The Fatal Flaw in our Discipleship Strategies

Updated: Feb 2

by Doug Paul


I’ve probably spent the last 15 years of my life trying things in the local churches I’ve led or with leaders I’m coaching or walking alongside to help them innovate discipleship strategies. And more recently at Catapult, we’ve been piloting some new strategies to help churches create a discipleship process that really gets the fruit they are going after. As you can imagine, the learning has been in overdrive.



The more I’ve done this work, the more I see that there are probably 6 different kinds of Discipleship churches. Each has a different strategy, different outcomes, pros, cons and almost all of them have a fatal flaw. But as you’ll discover at the end, there is one fatal flaw they all have in common.

Church #1: Discipleship as Preaching

Headline: Churches with this discipleship strategy love (mostly) expositional preaching and rightly dividing the Word of God. And that’s a good thing!

Greatest Strength: This creates a culture of people who love the Word of God in both their Sunday morning experience and in daily times with the Lord, nourishing them as they go.

Fatal Flaw: These churches overestimate what preaching can do in and of itself. Did Jesus preach? Absolutely. But the Bible shows that’s not what the majority of his discipleship process looked like. Jesus was the best disciple-maker who ever lived. And while preaching was part of his strategy, it was a small piece of it.



Church #2: It’s all organic, baby.

Headline: Disciples are made in the everyday comings and goings of life; after all, the Great Commission says, “and as you go, make disciples.”

Greatest Strength: Some things are simply better caught than taught. The organic process allows people to learn from the places of real life where the Gospel is being lived out, in real time. After all, how much of the twelve disciples formation happened just by being with Jesus and processing in real time?

Fatal Flaw: There is often a lack of intentionality, focus and overall direction for where the person being discipled is being taken. Sometimes it feels like it’s just two people in a coffee shop or bar hanging out and it’s not really going anywhere. Jesus knew exactly where he wanted to take twelve and was exceptionally intentional about getting them there.



Church #3: Just join a small group!

Headline: The seeker sensitive movement and simple church emphasis created a place for everyone in the church to go. Most churches are using some version of a small group strategy. But does it lead to spiritual transformation?

Greatest Strength: People can form deep relationships with a consistent group of people over a long period of time who can love them, grow with them, walk with them and speak into their life.

Fatal Flaw: Ultimately the small group strategy started as a kind of relational flypaper. Churches were trying to close the “back door” of the church. Small groups are great at cultivating relationships because that’s what they were designed for. But they weren’t necessarily designed to help people grow spiritually or propel them into mission. The real fatal flaw? A fair number of small groups are led by spiritually immature people leading other spiritually immature people.