluate your present constituency through the lenses of this definition by charting which characteristics each member shows.
  4. Develop plans for the coming year that will move your members and attenders toward this ideal.

Topics:Attendance, Discipleship, Fellowship, Growth, Health, Members, Membership, Regular attenders
Filters:Elder, Pastor, Pastoral care, Shepherd, Spiritual director

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Displaying 1–5 of 7 comments

Martha Moore

September 27, 2012  12:50pm

Re Ash Zook: While this list is not all there is, it is a rather good starting point about assimilated members. Of course, some are not measurable. I cannot really measure my child's love for me, can I? But I can get a pretty good idea from action. And I definitely think that you are missing the point when you say this artircle should be What does a Pharisee look like? That is rather judgmental, condesending and to me is a pharasical statement in itself. Perhaps there is a communication gap or cultural gap and I am missing your point.

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March 04, 2012  7:16am

I am not sure why you would think that using this list as a starting point to assimilate people into the church body is not Biblical or highly useful. What church would not love to have members who evangelize, or are a part of a small group as Jesus did with his disciples or in the book of Acts. And please don't act like you don't want 100% tithers in your church, because if you don't send them my way. Having people meeting in small groups is so important to forming community and spiritual growth as well. The point is that if people are not challenged to some level of spiritual measurement than they will fall to the depths of the lowest measurement possible.

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Ash Zook

February 07, 2012  8:45pm

I am disturbed by this portrait of a disciple. I'm on a church staff and I lead an org that disciples young African leaders. While this 9 pt. litmus test may be what some pastors are looking for in church members (understandable when church activity commitment levels are low in the US), it is very unhelpful for those of us who are doing serious wrestling with what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and make disciplers in our world today. With the exception of #3 (which is unmeasurable and easily faked through involvement in activities), this article could be called "What does a Pharisees look like?" :) Not all are of a certain mold, but all disciples "smell" like Jesus. They are people who, when around them, make you think you are seeing a bit of what Jesus was like. They are about the things that Jesus was about (Luke 4). A committed American church goer does not necessarily = Disciple. Our world needs Disciples. Let's not redefine the word outside the context of scripture.

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September 06, 2011  5:33am

I agree with Geoff. Jesus' own criterion for a disciple was, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have LOVE for one another." John 13:35. But what does the world see when they look at Christians?

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August 31, 2011  11:39am

From the article above the author is creating a discipleship formula for membership to a church institution and not disciples of Christ. From a careful study of Jesus' own words there is no specific formula for discipleship. there are however guidelines and boundaries. I would caution against this model or any model. further, the use of the term "assimilated members" is disturbing. Members of what? The church body(body of Christ) or members of a church? I'm not anti church (institution) as it may seem from my expressed opinions however, all to often I and many others, have seen assimilated members to be drones not disciples. It's interesting that Christ didn't lay out a specific formula for disciples and discipleship yet churches seem to do so. The above appears to be nothing more than a formula for institution membership. To me, this is sad. Further your Acts 2:42 reference is great but it's not as specific as what defines a disciple.

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