Discipleship Programs


This series of articles explores thirteen major methods that are effective for making disciples. Keep in mind that in a ubiquitous (all encompassing, everywhere present) disciple-making process, virtually each method is not only encouraged but is planned into the church ministries. Here is a list including links to articles that have been completed in the series:

  1. Passive Discipleship: the least effective method but essential to support other methods
  2. Private Discipleship: the Christian and the Holy Spirit (most effective but under used)
  3. Presence Discipleship: In times of crisis the disciple invests time, assistance, and prayer.
  4. Participation or Proximity Discipleship: applies to all areas but most of all to giving
  5. Projected DiscipleshipActively but humbly projecting a Christian example of living Christ’s teachings.
  6. Platform or Presentation Discipleship: preaching in church and lecture-style Bible study
  7. Program Discipleship: Pre-packaged materials delivered in large or small groups.
  8. Personal Discipleship: One-on-one discipleship (very effective but seldom used)
  9. Peer Group Discipleship: Bible study and Sunday School
  10. Practical Discipleship: Hands on service, evangelism, and missional projects
  11. Proficiency Discipleship: Leadership Development
  12. Proclamation Discipleship: Evangelism and preaching to unchurched
  13. Process Discipleship: All of the above delivered in a systematic way

Evaluate how you and your church are doing in the 13 methods of discipleship: Copy of 13 Ways to Make Disciples_Evaluation


Publishers in the last twenty five years of the 20th century stepped up their professional packaging and marketing to churches as they perfected materials targeted for discipleship. Popular studies are now marketed as studies for four, six, eight, and twelve weeks to fit traditional church scheduling. Packaged materials come with all that is needed for advertisement, promotion, and use, making it easy for church leaders to encourage attendance. The teaching material in programmed discipleship materials often includes very good student study guides, facilitator guides, and often a weekly video presentation. In fact, many of the program materials are so well done that the leader of the study is often a facilitator rather than a teacher.  Facilitators vary in their familiarity and knowledge of the material from expert to a novice who helps people simply fill in the blanks and pushes the DVD play button.

The obvious goal of Program Discipleship is to disciple the masses but the only metric that can be measured with accuracy is the amount of material produced. If discipleship was measured by marketing of Program Discipleship materials, the church would get an A++.


There are many advantages of using program discipleship materials. Here are a few:

  1. Cost effective- Program discipleship materials often appear to be expensive but combined with the other benefits and in light of alternatives, they are cost effective.
  2. Comprehensive- Many companies that produce program materials for churches provide resources for all ages—from cradle to grave.
  3. Variety- Program discipleship materials are available for virtually every Christian subject under the sun. There are general materials and targeted materials, there are materials directed toward men, women, youth, children, and church leaders in different roles. You name it and there is certainly a program available for it.
  4. Professional- The Madison Avenue marketing has paid off for the publishing companies that produce program discipleship materials. They certainly compare to anything available in the secular business world.
  5. Easy- Program discipleship materials are like the infomercial that says, “Set it and forget it.” Leaders order the material, recruit a facilitator, write it on the church calendar, and that’s it.

If the purpose of discipleship was to “produce great programs” churches today would be in the sweet spot of God’s will.


  1. “Addictive”- What I mean by “addictive” is…program materials for discipleship are so easy to use that church leaders simply look at the order form for the “next big program” and order the material. They can easily recruit someone to facilitate the class and thus, the next quarter is planned. It’s just that easy! It’s no wonder that so many churches are using one program package after another. Why offer opportunities that require a high level of effort and integration when excellent packaged program materials are available?
  2. Limited effectiveness- Again, many of the program materials are very well done and are useful but it’s difficult to measure their effectiveness. How many people experienced some degree of transformation? How many participants can remember the presented concepts a year later? How many participants change their behavior as a result of a programmed study they attended? While some people learn well in a strict classroom approach, many others learn best through a practical application experience.
  3. Encourages silo thinking- For this point we are speaking of the mode of delivery of discipleship as well as the context. When a church uses program discipleship materials as their primary means of maturing disciples, they set the mental concrete of the membership that this is how discipleship is done.
  4. Lacks hands-on learning- Most program discipleship materials require classroom and/or individual study and little or no field practicum. Even if field experience is encouraged in the material, church leaders seldom require participants to actually complete a field practicum. (Perhaps the leaders would have to expend too much effort).
  5. May be “dumbing down” disciples. Perhaps this comment is harsh. However, consider a church that has used a program discipleship delivery approach for many years and they determine to change to a more hands-on paradigm. It may be difficult to move people out of the classroom and into the streets and neighborhoods.
Program discipleship materials are best done with knowledgeable facilitators and with the expectation of hands-on practical application outside the classroom. 



The late Avery Willis wrote one of the best discipleship pieces ever done called MasterLife. For many years he used it for personal (one-to-one), peer group (one to a few), and proficiency (leadership) discipleship with incredible results. Certification was required to even purchase the material from the publisher at one time. A MasterLife leader had to complete the material in practicum with another person who had already completed it. Only then could the new leader purchase and lead others through the MasterLife material. MasterLife was widely known as the best disciple-making material available. Though Avery Willis was a Baptist Christian, the material broke through denominational barriers enjoying broad usage among churches.

Then someone had the bright idea (to make more money) to repackage MasterLife as a program of four modules or workbooks and DVDs. They also removed all restrictions and allowed anyone to order and use the material. No longer is it commonly said to be the best discipleship material available, and it is not because there are better alternatives. It is an example of lowering standards and expectations to a level of accepted mediocrity—for the sake of making more money and not for the purpose of making more disciples. (My humble opinion.) The newer material is just as good as the original. The problem is the delivery of the material. When the material was reformatted and opened for anyone to purchase and use, the standards were lowered. It remains as one of the best materials to include in your disciple-making arsenal and is but one example of program discipleship.

There is no example of Program Discipleship anywhere in the Bible; however, Program Discipleship can have a useful part in making disciples. Even so, North American churches rely on it too much.


Program discipleship materials should be part of every church’s disciple-making process, but they should not rely on them as the primary delivery system. Instead, churches should adopt a ubiquitous discipleship process that includes virtually all of the delivery modes discussed in this series. Simple Discipleship can assist leaders in delivering a balanced disciple-making process. The programs then become part of the content while Simple Discipleship provides the framework through which a variety of content is delivered.

SD Blessings,

Dr. Tom Cocklereece, The Disciplist (Now offering DiscipleCoach Certification Training; go to the “OnLine Discipleship” tab for information)


  1. Examine your church’s disciple-making ministry. How much does it rely on program materials?
  2. What percentage of your church’s discipleship delivery is classroom? Hands on? Field experience?
  3. What will you do to move to a high-expectation disciple-making delivery process in your church?

Dr. Tom Cocklereece is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
Author “Simple Discipleship,” contributing writer L2L Blogazine
He is a pastor, an author, professional coach, and leadership specialist

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