New Believer Discipleship: Top 5 Challenges Pastors Face
Updated: Sep 26
Every pastor loves it when brand new people repent of sin, and trust in Christ for salvation! But in a busy world, there are lots of challenges to making sure that new life in Christ is nurtured and maintained until the new Christian is fully mature. When there are new believers, there are new challenges with discipleship.
I recently asked my email list if they had any particular suggestions and frustrations in this area of getting new Christians established in their walk with God.
Top 5 Challenges for New Christian Discipleship
Here’s what these pastors of smaller churches said:
#1: “Honestly, I don’t have a good plan in place. I’m winging it every time.“
There’s nothing wrong with seeking the direction of the Spirit, and knowing what a specific new convert needs! It’s the privilege of the sons of God to be led by the Spirit of God!
But a while back, I realized that I was spending a lot of mental energy INVENTING! I was creating something new every time, instead of working off a framework that could help me give expected, good guidance to someone just starting off.
Every one is different — but there are at least SOME universal principles that ALL new Christians need. How can I build those into a system?
Here’s what another pastor said:
If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know I’m a huge fan of systems, which I define as “expected ways of doing critical work.”
I just hadn’t really applied systems thinking to discipleship in our church!
#2: “Some tools are too hard/too overwhelming for my audience.“
This pastor friend referenced Shepherd’s Global Classrom, which is great… one of the most exciting discipleship and education tools in years. (You really should check it out!)
But he’s correct — some tools are basically, “Welcome to the Family of God! Here, have this large textbook.”
My local potential audience at my church in South OKC is full of people who are not really readers, and they get overwhelmed easily if you can’t give them something they can chew — something BITE-SIZED for them.
#3: “There are some good things out there, but it’s hard work to get it workable for MY CHURCH.”
One pastor had some great content he shared! I was thankful to review it — it was over 400 pages!! — but it was obvious that he and others had done a ton of work on it, to make it more workable for their particular theological framework.
That’s one of the challenges… finding tools that you agree with their theological framework, or their approach, etc. I’ve run into that many times. “Ooh, this is a great tool… really, you had to go there?”
#4: “I’m so busy doing the work, I don’t have time to build a good system.“
I know exactly what this pastor means when he says, “I’ve given more effort to the work than to improving my processes.”
I've been there People work is messy and busy. Real, quality ministry in your local context can be very high-demand. Many pastors can get so busy working IN our church that we have no time to work ON our church. It's like being so busy that you can't stop to change the oil in your car.
But in our more quiet moments, we know we've got to step back to work on our systems for things like discipleship. These are the kinds of things that are important, even if they're not urgent and shouting at us.
#5: “I’m the only one doing any disciple-making, and there’s no clear plan to empower others to help.”
Man, I really feel this. To be able to give discipling away, it takes either:
a) a really skilled helper — who is a strong Christian with great leadership abilities
b) a really clear system that can empower your more mature Christians to help — even if they feel unqualified.
Those are some of the things that pastors shared with me about their frustrations with discipling.
Solutions to the Most Common New Believer Discipleship Challenges
So I’ve been working on this for over 3 years now… this is what I've come up with so far.
Solution #1: A Clear Discipleship Pathway
The dirty little secret of American churches is that many pastors have no ability to offer a clear invitation to discipleship, because they don't have a clear entrance and discipleship pathway. But with NewStart, you'll be able to offer a clear invitation to discipleship to everyone who trusts in Christ for salvation at your church.
As a small church pastor since 2003, I got tired of having no clear discipleship plan. I couldn't multiply disciple-makers without a repeatable discipleship plan I could give away. So I created one. I wrote about this extensively recently. Here's a blog post that will show you exactly what I mean by a clear discipleship pathway.
If you're tired of "reinventing the wheel" or "winging it" every time that someone becomes a Christian at your church, you need to do one of two things:
1. Create something that is a clear, repeatable discipleship process
OR 2. Get a clear, customizable discipleship process ready-made for you.
If you don't have time to create something on your own, then I'd suggest trying out NewStart Discipleship Tools. Here's a graphic that illustrates the pathway I've built:
Solution #2: Better Discipleship Training
Discipleship is the main focus of the Great Commission. But so many pastors have never taken any kind of coaching on how to make disciples, or how to create a discipleship program.
Karl Vaters, after reviewing NewStart Discipleship on his podcast for church leaders, said, "One of the top five questions that I'm regularly asked as I speak to other small church pastors is, do you have a discipleship curriculum that you recommend?" Karl talks to a LOT of small church pastors through his conferences, books, and podcast. He's right. Discipleship training has not been a strong focus of the American church, and it's hitting us hard. I always say, "We've discipled our way into the mess we're in, and we're going to have to disciple our way back out!"
Solution #3: A Discipleship Plan that is simple AND robust
Many church have no discipleship programs that are both simple and robust. They're either:
Simple (and shallow)
Robust (and as thick as the Yellow Pages)
NewStart strikes the right balance. The discipleship program I've created is:
Simple to implement in any size church
Bite-sized for brand new Christians
Deep enough to challenge new believers to maturity
The key is balance, and I think the NewStart method gets it about right.
Solution #4: A Discipleship curriculum that is customizable.
Because NewStart is organized into modules, you can plug-and-play your discipleship curriculum, dealing with whatever the new Christian needs most at that moment:
Got a disciple that wants to do family devotions? We've got you covered.
Got a new believer that feels the need for deeper prayer? Sure, we've got a module for that.
Does your new believer need to understand baptism? Plug and play the Baptism Challenge.
Do they need to understand the Gospel? You need the Gospel Challenge, a new Christian Bible Study through Romans.
Got a new Christian that is struggling with pornography? We're developing a module for that.
Got a believer struggling with Christian community? You need Moving From Me to We.
Discipleship isn't one-size-fits-all. You need a clear, customizable discipleship plan template that you can immediately implement, yet it stays flexible enough to deal with issues as they come up in the lives of a new Christian.
So what can I do about building my discipleship plan?
Best Resources on New Believer Discipleship
1. Take Discipleship Coaching for Pastors.
So if you're wondering how to get started on discipleship coaching, here's how you can get going. This 10-session Video training covers practical tips for discipleship ministry in the local church.
2. Take a free 1-hour discipleship training.
This brief training, called How to Be 100% Ready to Disciple New Believers is great for pastors and church boards if you have limited time. It's instantly available by clicking the link above.
3. Schedule a coaching call for discipleship.
I'm happy to share a full solution to these problems. If you need a fresh set of eyes on your discipleship process, get an outside voice to listen and offer suggestions.
Here's a link to schedule a coaching call for discipleship.
I’ve been working on a solution to help, a system that I think:
I can empower someone else to use, even if they don’t feel qualified
keeps everything bite-sized to prevent overwhelm
focuses on habit development, not just information
gives an extremely clear pathway for the first few weeks of following Jesus
prevents some common problems such as getting bogged down in Bible reading
Is a great on-ramp to a longer-term discipleship strategy