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Disciples not members

When Jesus calls, “come follow me,” it should be understood to follow Jesus means to submit to His authority, teaching, and Lordship. Scot Mcknight rightly observes that Christianity in America emphasizes salvation in Jesus while minimizing the call to follow and obey Jesus. He goes on to state this emphasis on salvation and making a decision for Christ has created a culture of church membership over making disciples.[1] Brad Young describes the relationship between Jesus and his disciples by identifying six phases of the discipleship process:

1. Jesus calls the disciples (Matt 4:19; 8:22; Mark 1:17; 2:4; Luke 5:27; etc.).

2. Jesus demands that they act accordingly. “Anyone who hears these words of mine and does them is wise.” “Listen to my words and do what I say” (see Matt 7:24; Luke 6:47).

3. The disciples learned by observing Jesus. They followed the example of Jesus and were expected to conduct themselves like their master (Matt 16:24–28; Mark 8:34–9:1; Luke 9:23–27).

4. The disciples not only observed but worked alongside Jesus. They put into practice what they heard from Jesus (see Matt 10:1–4; Mark 3:13–19).

5. The disciples were sent on assignment without Jesus (Matt 10:5–25; Luke 10:1–20).

6. They were accountable to their master’s supervision. Jesus evaluated their work and encouraged them to achieve a more meaningful inner spiritual life by seeking first the kingdom of heaven (Matt 6:33).[2]

Discipleship in America is lacking. Churches and ministries across America record the number of people who decide to follow Jesus but do not record the number of people who complete the discipleship journey. For years, crusades, tent meetings, and revival services have drawn millions of people to the altar to lay down their sin and follow Jesus.

This claim is bolstered by a 2018 Lifeway Research report of the ministry of Billy Graham. Lifeway reports that 2.2 million people gave their lives to Christ over the sixty-five years that Billy Graham preached the Gospel.[3] Additionally, the Assemblies of God records the number of yearly conversions to Christ but has no metric to track disciples that make disciples. In 2019, 8,903 Assembly of God churches recorded 487,322 salvations.[4]

On the surface, these numbers seem encouraging and hopeful for the church. These numbers should reveal a correlation between salvation (decisions) and a greater participation in the local church. However, a recent Gallup Poll indicates that church attendance in America has dropped from 68% in 1998 to 52% in 2018.[5]

This information is important as it reveals that the significance placed on conversions does not result in the end goal of making disciples. Additionally, the conversion count does not differentiate between first-time commitments and those that are rededicating or recommitting their lives to Christ, strengthening the need for a more robust discipleship method.

[1] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2011), 30–34. [2] Young, Meet the Rabbis, 37. [3] “Billy Graham’s Life & Ministry By the Numbers,” Lifeway Research, February 21, 2018, [4] “Statistics,” accessed February 16, 2021, [5] Gallup Inc, “U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades,”, April 18, 2019,


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