Making Disciples Without Overworking the Pastor (A Simple, Five-Step Process)

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making disciples without overworking the pastor  a simple  five step process

Written by: Karl Vaters, special contributor and panelist of CCCC’s webinar “Three Ways a Small Church Can Be an Effective Church


CCCC recently held an insightful webinar featuring Karl Vaters, a small church pastor and author of numerous books on leading small churches. During the event, Karl shared his extensive knowledge and experience in the context of small churches. At the same time, our participants asked several intriguing follow-up questions regarding the development of discipleship processes tailored for smaller congregations. We are pleased to inform you that Karl has graciously provided additional practical insights on this subject. For those unable to attend the webinar titled “Three Ways a Small Church Can Be an Effective Church,” it is now accessible on our website. Enjoy the post from Karl below!

Karl Vaters produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at

Are you happy with the discipleship program at your small church? Does it even exist?

If not, I have some good news. You don’t need an expensive, staff-heavy curriculum to do great follow-up with new believers. And it doesn’t need to kill your already over-busy schedule, either.

After a few hit-and-miss attempts, I discovered a simple five-step process that can work for any small church. And it looks suspiciously similar to what Jesus, Paul, and many other early church leaders did.

1. Meet with Every New Believer

Yes, every new believer.

In most small churches, this is not just possible; it’s usually a significant step for both the pastor and the new believer.

Pastors of big churches can’t do this. There are too many people to meet with. That’s not a slam on them or us; it’s just the way it is. But it points out one advantage of pastoring a small church – the personal touch.

2. Determine How They Learn and Grow

Here’s an example based on my meeting with a new believer who had no Bible knowledge whatsoever.

After a short exploratory conversation, I determined that reading the Gospel of John would be the best way for him to start growing in his newfound faith. I told him to start by reading one chapter a day and then chew on it. If he wanted to re-read the same chapter the next day, do that until he was ready to move to the following chapter.

When I checked in with him a couple of Sundays later, he was only on John 5. “I sat with John 3 for a few days”, he told me with great joy. “That conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus was fantastic!”

I smiled. He was getting it. God’s Word was doing its work. After that, we caught up regularly. He read through Acts the same way. Then he moved slowly through Romans. I answered his questions when he needed help.

I’ve never met anyone else for whom I’d recommend that style of discipleship. But it was the best way for him. People learn and grow in different ways. Let’s use the personal touch we get from being in a small church to help people in the way that suits them best.

If you’re wondering how that first exploratory conversation works, it’s simple. I ask questions like this:

  • What was their family like growing up?
  • How did they like school?
  • Do they like to read?
  • Are they a hands-on learner?
  • Are they relationship-oriented?
  • What do they do in their spare time?
  • What was their best learning experience in the past?
  • Their worst?
  • Who was their favourite teacher, and why?

Simply put, I get nosy about their learning process until I feel like I have a handle on things.

Then, I suggest an idea or two and ask if that sounds like something that might work for them. I also give them a guilt-free way out. If the selected learning style doesn’t work for them, we’ll find another way to get it done.

3. Connect Them with a Mature Believer and the Right Resources

There are new believers in our church who meet regularly with mature believers to learn, grow, and be discipled. Each one of them does it differently, depending on their circumstance.

One of those discipleship/mentoring relationships was between two people who enjoyed book clubs. I recommended a good Christian book for them to read, then they met once a week to talk about it. After the Sunday service every few weeks, I took a moment to hear how they were doing. When they finished reading one book, I recommended the next one. They both grew in their relationships with Jesus and each other.

4. Help Them Plug into an Active Ministry That Utilizes Their Gifts

This is the most neglected step of most new believer programs. We fill people’s heads with Bible knowledge but wait too long to activate that knowledge within real-world ministry. That is dangerous for the believer and the church.

One of the main reasons for pastoral stress is church members with a lot of Bible knowledge who are doing little if any, practical, hands-on, outside-the-church-walls ministry. The Apostle Paul taught us that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). That’s what happens when we cram Bible knowledge into people’s heads without helping them activate it with their hands and feet.

It’s never the new believers that burn out the pastor. It’s the pew-warmers who think they know how to run the church but never lift a finger to help. Then they leave because they’re “not being fed.”

The best solution to that? Teach people how to pick up a spoon and feed themselves from the very start of their faith!

5. As People Mature, Call On Them to Start Leading Others

Discipleship is never finished. Even the most mature believer has something to learn.

The best way for a mature believer to keep learning is to teach others as they do ministry together.

Start with One

One of the great side benefits of these steps is how little time it takes from the pastor’s schedule. After this process was set in place, I no longer had to do endless hours of discipleship myself. Now, I hear about great results after the fact.

If you don’t have a discipleship process in your church, I recommend starting with one person. That’s what I did. I walked a new believer through the early stages of discipleship myself, including letting them know they’d be doing this themselves someday. Then, when another new believer came along, I showed them how to adapt what we’d done with this new believer.

Believers discipling believers.

We don’t need an expensive program, and we don’t need to be a certified teacher. We just need to do it.

Watch CCCC’s webinar here: Three Ways a Small Church Can Be an Effective Church.

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