7 Tips for Making Multiplying Discipleship Actually Work at Your Parish: a guest post from Dr. Carole Brown
When Jesus walked the Earth, He had been given a simple mission by His Father, "Evangelize the entire world." Why, then, did Jesus' public ministry remain so locally bound? And, also, why did He spend so much time with twelve, uneducated, ordinary guys? The reason is simple; evangelization is not about complicated formulas; it is about relationships. He knew that when He ascended to the Father, His apostles would carry on His mission for Him. He believed in the process of spiritual multiplication.
The simple math of spiritual multiplication is that the most effective of evangelization is to not just form disciples, but form disciples capable of making disciples, creating exponential growth. One of the things we implement in the parishes with whom we work is a multiplying process of discipleship by training leaders who initiate this spiritual multiplication utilizing a structure of discipleship groups and 1-on-1 mentoring.
As the concept of spiritual multiplication becomes more familiar in our parishes, though, what I am learning is that just having the structure in place does not itself equate to automatic success! You have to have the right ingredients to really make it work.
I recently saw a video put out by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, The Impact of a Glacier: Multiplying Discipleship, that outlines a parish where this kind of multiplying discipleship process has made a significant impact. After watching, I reached out to Dr. Carole Brown, Director of the Office of New Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City (http://www.archokc.org/new-evangelization), who assisted the startup of this process at St. John Nepomuk in Yukon, OK, and asked her that all-important question, "What made it work?"
The following are Dr. Carole Brown's 7 concrete essential practices for making a multiplying discipleship process at your parish actually take root based on what worked at St. John Nepomuk! If you are thinking about building this kind of initiative at your parish, you really need to check these out!
I love these tips because they are not born from theoretical knowledge but from actual real-world experience. Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, Dr. Carole Brown...
7 Tips for Making Multiplying Discipleship Actually Work at your parish
by Dr. Carole Brown
1) Get the right leaders
At St. John Nepomuk, a male and female leader who were already deeply personally committed to Jesus Christ went through the process themselves, and agreed to give focused leadership to it. They are both well established in the parish, and they are the “drivers” of the process.
2) Get those leaders to prioritize this effort
The leaders for your discipleship process can not be those people who are also doing a million other things in the parish. They need to be good fits for the ministry and in love with Christ, but they cannot be already over-committed at the parish. This needs to be their main apostolate...which may mean they need to be relieved of other responsibilities that could usefully be done by someone else. (I like to say, “I’m asking you to discern a call from God on this to make this your main thing.”)
3) Manage the parish's expectations
It’s important to manage expectations around multiplying discipleship because it works differently from most other things in the parish. Unlike most other “programs”, this is not something you are going to put a note in the bulletin about, or do a signup table for--at least not for a few cycles. Sometimes people get agitated and say things like, "Why is this not for everyone? How come I wasn’t invited?” You have to be willing and able to manage those expectations by communicating clearly about what these groups are about and how they differ slightly from your normal parish Bible study or Lenten small groups.
4) Meet off-site
The groups at St. John Nepomuk met in peoples homes, not at the church. This allows for a little cozier environment more conducive to sharing your life. We also advised the hosts to keep it simple. Don’t plan a gourmet spread. Put out a pitcher of icewater and leave it at that. The more drama there is around hospitality, the less people will want to run their own groups.
5) Begin by filling groups with potential leaders
For the first few cycles—and by that I mean “years” because this process takes about a year—you are prayerfully and carefully choosing people who have the ability to lead others. There’s an actual Scriptural principle behind this from 2 Timothy 2:2. St. Paul writes to Timothy, "What you have heard from me through many witnesses, entrust to faithful people who will be able to lead others as well."
There are…what…5 sets of people indicated in this verse who are going to be responsible for launching this big chain reaction, and it’s so so key to make sure that we are raising up “faithful people who can lead others.” It is a little counter-intuitive to the way we usually think of evangelization. Usually we don’t think of starting with people who are already faithful—but in this situation that’s exactly who you want to get into shape for helping develop the culture of discipleship.
6) Start with a manageable commitment for your leaders
Sometimes it’s hard to get people to commit to a whole year up front. At St. John Nepomuk, they identified 25 people and invited them to a dinner. I came and gave a spiel, and then the folks were asked just to commit to the first 6 week Catholic Christian Outreach (cco.ca) series, Discovery. 6 weeks. That's all. However—and this is another thing that’s a bit different—they are asked to commit to ALL six weeks. Can’t even miss one, and if they do, the leader is prepared to do a makeup session with them. That’s a little different for Catholics, because they are used to being able to drop in and drop out. Now—to be honest—in this case—by the time they got through Discovery, they were hooked.
7) Don't skip the 1-on-1s!
The CCO series that we use for our groups has a built in 1-on-1 component. The group leader met with each member of their groups after each six-week session, and followed the outline in the book to help lead the conversation.
It’s amazing what comes up in these 1-on-1s, things with which people have been quietly wrestling with and sometimes need some real help. Now, keep in mind, these can't be spiritual direction, just a little opportunity for some personalized mentoring. This is an excellent method of doing the kind of spiritual “accompaniment” that is so needed in our times.
It can be tempting to skip these individualized meetings because of the time commitment, but I can’t encourage you enough—make time for the 1-on-1. A good tip is to make the occasion for meeting something enjoyable. Get a coffee. Walk around the lake.
One last thing that is worth mentioning about this particular parish's tactics. This is not a hard and fast rule, and, in fact, I personally am mentoring a mixed gender group, but—at St. John Nepomuk, they decided to do mens groups and womens groups, rather than mixed groups. One of the advantages of this is that it takes care of the childcare issue. Couples do not both need to be at a meeting at the same time. Also, often men and women share very differently. Sometimes, men can say in 45 minutes what women need a full 90 minutes to say. Again, not a hard and fast rule, but something to consider.
If you will allow me to do a little math for a second to show the impact of this process at St. John Nepomuk, one of the numbers that’s been thrown out there as a kind of general gauge is that about 5-7% of people in the parish are living their discipleship in an intentional way. One of the strategic benchmarks that Sherry Weddell and others have proposed is to try to double the number of intentional disciples at a parish in 5 years: “Double in 5.” So in other words—in 5 years, try to raise the percentage of IDs at a parish up to 10-14% of adults who have been through a process designed to form them as intentional disciples. The theory is that if you can get to 20%, you have a de-facto culture change going on.
Well, guess what? If you can get multiplying discipleship going in your parish, you can not only double in 5, you can even get to 20%. Let’s do the math.
We estimated that about 800 of the 1200 registered families in this parish are participating regularly. We ballparked, therefore, about 1400 adults active in this parish.
In their 4th generation, about 300 adults have either completed the process or are in it currently. That’s 21% of the active adults.
Now, it’s time to start going after the inactive ones. God has only just begun!
about the author
Dr. Carole Brown is the Director of the Office of New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. She attained her MA in Theology and Christian Ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1997. In 2010, she successfully defended her dissertation, entitled “Crossing the Threshold of Faith: Pope John Paul II’s Approach to the Problem of the Conversion of the Baptized.” Subsequently, this dissertation was cited in Sherry Weddell’s highly acclaimed book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.
Dr. Brown’s defining passion is to help parishes to develop a culture of intentional discipleship.