This post is part of our Why We Don’t Make Disciples series

In the business world, the success of a leader is determined by how quickly they can turn a profit. The success of a business is measured almost entirely by the numbers. 

This mentality has crept into the church world, too. When I am approached by pastors, I’m rarely asked how many people in our church are investing their lives into others. Instead, they want to know, “How many people are you running?” or “How many baptisms did you have last quarter?” 

These are the numbers celebrated on social media. They’re the ones we see get featured in the magazines or talked about on the news. But what we’ve learned is that numbers like these don’t necessarily mean that a church is healthy. And they certainly don’t tell us whether a church is making disciples who make disciple-makers. 

Unfortunately, many pastors take this numbers mentality to heart, and that affects their decision to train disciple makers. They have unrealistic expectations about the way that disciplemaking works. They want immediate results instead of biblical ones.

Slow and Exponential

If you’ve ever tasted food cooked on a Trager grill, you’d know that there’s something special about the way it makes things taste. But cooking with one is sometimes tricky, and it takes longer: you have to get to know the kinds of wood that produce different kinds of smoke, how to manage the exhaust system and the way that heat and smoke are vented. 

But if you compare the taste of a steak cooked on a Trager with a steak cooked in a microwave, you’d know one simple truth: quality is worth the wait. As we focus on making disciples, the same principle applies. Taking the time to invest your life into three or four others for a year with the expectation that they will do the same at the end of your time together will pay massive dividends even quicker than you might think. 

Here’s an illustration of the way that disciplemaking makes waves in the Kingdom of God. 

If a hard-working evangelist hits the road and preaches the Gospel, he might see an average of one salvation a day. That means that after the first year, he has seen 365 lives changed by the Gospel—a respectable outcome for a hardworking minister. 

On the other hand, a disciple maker starts a D-Group with three other people and meets with just this group for a whole year. At the end of the first year, he will have affected three people, whom he then sends out to start D-Groups with three people, themselves. 

Now, at the end of the second year, the Evangelist will have doubled his numbers: one more conversion a day means that after two years, he will have seen 730 lives changed. The disciple-maker who set his group loose will have seen 9. 

You might see the pattern. But this exponential growth only gets more stark the longer the process goes on; to the point that after 8 years, a single disciple maker making disciples who then make other disciples will have surpassed the Evangelist increasing by addition: the Evangelist will have affected 2,920 people while the disciple maker will have affected 6,561. This is from the work of a single person making disciples who go on to make disciple makers. 

God’s Work God’s Way

Nothing about this is to look down on people sharing the Gospel; after all, discipleship and evangelism go hand-in-hand. They’re two oars on the same boat. But by switching the way we measure success in our ministry, we change the way we see ministry, itself. It becomes less about what we can do and more about what God can do through us. 

It will help us avoid ministry burnout: no longer will the bottom line be attracting more people this week than we had last week, about getting more people to this conference than we had the last time we held it. Instead, if we focus each of our ministry efforts to seeing the Gospel proclaimed and those who hear and accept it made into disciples who make disciples, we’ll see a difference in the way we see ourselves, our ministries, and the work of the Holy Spirit. 

If Jesus could spend his entire earthly ministry seeing about a hundred and twenty people following Him by the end of it—but knowing that each of those people was going to go on and replicate the things that He taught them—why should we expect our ministries to be any different? Do God’s work and measure your success the way that He did it and watch your ministry, your mindset, and your influence grow exponentially. 

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