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Beyond Words per Minute: Applying Speed Reading Principles in Disciple Making

In my junior year at Harding University, I read a book on speed reading, when I probably should have been studying for exams. The book promised to teach me how to read a 200+ page book in just 1 hour. The fascinating thing about speed reading is that the goal is bigger than getting through a book faster; it’s to have greater comprehension.[1]

Think about that. The goal of speed reading isn’t actually to read faster (although that’s the methodology). The goal is better reading comprehension. In the same way, when it comes to disciple making, the goal isn’t a particular methodology. So, what is the goal? Whatever methodology you use, the goal is always to grow into greater Christlikeness. When learning a particular discipling methodology, the focus must remain on Jesus. Fixate on the Man (Jesus), not the model.

Disciple makers can learn from speed readers that our goal is not an assembly line methodology. Rather, it’s one that individually crafts followers of Jesus who make followers of Jesus. As it turns out, this isn’t the only disciple-making principle we can learn from speed readers. This article will look at five speed-reading reading principles that I find useful as I practice disciple making. While the essence of disciple making lies in individualized guidance, there’s merit in adopting clear principles, and there are five which we can learn within the systematic approach of speed-reading methods.


“While the essence of disciple making lies in individualized guidance, there’s merit in adopting clear principles.”


The five steps outlined in Kam Knight’s book on speed reading will serve as the outline for this article. In order to read faster,

  1. Know why you are reading this.
  2. Learn techniques to increase your ability.
  3. Enhance and refine your techniques.
  4. Remember that this is about comprehension.
  5. And put it all together.

Now, let’s consider how we can apply each of these principles as we help create a network of disciple makers and church planters.

1. Know Your Purpose

First, before you make disciples who make disciples who plant churches, it is important to know your purpose. Disciple making is about Jesus and helping others trust and follow Him. And what it looks like to trust and follow Jesus is unique to each person! Any technique or model that fails to prioritize Jesus at its center disregards the essence of the gospel’s message. It places individuals, institutions, or ideas at the center of the gospel rather than God Himself.

Good models can be used poorly, just as surely as having no model can lead to failure. One way to use methodologies poorly is to forget why we are making disciples. Just as the purpose of speed reading isn’t merely to read faster, the purpose of disciple making methodology isn’t the methodology itself. It’s to help people trust and follow Jesus.


“Just as the purpose of speed reading isn’t merely to read faster, the purpose of disciple making methodology isn’t the methodology itself.”


A helpful practice in reminding ourselves of our purpose is to speak out loud that which we know to be true. This is something we ought to do before we start training disciple makers. I encourage you to say these phrases out loud right now:

  • I am intentionally walking beside others so that we together follow Jesus, are changed by Jesus, and are committed to the mission of Jesus.
  • I am utilizing a simple, effective, and reproducible method because I want others to be able to easily trust and follow Jesus.
  • I have a clear definition[2] of a disciple because I want others to easily follow Jesus.
  • I have a simple model that anyone can follow and teach others, so that His kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven.

In your disciple making, are you keeping its Jesus-centered purpose always in mind—or have you made it about a particular methodology?

2. Learn Techniques

Once you are clear on your purpose, it’s good to learn some basic techniques—whether you’re speed reading or disciple making. For example, in speed reading, you may want to preview the book by reading the title, chapter headings, section headings, words in bold, and the introduction/conclusion. Doing this work ahead of time will help you read more quickly because you are able to predict where the book is going.

Similarly, in disciple making, it is helpful to discern where you are going. In short, we want to help people become disciples of Jesus. But we also want them to become part of the adventure of making disciples. Our purpose is to help make disciples and also to mature disciples by having them participate in the mission of God. It might be helpful to remember three M’s:

  • Making
  • Maturing
  • Mission

The early church multiplied disciples and disciple makers. The result is that both men and women were being thrown into prison for trusting and following Jesus (Acts 8:1). Furthermore, those scattered went about preaching the word, proclaiming Christ, testifying, speaking the word of the Lord, and preaching the gospel (Acts 8:4, 5, 25).


“In disciple making, it is helpful to discern where you are going.”


Churches were planted. Yes, churches are planted when disciples make disciple makers. Being fruitful and multiplying has been part of God’s plan since the Garden of Eden. God multiplies plants, animals, cells in our body—and He multiplies worshipers.

Multiplication is often lacking on the molecular level in our churches. When we focus our time, resources, and energy on programming rather than training, we miss the opportunity for everyone to be a disciple maker. This changes our methods as leaders and prompts us to ask: How do we multiply individuals who are followers of Jesus and who make followers of Jesus?

Again, wise disciple making utilizes techniques that help us discern where we’re going.

3. Enhance/Refine Your Techniques

Third, if we are going to enhance and refine our techniques in speed reading, then we might want to do the same for disciple making. My goal in writing this article is actually to help you get slower. It seems paradoxical that an article comparing speed-reading principles and disciple making would help us to slow down. But it is true!

Dr. Monte Cox, author of Significant Others: Understanding our Non-Christian Neighbors, shaped my thinking about disciple making against the backdrop of the Olympic motto: “faster, higher, stronger.” Cox says that disciples of Jesus actually think “slower, lower, and weaker.”

  • Slow down.
  • Go lower by being humble.
  • Be weaker by knowing that it is only by God’s strength.

Disciple making is relational, and relationships inherently develop slowly. If we want to build networks of disciples who make disciples, it is crucial that we go slower, lower, and weaker. The speed of creating networks is that everyone who is a disciple makes a disciple—but this does not mean that the one person hurries to reach the world by themselves. Refining our technique for disciple making can be better described by the common phrase, “Many hands make light work.”


“If we want to build networks of disciples who make disciples, it is crucial that we go slower, lower, and weaker.”


4. Remember the Goal

Recall that the goal in speed reading is better comprehension. I am no expert on manuals, but follow along with me here. The goal of reading a manual on how to set up a Bluetooth speaker is to be able to play sound from the speaker. Although information in the manual may be helpful as a reference when you have trouble connecting a device, the point of initially reading the manual is what? So that you can listen on the speaker. In the same way, the goal of reading a novel might be to enjoy the words and pictures created by the author, or to be able to appreciate the overarching story or relate to the characters.

If we then know that the mission is about “everyone trusting and following Jesus,” we begin dreaming of God’s mission in the world.

  • Practicing listening to the Holy Spirit
  • Training disciple makers
  • Identifying Unreached People Groups
  • Creating networks
  • Planting churches

Additionally, this becomes our prayer list. Help me and those becoming disciples to listen to the Holy Spirit. Give me wisdom in becoming a disciple who trains disciple makers. Open my eyes to unreached people in our community. Grow a network of your disciples who make disciples. Show us how to plant churches. Disciple making keeps these Kingdom-driven goals in mind and keeps bringing these goals before God as we seek help and guidance.


“If we then know that the mission is about ‘everyone trusting and following Jesus,’ we begin dreaming of God’s mission in the world.”


5. Put It All Together

Finally, speed reading is pointless if, at the end of the day, 80% is forgotten. The way to prevent forgetting what you have learned is to stop and recall by memory what you read. Knight suggests stopping after each chapter or when returning to the book to recall information. In effect, recall promotes focus.[3]

One way to think about this as a disciple is to stop and recall. This forces us to recall our purpose, to consider our techniques, and to evaluate practices. It involves measuring how well we are making disciple-maker makers[4] in our local churches.

Another way to measure this is to count how many of those who are trained disciple makers are training other people. This gives clarity to God’s people, that the mission is that we are called to make disciples who make disciples and that we do that by being disciple makers and by training disciple makers. Now, for some this may mean simply training one person, while for others it may be three, twelve, or a full room of people. The heart of it is that you and I now know that it is our responsibility to train others who train others.

How about you stop and recall? Recall a main point, an idea from speed reading that connects to disciple making, or what specific instructions to put into practice.


“Recall a main point, an idea from speed reading that connects to disciple making, or what specific instructions to put into practice.”


Therefore, beyond words per minute, the way forward is having clarity about our purpose in disciple making. That leads to healthy techniques that help us slow down, dream about God’s kingdom, and measure the things that matter.

One question I frequently get asked is, “How do I start?” I suggest following the values and rhythms of Jesus while having a clear step-by-step approach to starting a group.[5] Utilizing similar language and similar models will help to create a network of disciples to begin to form. I suggest that as we describe things similarly and have similar techniques, we are more readily able to see God’s providential hand at work. God brings the increase![6]

Use your imagination with me for a moment. Imagine if 10% of churches knew their purpose in making disciples, had a clear definition, simple model, and slowed down enough to begin. I believe what you would start to see is disciple makers multiplied and new churches being planted.


“Imagine if 10% of churches knew their purpose in making disciples, had a clear definition, simple model, and slowed down enough to begin.”


To this end, I encourage you to pray this prayer with me:

“God, would you begin with me, being a disciple who makes disciples? Even if no one around me is training others, help me to be a faithful disciple who makes disciples. Would you expand your kingdom in my community as I pay forward a tithe to disciple making and making disciple makers? Lord, when those I have walked beside turn back to the world, let me remain faithful to helping still others follow you. When those who have walked beside me are successful in reaching many others, may you be glorified and not me. To your glory and yours alone! In Jesus’ name, AMEN!”


[1] Kam Knight, Speed Reading: Learn to Read a 200+ Page Book in 1 Hour (2018), 3.

[2] A disciple is someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus and is committed to the mission of Jesus. See Bobby Harrington’s article, https://renew.org/what-is-a-disciple/ for more information.

[3] Knight, 103.

[4] Thank you to Grant Fitzhugh, the campus minister at College Church of Christ in Searcy, AR for coming up with this phrase that has become paramount in our training sessions of college students.

[5] For a video on how to start a disciple making group, see: Disciple Making Seminar | March 25, 2023 or pick up your copy of Trust & Follow Jesus: Conversations that Fuel Discipleship, by Bobby Harrington, Carl & Alicia Williamson.

[6] See 1 Corinthians 3:6-11.

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Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

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