The priorities of the local church are many, from teaching, to sharing the gospel with the unchurched and leading families in worship, but one leader believes Jesus’ last command should be the church’s first priority.
During the Alabama Discipleship Conference at Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Jay Gordon, adult and small groups minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, said churches must make discipleship a top priority.
“It’s really easy for churches to be involved in so many activities that effective disciple making is overlooked,” Gordon said. “Disciple making involves both evangelism and discipleship. Many of the problems faced by the church today are solved by a focus on disciple making.”
His topic for the conference was the relationship of small groups to disciple making.
“Three reasons churches don’t focus well on disciple making are that most pastors never had anyone disciple them well, disciple making takes time, and disciple making isn’t always easy to measure,” Gordon explained. “We often want a quick fix and it’s easy to count numbers of people present, but a church can have large numbers without making any disciples.”
“The end result is a consumerist church culture.”
Group size varies
Gordon said both large and small discipleship-focused meetings can benefit churches.
“Many [leaders] utilize small discipleship groups of three to six, same-gender men or women who are in a high-relationship and high-accountability group for 12 to 18 months before the learners become the leaders of a group of their own,” Gordon noted. “Churches commonly call these ‘huddles’ or D-groups.”
In contrast, small groups or Sunday School classes are most often larger than huddles and co-ed.
“It is my belief that although huddles are a richer environment for intentional discipleship, small groups can accomplish much disciple making if leaders are intentional in not only leading Bible study, but focusing on obedience,” Gordon explained. “How you lead the group just looks a little different based on the type group that it is.”
Mark Gainey, pastor of First Baptist Church Fultondale and an associate for Sunday School & discipleship for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, agreed on the importance of making strong disciples.
“I believe this year’s conference went a long way in helping church staff, pastors and lay leaders realize that disciple making is for all of us and is a way of life,” Gainey said. “The theme this year was ‘Faithful.’
“After everything we’ve been through over the last two years, it was so good to be reminded that all God really desires is for us to be faithful to the call to be disciples who make disciples.
“The call isn’t to build large churches, to explode overnight, but to be faithful to the Great Commission.”
The Alabama Discipleship Conference is in its second year and, according to Gainey, designed to build upon preceding strategies.
“Its genesis was formed from a need to create an event or experience that continued the momentum of disciple making in our state over the last few years,” he explained. “We wanted to build an event that was unlike other conferences where you had a ‘sage on the stage’ and just got information flow. We wanted to have leaders, speakers and disciple makers interact with one another throughout the event.”
This year those included Gordon and Gainey, Ken Adams, Larry Hyche, Marc Hodges, Sarah Law, Robert Mullins, Steve Layton, Jeff Gardner, Craig Etheredge, Terrance Andrews, Cody Hale, Andy Frazier, Daniel Edmonds and Eric Taylor.
Strengthening local church
Gordon said conferences like this will go a long way to strengthening the mission of local churches that strive to be faithful in disciple making.
“Some long-term results of disciple making are developing people with a biblical worldview, people who serve, give and are involved in evangelism and discipleship,” he said.
Gainey added he is excited to continue this year’s success with a 2023 conference.
“It’s been a fantastic two years and we are already planning next year’s event,” Gainey said.
It is set for April 24–25 at Fultondale FBC, with leaders Warren Haynes, Scott Kindig and Andy Frazier.
To learn more about this year’s conference, made possible through a cooperative partnership between SBOM and Disciple Making Ministries of Alabama visit aldiscipleshipconference.com.
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