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Discipleship: A Hybrid Approach

church group holding hands and praying

Now let’s zoom (pun intended) into today and see what this means for us. 

The advent of social media has altered how people interact. A global pandemic has further alienated people from their normal way of life. Political upheaval has caused division to breed fear and anxiety. Racial tensions strain relationships with our primary societal systems and institutions. A 24-hour news cycle overloads people with often contentious information. Always-on sources of streaming entertainment pacify our critical thinking and steal time for reflection. Societal demands and peer pressure – both real and imagined – have people running around like crazy just trying to keep up with everything. Economic instability and disparity leave many struggling just to stay afloat. And in the midst of all this, you are asking people to simply pause everything and come to your discipleship class? 

Discipleship should not be an extra activity but an integrated way of life that is sustainable – even if sacrificial – in the context where people live. 

To counteract the unprecedented demands on people’s time, resources, emotions, and energy, churches must take a hybrid approach that utilizes the tools available while staying true to basic principles

Your people will have to understand that there is a sacrifice involved in discipleship. But also that your church is doing all it can to integrate, not just add on, discipleship in their lives. It means you’ll have to have things in person and online. You’ll need teachings that are short and long format. You’ll need fellowship that involves gathering and accommodates those who can’t commit to being present. It means you’ll need to demonstrate and document effective Kingdom work even if people can’t watch it happen live. It means the weekly Bible study at your church still isn’t getting the job done. 

Ideas for Innovation

The following exemplify some of the myriad methods you could use to adapt basic principles to our present-day: 

  • Calling – Invite people into discipleship in smaller groupings. Have leaders reach out to individuals and families in a way that focuses their circle of influence, thereby creating a closer context for accountability and relationships. This can be done on social media, by dissecting and delegating your church directory, personal phone calls, or just invitations from one friend to another. The goal is to get your church to be one that is always inviting people to participate in the teaching, demonstration, fellowship, and sending that your church is undertaking. 
    • For example, offer a church-wide invitation to your people, knowing that not all will respond. Then, select a group of leaders at your church and ask them to find three (or however many) people they can invite into discipleship. From there, lay out what the time commitment and expectations are through your leaders, and ask for disciples to commit to going on this journey. Then, offer them the resources to get started. A personal invite multiplies accountability and commitment. 
  • Teaching – Create teachings that can be digested in long or short format so that it can be delivered and consumed with varying flexibility. That might include daily text messages, weekly posts, or in-person classes that allow people to zoom in to join. It could also include classes taught in online groups where resources are posted and people can interact and respond to questions or assignments. The goal is to remove any excuse or reason why people can’t get involved, so as many people who will commit, can participate. 
    • For example, let’s say you have a class you usually run for four weeks through a 2-hour class at your church. Go ahead and keep doing that. But add these components: Segment the weekly teachings into daily, shorter teachings that can be shared in an online group. Share the group handout as a PDF in that same online group. Allow video conferencing so people who can’t be there in person can watch. Take what was taught in the class and post commentary in the online group so people who couldn’t watch or attend can still keep up. Ask the same questions you did in class, in the online group. Chop it all up so people can consume it where and when they can. 
  • Demonstrating – Document how things are done at your church. How to witness, how to disciple, how to run a meeting or a group, how to serve, how to pray, etc. Show people easy steps they can take to grow in these areas. Then have your leaders share a story of how these principles work in their own lives. Testimony is an effective form of demonstration because it connects the dots between the how-to and the outcome. It’s like seeing the fruit right before you. Stories of successful work accomplished – not just personal milestones – will show your church not only how things work, but that they work. Nowadays you can share testimony in a video, posts, and even documents that include the how-to with stories of successful applications. 
    • For example, you teach on witnessing in your group (which people can attend in person or online). You provide the simple steps to evangelism. You tell a story of how it was done. You allow people to ask questions about your story. You ask them how your story might be similar to their story. And voila! Your people have “seen” the thing you’re about to ask them to do “in action”. 
  • Fellowship – “Don’t neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.” (Hebrews 10:25) At the same time, don’t neglect the many forms of meeting together available today. Nothing is quite like an in-person gathering. But when that can’t be done, or can’t include everyone, there are things you can do to keep a connection. Gathering means being at the same place, at the same time. That can be done online in groups, just as it can in person – albeit with more difficulty and less emotional benefit. Why not include people online in your in-person gatherings? The key to making this effective is to encourage, entice, and if needed, full-on extract participation from the online participants. 
    • For example, you could have a small group dinner, communion, or game night where people who can’t make it can be eating the same thing (shared menu) and you can ask the same questions. Maybe take virtual turns on a game you’ve been playing by having an in-person attendee move the piece. Whatever you do, find a way to include the online participants in your in-person activities. 
  • Sending – This one’s easy. Well, sort of. Nowadays there are a bunch of solutions for task management and assigning of duties. Where it gets tricky is on the follow-up and follow-through. When the 72 came back from being sent, Jesus asked them how it went. They had to give a report on their progress. This doesn’t have to be done in person, but it does need to be done – or owned – by a person. Your church needs a tool to assign tasks or next steps that includes a personal follow up to monitor, track, and adjust assignments as needed. 
    • For example, you’ve been teaching on evangelism. You’ve demonstrated how it’s done. You’ve provided the how-to and the why-to. And now it’s time for the disciple to actually go out and do it. You assign them a task. Now, instead of crossing your fingers and hoping they do it, you follow up to see if they actually did, what roadblocks they hit, and how they felt while doing it. Then, you can encourage, advise, and adjust as needed to ensure they keep on pursuing. 

Realm® Helps

Realm offers tools and resources to supply your discipleship processes with a host of features to enhance your efforts. 

Utilizing the Congregant Directory in Realm gives leaders the opportunity to identify people and their activity history within your church. This is done in a way that will empower them with the knowledge they need not only to know who to reach out to, but how best to do it. By seeing family structures, giving history (if desired), participation in events, serving, and so on, your leaders will be apprised of valuable information to aid their decision-making on who to call. 

You can support your classes by creating events and groups to track attendance and foster online engagement. Post curriculum and step-by-step guides in an online group. Offer discussion questions. Follow up with responses. And, keep your people growing. 

You can share stories that demonstrate the very things you want to see your disciples partake in. You can engage in fun dialogue and challenging conversations, and develop deeper relationships all within the safe context of a designated group structure. 

Using Pathways, you can assign steps for each disciple to take and have the accountability of leaders who are prompted to follow up, thereby creating a limitless combination of activities with built-in commitment. 

Whether it’s in-person or online, Realm was designed with discipleship in mind. 

Pattie plays an integral role in key areas across ​ACS Technologies, including project management, business partnerships, operational excellence, and more. Pattie joined ACS Technologies in 1995. Before that, she worked in advertising and brand management leadership with Procter & Gamble. She also worked with Koinonia Partners, the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. Pattie attends St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Florence, SC.

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