Church Planter Basics 2: Disciple Others

By Ricky Wilson

When I set out on the journey to plant a church, God gave me one sentence: “The key to unlocking the Great Commission is contained in each disciple.”

When God laid church planting on my heart, He was clear that He was calling me to be a disciple-maker, not just giving me a place to preach.

This was a new concept for me at that time. I was not saved until age 20. Up to that point, I was a drug dealer whose parents died of meth overdoses, and I had no church background. I was not even given a Bible until six months after becoming a believer.

Then, when I went into ministry, the measure of success was gathering a large crowd and counting baptisms. At times this seems like ministry, right? People came to know Jesus, and we had many people gathered on Sundays – but I soon realized the back door was too big. We retained a few of the baptisms and rarely saw disciples sent out. If we did, that person was viewed as an anomaly, not the normality. This burdened me because it was not the picture of a biblical church. Still, I was fooled into believing this was how the modern American church was supposed to function. I mean, it what I saw in books and conferences, so who was I to argue? They were the experts, so I tried to follow their example.

When I set out on the journey to plant a church, God taught me that He wanted me to disciple in the very way I was not discipled. This would look like starting a church built around discipling new believers and sending them out to fulfill the Great Commission. He gave me one sentence: “The key to unlocking the Great Commission is contained in each disciple.” This means that the way to reach the world is to focus on one person at a time, who will then develop others, so they can go and develop still others. If we do this enough, what happens? The masses are reached. My church plant focuses on equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and measuring success not by number of baptisms, but by the number of people who came to know Jesus and were then discipled and deployed into the harvest.

Our church has baptized more than 170 people since we launched three years ago. That desire to disciple was immediately tested. The only way to have a healthy, multiplying church was to take these new believers and teach them the commands of Christ so they could be healthy disciples of Christ. So that is what we did. We implemented a discipleship structure built around a holistic one-on-one foundation, and God blessed it. After three years of focusing our vision on discipleship and multiplication, we are launching three new churches over the next six months. We also have a pipeline of 17 others we are now discipling as leaders who will plant churches in Paris, Los Angeles and other places all over this country. And all those 17 future church planters were lost just three to five years ago! This disciple-making also has allowed leaders to be developed to the point that I can solely focus on developing church planters, while leaders who grew to maturity within our church’s discipleship are able to handle the rest of the ministry.

In this short article, I want to outline some essentials that helped us create a healthy, discipleship-driven church plant. I hope they help you on your church planting journey!

1. Structure

To have a discipleship-driven church plant, you need to have a discipleship structure that people can follow. Every great disciple in church history has had a structure. St. Patrick had the Celtic way, John Wesley had the Band, Class and Society model, and Robby Gallaty had D-Groups and Replicate. These men have seen great success in disciple-making. We have found that when there is a healthy structure that fits the context, people will use it.

I truly believe that every church wants to disciple. However, many of them just don’t have a structure in place to carry out that desire. Because they don’t know how to do it, they just don’t do it. So, create a structure and use it.

The planter sets the tone. If you are using it on your people, they will follow it so they can be disciple-makers. We use a holistic one-on-one structure with a group component complete with a one-year outline of the book of John and tools that we teach our disciples to use as they work through their emotional health and spiritual disciplines. We also developed our own organic evangelism method and a disciple evaluation tool to monitor our disciples’ growth and the areas in which they need to grow. This allows the disciples to have a plan they can easily follow without becoming overwhelmed and allows all our disciples to move in the same direction, creating unity in the body. Because of this structure, everyone in the church is accustomed to discipleship and speaks the same language. This has helped us develop leaders very quickly because there is a clear plan they can follow.

2. Schedule

A church planter has a hundred different things to do every day. All of them will most likely be good things, but – as I have learned and wish I would have known sooner – while there are many good things, we have to focus on the few great things. Disciple-making is one of the great things. It will allow your church to grow and, more than that, to see other leaders in your congregation flourish.

Step 1 to discipleship is evangelism, so share the gospel in your schedule. Invite neighbors, people you meet and whoever to have coffee. Share your story, share the gospel and lead them to the Lord. Then schedule time each week to spend with that person, open up the Word, teach them the commands of Christ and challenge them.

If you are committed to starting a discipleship-driven church plant, you must schedule it. Discipleship will cause you to sacrifice some good things, but this great thing is worth it!

3. Send

The only way to be a discipleship-driven church is to send the ready disciples. We are sending out 70% of our current congregation over the next year to go with these new church plants. It will hurt and be challenging, but the kingdom will move to other parts of our state and country!

To make disciples of all nations, we must be more focused on people coming to know Jesus and less on how many people we can get into our buildings. It is scary, it is a sacrifice and it seems counterintuitive to what we have been taught: to get to a certain number of members or become self-sufficient and then send. I believe that the only way to be a discipleship-driven church is to send our best, send others with them and only do things crazy enough that only God could get the credit for them.

A discipleship-driven church plant will blossom, grow and multiply. It will require a lot of sacrifice and investing in people who are far from God, but your sacrifice will be blessed by God. Years from now, as you look back, you will see those who were once dead in their sin now leading worship, being a greeter or even planting a church. I am sending a planter out in October – dead 5 years ago, now a godly man and church planter because God changed him through discipleship.

Jesus called us to make disciples; is your church committed to His call?

Published August 24, 2022

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Ricky Wilson

Ricky Wilson, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, grew up with drug-addicted parents and was a drug dealer from age 12 to 20, when he heard the gospel for the first time and gave his life to Jesus. Since then, he has had a passion for church planting and moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 2017 to start ID Church. He and his wife, Sarah, have three children: Ellie, Titus and Haddie. God has been gracious and ID Church is planting three new churches in South Carolina in 2022, with plans for three more in 2023 in places like Paris and Los Angeles.