Many people I’ve worked with follow a strategy that eases slowly into evangelism and discipleship, starting first with the beginning of prayer cells. Interested people are invited to attend a worship time of some sort and to receive prayer. As God begins to answer their prayers, they are more interested and slowly they begin to believe. This is not a bad model, but it is not the model I would encourage if you want to see a Disciple Making Movement.
Why? You may ask. It seems good. People encounter the love and power of God. This approach doesn’t scare off interested seekers. No one seems to persecute us if we are just praying for people in a new place.
There are a few reasons why I don’t believe the prayer cell strategy is the best approach if we want to develop the DNA that leads to movements. Allow me to explain these reasons and then suggest an alternative that is much more likely to lead to movements.
1.Our goal is to make disciples, not gather seekers
Many of these “prayer cells” meet for many months or even years, taking up the church planter (or discipler’s) time and energy without actually ever becoming a church that reproduces. Seekers who feel comfortable receiving prayer but are not being challenged to make a commitment tend to stay at that place. Jesus didn’t do this. He clearly called people to count the cost, leave all other loyalties and follow Him. He never told his disciples to gather seekers. He told them to make disciples. It is natural for seekers to show up when miracles happen. As we pray for the sick or cast out demons, seekers will come. When they do, we must clearly present the gospel and challenge them to make a decision to follow Christ. If they believe, we immediately begin to train them to also make disciples of others and to share the good news they have received.
2. A clear understanding of the cost of discipleship leads to a higher level of commitment in disciples
For quite a few people, they go through a process as they move toward faith in Christ. This seems especially true for those who do not come from any kind of biblical worldview in their home culture. It can take time for understanding to come. It can be difficult to point to a particular point of conversion. I don’t personally believe that people who pray a “sinners prayer” are “in”, and others who haven’t prayed that prayer are “out.” I don’t see a biblical basis for that. At the same time, I see that for most, there is a point of decision making, when they choose to surrender their will to His and shift their loyalties to Jesus. For many in Asia that point is when they decide to be baptized. Whatever the process, until people are at that point of high commitment, its hard to expect them to reproduce more disciples. We don’t want people to stay seekers who comfortably attend prayer or worship cells, come to Jesus when they have a need, but fail to understand the commitment involved in following Him.
3. Training those who believe to immediately put their faith into practice causes people to mature much more rapidly than if they simply attend a group with no friendly accountability.
I’ve seen many examples of church planters who lead someone to faith but then don’t do much else besides encourage them to attend the “prayer cell” for weeks, months or even years. This is a very, very slow way to make disciples! As soon as someone believes in Christ and expresses faith in Him, you must begin to train them. Don’t wait. They are ready. Start with a basic set of short term discipleship lessons and then move into more long term lessons or a story set. Immediately encourage them to share their faith with others. Immediately get them involved in evangelism, and if they lead someone to faith, let them be the one who disciples that new believer. This makes strong disciples very quickly!
Let me suggest some alternatives to prayer cells as you get started in a new place. Two great options are widely used by DMM and CPM practitioners. One is to do abundant seed sowing where you share testimony, the Jesus story, and continue to share the good news until someone believes. Then only do you start a group around that person as you immediately begin to disciple them. You help them to reach their oikos or family and friends circle. You train them in how to share their own testimony, and as you teach them simple discipleship lessons, they pass those on to others.
Alternatively, as you share good news and find interested people, you gather them into groups where you teach a short series of evangelistic bible studies or stories. At the end of those few weeks you call for a commitment and decision to follow Christ. You then continue to disciple those people, training them how to do the same with others.
In both scenarios, you pray for those who come and they encounter God’s goodness. They may be healed, or get a job, or see God work a miracle in a relationship. You do more than pray for their needs, however, you share the gospel and call for them to make a commitment to Jesus.
Lets pray for the sick and see miracles. But lets never stop there. Lets welcome seekers, but never fail to challenge people with the truth of what it means to follow Christ. Jesus is the pearl of great price, worth selling everything to receive. Lets not be afraid to make this truth known.