Jesus said, "Go and make disciples." You've heard it. You've studied it. You've preached it. But, have you ever defined it? What, exactly, makes someone a "disciple"?

May I suggest that, for all practical purposes, a "disciple" is synonymous with an "assimilated church member." Or, at least, it should be.

If you agree, then try this exercise with your church leaders: list the qualities of an ideal member for your congregation. How would such a person act? What would he say? How would she feel?

Once you have listed the ideal qualities of a disciple, examine your church's programming to see how—or if—you are helping people reach this ideal. After all, it seems reasonable that church activities are intended to lead people toward some goal.

Here are nine characteristics I would suggest could begin your thinking about the ideal characteristics of your church members.

An assimilated member:

  1. Understands and identifies with the goals of your church. Goals are what church leaders have determined to accomplish in the coming year. How many of your members/attenders could list at least two of your church's goals for next year? (Perhaps a prior question would be, "Does your church have goals?")
  2. Attends worship regularly. It's hard to imagine an assimilated member who is not in church regularly; it's key to being a part of the body of Christ. And fluctuation in worship attendance has been shown to be the first sign a person will drop out.
  3. Experiences spiritual growth and progress. The Christian life is like Pilgrim's Progress … journeying toward the ideal of Christlikeness. New believers especially need to be learning, questioning, stretching, and growing in their new faith.
  4. Has taken a formal step of affiliation with your church. While some churches are moving away from formal membership, there are good reasons for people to make a public commitment to Christ (i.e., baptism) and to his church (i.e., membership).
  5. Has friends in your church. The typical active, assimilated church member has over seven friends in the church; drop-outs have less than two.
  6. Is using his/her spiritual gift. Giving one's time and talent to the church is even more important than giving one's money, from an assimilation perspective. Plus, a role or task in the church provides a great opportunity to make friends.
  7. Is involved in a fellowship group. People in small groups seldom drop out of church. Groups are one of the best ways to build common bonds among members.
  8. Tithes to your church. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be, also" (Mt. 6:31). Assimilated members are financially dedicated to the ministry of Christ's church through their congregation.
  1. Participates in the Great Commission. The disciple-making mandate was given by Christ to every disciple. The equipping process to participate in this command come through the local church.

Now what?

Here are four suggestions to increase the number of people in your church who develop these discipleship characteristics:

  1. Create your own list. Discuss with others, pray, and then decide what ideal (and preferably measurable) characteristics you would like to nurture in your members.
  2. Review and redesign your new members class around this definition.
  3. Evaluate your present constituency through the lenses of this definition by charting which characteristics each member shows.
  4. Develop plans for the coming year that will move your members and attenders toward this ideal.