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5 Steps to Establish Your Own Discipleship Pipeline

5 Steps to Establish Your Own Discipleship Pipeline

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We all want students to grow in their faith. We want students to eventually leave our ministries with the knowledge of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and have a growing faith. We want them to have experience owning that faith for themselves. We talk about going deeper with our students. We talk about being light in a dark world. But more often than not, what we’re dealing with is apathy from students and parents, lifestyles promoted by culture that are contrary to God’s way, and a general lack of spiritual fruit in their lives.


Not only that, but every student is different. They’re all at a different place in their faith and therefore have different needs spiritually. How can we effectively make real disciples when there is only one of you, a few leaders, and way more kids than you can effectively mentor?


The short answer is “systems.” Systems is simply thinking strategically and efficiently about complex ministry issues. How can I implement an effective follow-up strategy for all new students? What does the process of going from saying “yes” to Jesus to being baptized look like? These are a couple of examples of the questions that lead to the implementation of systems, and discipling our students needs to be thought of strategically and efficiently.


But isn’t that cold? Students aren’t robots with a one-size-fits-all way to be discipled! I agree–that’s why it’s important to think through a centralized way to disciple students in your context with built-in ambiguity.


Here are five steps to establishing your own discipleship pipeline for students in your church context.


1. Begin With The End In Mind.

Where do you want your students to be spiritually at the end of 8th grade? At the end of their senior year? What do you want them to know? What experiences do you want them to have had? What are the character traits and qualities you want to see in growing, maturing students as they are about to enter into the next big chapter in their lives?


Beginning with the end in mind helps keep you focused and on track and weed out any ideas that may be good but don’t lead to desired outcomes. There is simply no way we can teach students everything about following Jesus over the course of seven years. Instead, focus on a few things that, through prayer, you feel like students need to know and do. Then, with every idea you have or steps you wish to put on this pipeline, ask yourself, “Does this directly lead them to the desired outcomes?” Asking this question will lead you to simplicity and a vision that is easy to follow.

2. Make The ‘Steps’ Easily Identifiable And Realistic.

When we tell students that there is always a “next step” for their faith, what do we mean? Do we mean things like: love people like Jesus better, read the Bible and pray more, be a light in their schools? Those things are all good, but they don’t really tell students exactly what to do. What qualities should I display when loving people like Jesus? How do I read the Bible and pray? What do you mean by being a light in my school?


So, if a first-time guest comes back for a few weeks and feels like they belong or the found a place to call “home,” what is their first step? Salvation? Baptism? Attending a new-student dinner? Then after their first step, what do you point them towards? At what point do you encourage them to serve somewhere in the church? Is that a priority for you guys or not? Are there fundamental theological terms that you want students to grasp before they serve? Maybe denominational or church-culture-building ideas? Are there mentor-relationships you want them to be in?


Map it out clearly. You can reference ours below, but map out what the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on steps are. Make them realistic. This was a big one for me to learn. I have an undergrad degree and a master’s degree relating to ministry. It is easy for me to get in over my head and expect students to grasp or do things I was never ready to when I was a teenager. Be realistic. Is spending 30 minutes every single day in the Bible and prayer realistic? Is establishing a daily time of worship in their rooms realistic? Is weekly fasting realistic? Is memorizing entire chapters of the Bible realistic when they have a million homework assignments to do? Think baby steps and make them clear.


Of course, some “steps” will be more vague and up to the Holy Spirit working in the life of the student. But the reality is that you and the team you’re developing are raising up students within the confines of your church’s culture, mission, values, and goals. The way you do it will be different than the church down the street, and that is okay. Part of the culture at our church is to attend one service and serve one service, so naturally serving in the church is on our discipleship pipeline.

3. Make It Known And Accessible.

Simple. Put it in the hands of the greatest influences in the students’ lives–their parents and small group leaders. If you go through the steps of praying through where you want students to eventually be, carefully map it out with easily identifiable steps, but don’t communicate it and make it known to people that a pipeline exists, then it will do you little-to-no good. There is a greater chance for lasting life-change if you bring others into the process with you. So, make it accessible to parents and volunteers–and students.


Talk about it all the time. Talk about it in your meetings with leaders, coffee dates, pre-service huddles, emails, Groupme chats, etc. – post about it! If you have parent-Facebook groups or regular parent newsletters, keep putting it in there! Make it known that you have a discipleship plan and put it in the hands of the greatest influencers in the kids’ lives.


4. Train Your Leaders To Have ICNU Conversations.

Sometimes, we have to pull the potential and call the best out of people before they even realize it. We live in a time of high rates of anxiety and depression, where self-deprecating humor is the norm, and humility means thinking less of yourself. This is not God’s design, and the church is called to be an example of Kingdom values. If we wait for students to come to us when they’re ready for a next step, we won’t see very much fruit. But if we train our leaders how to call the potential out of the students, to encourage them and build them up towards their next step, our ministries would change, families would change, and perhaps even an entire generation would change.


One way to train your volunteers to help spur students on to their next step is to teach them how to have “I see in you” conversations (ICNU to abbreviate). This is where leaders are trained to tell students mature qualities they see in them, and then to suggest that they are ready for more. For instance, if a student has been consistently attending (a core kid) and contributes to small group, a leader could say something like, “I love that you’ve been sharing a lot in group! I can see that the others really respond when you share. You have real influence, and I see some potential leadership in you. Next week would you consider helping to co-lead small group with me? I think you’d be great at it.”


Even if the student says no at first, the seed is planted, and the leader can ask again.

5. Celebrate!

What you celebrate is where you see fruit. The things you make a big deal out of are the things that you will see grow. You may say that you want to see more baptisms, but if you don’t celebrate and make a big deal out of the baptisms that happen, the people in the seats may not think it’s a big deal. If you want to see more students invite friends to big events, celebrate the ones that do! If you want to see students take next steps, celebrate the students who do. Shoot a video of them saying what taking their next step meant to them. Send a postcard home celebrating them. Do something that says that what they did matters. That is one way you can establish a culture of growth.


Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • What are doing to build a discipleship pipeline?
  • What things are you making a big deal our of? What things should you be making a bigger deal out of?

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