7 Steps to Spiritual Maturity and Church Growth | By Justin Gravitt
Spiritual maturity flows from a church’s commitment to discipleship ministry. Learn how to transform simple outreach to intentional, biblical growth.
Culture is a river.
Think about it, both cultures and rivers move towards a specific destination. Whether it’s intentional or not, both impact everything in their path. Both automatically move everything in the same direction. And both are constantly changing course in a way that expedites the ultimate aim.
The similarities between rivers and cultures don’t end there. Both must deal with turbulence when barriers impede progress. For rivers, water is forced to go around or over rocks and other debris. Such redirection costs energy that is never recovered. The resulting turbulence always slows progress.
For churches, the river metaphor goes back a long way. Puritan Thomas Manton said in the mid-1600’s, “The church is like a river. If it gets wider instead of deeper, it will lose its power.”
Seeing the church’s culture as a river simplifies culture building, the pathway is the river’s banks.
The Discipleship Pathway
One key step in building a disciple-making culture is to develop a discipleship pathway. A discipleship pathway is a sequenced plan to move disciples from one stage of growth to the next. It is broad enough to include everyone, but specific enough to meet each spiritual generation where they are. The end goal is growth that will result in mature, relationally connected disciples.
Churches without an effective discipleship pathway can expect to have pools of stagnant disciples who don’t know how to grow or even that they should. As we know from rivers, stagnant waters are full of potential disease. The same is true in the church. Stagnation in the church breeds diseases such as apathy, false doctrine, and complacency.
A discipleship pathway makes it clear that disciples must be growing towards maturity and fruitfulness. It also protects against a “finish-line mentality” that cultures of non-discipleship often exhibit. Instead of stagnation, healthy cultures promote both movement and clarity.
Sounds exciting, right? So how can you build a discipleship pathway in your church?
The process of building a discipleship pathway is challenging, but not complicated. Consider these seven steps:
Step 1: Determine Your Values.
Values will dictate how you lead and behave. For this reason, every culture is perfectly aligned to their actual values.
Before you can align your actions, you must determine the values of your culture. Only then can you match your practices to your words and your words to your values.
When these three are aligned deep trust is built. Clear values are the first step towards both a “matched culture” and a discipleship pathway.
Step 2: Describe the destination.
You can think about this as your picture of a disciple. Who do you hope people in your culture will become? How will they be different as a result of being shaped by your culture? What specific characteristics will mark them?
Step 3: Discuss the Reality of Your Current Culture.
What are the values expressed in the current culture? What is the expressed or implied destination? What normal practices are present? Are these helpful in light of your values and the destination, or are they rocks that divert energy and create sideways (or backwards) momentum? Keep these in mind as you move through steps 4-6.
Step 4: Decide what practices everyone will do.
How will you help people become what you have expressed in step two? Think on every level of church engagement (corporate opportunities, medium sized opportunities, small group opportunities, and individual opportunities).
Consider the needs of disciples in different growth phases. What are the normal practices that will help people grow? The common practices discovered here will form your culture’s guide rails that will shape movement.
Over time, a culture will unfold and with it the clarity that people like us do things like this.
Step 5: Design a step-by-step process that outlines WHAT will happen WHEN.
Take the practices identified in step four and sequence them to help disciples grow. This step of sequencing is where theory becomes reality. The alternative to a sequenced-approach is a menu-approach that more often causes confusion and frustration.
Step 6: Dig up and discard barriers.
Every culture has “rocks” in the river that obstruct progress. The question is, “What needs to be removed in order to get everything moving in the same direction?”
Identifying and removing these rocks is a difficult step because some find those rocks valuable. However, the question must not be, “Are they valuable?” but rather, “Are they directly moving people toward the destination?”
When each one is evaluated in relationship to its helpfulness towards reaching the stated destination, then growth becomes easier.
Step 7: Discern how to continually improve your pathway.
Your first attempt at your discipleship pathway won’t be your best. As you grow in your ability to see and express your destination, you will also grow in your ability to develop a sequenced path that moves people effectively. In this way, your pathway never gets finished, it just changes to become more and more effective.
Churches with an effective discipleship pathway stack momentum and energy towards disciple making. Such momentum makes it easier for people to move as disciples and makes it more difficult to remain stagnant.
Whether you have built a pathway or not, the waters of your culture are moving people towards a destination. If you aren’t happy with what people are becoming in your church, then it’s time to build or improve that pathway.