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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Designing a Discipleship Journey for Your Church

As a pastor for over 20 years, I spent WAY too long with no clear plan for the discipleship journey my new believers needed to take. I remember the frustration that my basic discipleship plan was "Well, keep coming to church!"

I tried other people's plans, and nothing was really working for me. Everything was either:

  • Way too short ("here's a pamphlet, good luck!")

  • Way too complicated ("Here's a copy of the Yellow Pages!") :)

Finally, I got tired of not having a plan that worked for my people. So I built my own version of a church-wide discipleship journey.

I'm going to tell you how I did it, and how you can do it, too.

When I started Developing a Discipleship Journey

I struggled with this problem for my first decade of pastoral ministry. Finally, I got tired of always being frustrated with my discipleship efforts. I decided to create tools for new Christians, and lay them out in a sequential order, to make a discipleship journey I could easily communicate, preach toward, and promote. I detail my own story more in my discipleship coaching program, and in blog posts here on this site.

But really, I want to talk to you about YOUR story.

What are you doing to design a discipleship journey that ANY new believer can take, regardless of whether they are familiar with Christian theology or not? Regardless of whether they know where to read in the Bible or not?

Just in case you're not convinced, let's examine why it's important to have a discipleship journey.

In crafting a discipleship journey for your congregation, the focus should be on transformative experiences that not only educate but deeply embed each believer in the practices and lifestyle of a true disciple of Christ. At NewStart Discipleship, we've meticulously developed a series of tools and strategies that support a clear, structured pathway from initial faith commitment to mature, multiplying discipleship. This detailed guide outlines the steps and resources available through NewStart to facilitate this spiritual journey in your church.

The Importance of a Clear Discipleship Journey

Once, I went on a hike with my 6 sons. We took a turn and thought we were taking a shortcut. It turned out to be -- not a shortcut. After pushing through the heat, and not enough water, and crying little guys riding on my shoulders.... we finally got where we were going. I learned a lesson about clearly knowing where I'm going, and following a clearly marked trail.

A clear discipleship pathway is like a well-marked trail through challenging terrain. Without it, even the most eager believers can lose their way. Clarifying and communicating the discipleship journey has been the single greatest focus of my last few years of ministry at my church.

I actually wrote a short book on it

If you want more than a short blog post, I give more secrets away in my free 35-page PDF which you can get by putting your name and email here:

Steps to Build a Discipleship Pathway in Your Church

1. Define What a Disciple Is

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

You'll need to have a clear idea of what you're trying to create. I talk more about how to do this this in the resource above, which I'd recommend you checking out.

Head, Heart, Hands: Emphasize a holistic approach where disciples grow in knowledge (head), passion and commitment (heart), and practical application (hands).

They learn and imitate: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” - Matthew 28:19-20 ESV. This underscores the integration of learning and obedience as the core of discipleship.

2. Establish a Clear Entry To Your Discipleship Journey

Design an inviting and unmistakable entry point into discipleship. This could be a prayer of repentance, response to an invitation to discipleship, baptism, an introductory class, or a personal mentorship invitation that is clearly communicated during church services and through church media.

3. Develop a Progressive Curriculum for Your Discipleship Journey

What do your believers need to learn and practice first? What is next after that?

Once you spend the time answering what your discipleship journey looks like along the way, then you can start developing the tools that will empower your new Christians to take those steps with confidence.

Or if you want help, you can utilize the structured tools from NewStart Discipleship such as the NewStart Journal and The Obedience Challenge to facilitate progress and spiritual growth. (More on this in the sample journey below.)

4. Build Community into your discipleship journey.

Discipleship isn't getting people into spacesuits... we're not looking for self-contained environments to isolate and protect people from a hostile world! Instead, as my friend Dr. Steve Gibson says, "The dominant metaphor for discipleship in the New Testament is a baby born into a family."

In other words -- Christian community is not a bolt-on addition to a discipleship program. It's the lifeblood of it! We've got to facilitate growth within the context of community and mentorship, ensuring that discipleship is not an isolated journey but one that is enriched through relationships within the church.

So what does your current discipleship journey do to deal with this need for community? Personally, my discipleship program includes prompts to connect in all of the steps of the journey. (More on this below.)

5. Launch & Communicate the Discipleship Journey to Your Congregation.

Once you've taken the time to "think yourself clear" through the steps above, then it's time to just communicate, communicate, communicate. Take the plunge and start:

  • Preaching about it

  • Announcing it

  • Planning worship that corresponds to it

  • Creating space for it

  • Creating meetings around it

There are many ways to launch and communicate this.

Here's the sample discipleship resource table that I put in our foyer, for example:

A Sample Discipleship Journey Overview

At my church, I've designed a discipleship process that contains specific steps that are sequential. Here is a description of the first 1 year of the discipleship journey.

NewStart Journal:

This foundational tool begins the discipleship journey, guiding new believers through daily scripture readings and reflective exercises over 50 days. It establishes basic spiritual habits like prayer and Bible study, which are crucial for new Christians.

Discipleship journey tools 1 - newstart discipleship jounral

I offer this one as a free download, if you'd like to grab it here:

The Obedience Challenge:

A 90-day program designed to deepen the disciple’s understanding of Jesus' commands and how to live them out daily. This challenge includes daily videos, scriptural teachings, and practical tasks that foster a habit of obedience and active faith.

obedience challenge - discipleship workbook mockup

Baptism Challenge:

A 21-day focused module that prepares believers for baptism, teaching them about the significance of this sacrament and encouraging them to live out their public commitment to Christ.

baptism challenge workbooks

Moving From Me to We:

Focuses on community integration over 40 days, teaching the value of Christian fellowship and the biblical commands related to "one another" such as love, serve, forgive, and encourage.

moving from me to we workbooks

How to Pray the Psalms:

A 21-day immersion into praying with the Psalms, enhancing the disciple’s prayer life by modeling it on the prayers of David and other psalmists, turning prayer into a dynamic conversation with God.

how to pray the psalms workbooks

The Gospel Challenge:

A 50-day study of Romans for New Christians. Focuses on understanding the Gospel and learning to rest in God's forgiveness. Teaches Justification, Sanctification and more in simple terms.

These tools are designed to be both sequential AND flexible, allowing churches to adapt them to their specific context and the individual needs of new believers.

A Graphic Showing the NewStart Discipleship Journey:

This is what it looks like at my church in South OKC. If you're interested in getting yours involved in a similar journey, you can get the entire discipleship journey here.

sample 1 year discipleship journey graphic

Conclusion: Why People Don't Move Forward

Sometimes people don't move forward on their discipleship journey. I know, we could blame the Holy Spirit, or the hard hearts of hearers. :)

But while there will always be people who won't go, it really comes down to one of these things:

  1. They're not willing. (Let's pray for them.)

  2. They're willing, but you don't have a journey ready. (Let's get one!)

  3. They're willing, but don't know what about it. (Let's communicate and invite!)

I can't solve the first one, I'll admit. But the last 2 I can definitely help you solve!

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