I realize that there are myriads of models, programs, and books for church growth—believe me; I’ve read many of them. However, rarely do these address the core of the issue—disciple-making—yet, we cannot make disciples if we can’t reach people.
As a former church planter, current planting mentor, and a pastor of a revitalized church, making disciples not only fulfills the great Commission (Matt. 28:19), but it grows families of God.
Here are five observations that growing disciple-making churches have in common.
Listening to the Holy Spirit
The early church intensely listened to the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter calls the Holy Spirit, “God” (Acts 5:4). Twice, the Scriptures warn the Church not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).
Jesus commanded his disciples not to move without the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). He leads. He teaches. He opens eyes. No one comes to salvation without the Holy Spirit. If churches desire to grow and make disciples, it cannot be done without the Holy Spirit.
When Paul arrived in Athens, he went for a walk (Acts 17:16, 22–23). He discerned the Athenian culture.
Today, we learn to exegete Scripture. This means we can critically examine the Greek and Hebrew texts: the verbs, nouns, and imperatives. We can even interpret the Word and provide great application.
Meanwhile, we have no idea how to exegete a culture. What are people worshipping? How do they live? Where do they eat? What do they watch? What does the culture look like (ethnicity, economic, etc.)?
We cannot reach a people we do not know.
Bridging the Gap
Once in the gym, I used the movie Platoon to share the gospel with a guy. He had never been to church, didn’t know Jesus, or God. But he was going through numerous problems. Since he saw the movie, I explained a scene with Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe.
The young private, Sheen, was about to go into his first night’s “fire fight.” However, the private overloaded his pack. Dafoe, the veteran sergeant, saw him struggling—stopped him, unloaded the pack—pulling out all of the items weighing him down. Not only that, Dafoe sacrificially carried Sheen’s items throughout the night.
This is what Jesus does for us. He meets us struggling in our sin. Removes our sin. Takes it upon Himself. And then walks with us through the darkness.
The term “bridging the gap” is called, contextualization. After discerning the culture, we use it to reach people for Christ. [Read Acts 17:22-28 to see how Paul used contextualization]
The word gospel comes from “the Anglo-Saxon godspell denoting ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news.’” In a world of suffering, pain, and anguish there is a great need for good news.
However, There is no good news without Jesus. A church that is gospel-centered is Christ-centered. They bring good news to a sin-laden and broken community.
But, some churches replace the gospel with entertainment, programs, or works. The gospel doesn’t need any of these. Churches that rely on the grace, truth, and sufficiency of the gospel will inevitably show it. How?
As Peter declared, if you have tasted the goodness of God, you will have a craving for God and a love for others (1 Peter 1:1-3).
The Word of God put on flesh and dwelt in community with humanity (John 1:14). Community is important. God created us to be relational and intimate. Believers are called to share the good news with others.
Sharing your life with others is discipleship. Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done” (John 13:15).
When a church is incarnational, it fleshes out what it means to be Jesus. Loving. Praying. Touching. Crying. Eating. —all of these are fleshing out Jesus within community.
Church growth is about discipleship. The command by Christ was to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) —not—to put people in seats. Incarnational churches will make disciples because they live, eat, cry, and pray as Jesus did—with others. By default, incarnational churches disciple people.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 892.