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Weekend Gatherings in Disciple Making Churches

Over 1% of the world’s population is currently engaged in a disciple making movement.[1] Some experts say this includes 2-3%+ of the people in China and India. Disciple Making Movements (DMM) may be the most exciting thing happening in Christianity today. These movements are literally multiplying disciples every week.[2]

The success of Disciple Making Movement churches (DMM) is not based upon large weekend gatherings.

Rather, DMMs multiply disciples by utilizing Discovery Bible Study Groups or Three-third Groups. These smaller, decentralized groups are the primary strategy of multiplication. They are nimble, based upon the ministry of everyday disciples and are not focused on large Sunday gatherings.

Effective as they are, we cannot find entrenched examples of DMMs in North America.

But there is hope for North American churches. There are churches in the USA with disciples of Jesus reproducing disciples.

“There is hope for North American churches. There are churches in the USA with disciples of Jesus reproducing disciples.”

Based upon the national research conducted by Grey Matters, my team at (with the help of Exponential) discovered that there are just under 5% of churches in North America that are reproducing disciples.[3] Reproducing disciples is more time-consuming and it requires harder work than multiplying disciples (which I believe is based upon a special movement of the Holy Spirit), but reproducing disciples is still exciting, important ministry.

Those who reproduce disciples do it intentionally in the context of personal discipling relationships over time—often over a period of three years. Those who multiply disciples also do it intentionally, but there is a special culture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, where multiplication happens faster, with disciples being multiplied in three-to-six months as a part of rapid growth. Again, we are not witnessing the establishment of this kind of movement yet in North America. But we do witness churches that reproduce disciples.

Most of the churches reproducing disciples hold weekend gatherings and guide people into discipling relationships in small groups and smaller, transparent-space groups.[4]

Moving People into Discipling Groups

How do the churches that are reproducing disciples move people from weekend gatherings into small groups?

Jim Putman is one of the country’s leading experts and practitioners in creating disciple making churches that are reproducing disciples and disciple makers. He is the founder of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, a church which has planted many reproducing churches and, in the midst of all their church planting, they still witness a weekend attendance of around 8,000.

I have worked with Jim for many years and we will share insights for senior ministers/pastors on how to transition a church focused on weekend gatherings to a church that emphasizes both weekend gatherings and discipling groups. We will share these insights at our upcoming Learning Community event for senior ministers/pastors (only) on July 7th at

Click here for more.

If you are a senior minister/pastor and you would like to find out more about our learning communities, email

The Basic Strategy in Weekend Gatherings

Here is the basic strategy that Jim and his team utilize in the church’s weekend gatherings. He calls it the 3-C Strategy:

  • Challenge
  • Celebrate
  • Connect

The kind of churches that we are talking about have heavily invested in staff who focus on raising up disciple makers. That means that, when people attend weekend gatherings, there are lots of everyday disciple makers who have been prepared to help those who attend the church to be discipled outside the large gathering in small groups or transparent groups.

At a weekend gathering, the attendees will be encouraged to get into a group in the following ways:


People will be presented regularly with a vision of discipling groups during the teaching time and through other means during the weekend service. They will hear stories of discipling groups and how they help people to truly live as disciples of Jesus. They will also be challenged in every large gathering to take the next step. That next step is typically a step into an environment where they can make connections to help them meet people from a discipling group they can then check out (see below).


The large gathering will celebrate the key elements of church culture. The key slogan says it all: people imitate what church leaders celebrate. So, the leaders of the weekend services share stories and progress in disciple making. There is a celebration of baptisms in discipling groups, new discipling groups, new leaders of discipling groups, and new apprentices of discipling groups. Discipling group attendance is celebrated more than weekend service attendance, although both are important.


Since the goal is to get as many people as possible to join a group, there are specific practices and habits designed to help people take the next step toward a discipling group. Typically, people who are attending the weekend service will need bridge gatherings—from guest reception connections to men’s breakfasts to women’s gatherings—because people typically need to connect with people outside a group before they will join a discipling group. A smaller number can jump directly from the weekend service with a connection made to a group leader there or with staff help into a small group.

Visualizing the Process

In churches that are reproducing disciples (by everyday disciples making disciples), we witness at least an 80% participation rate in discipling groups (with some going up to 100%). To help you visualize the process of people moving from hearing about a church to attending a church to joining a discipling group, look at the following two funnels. The first is from Real Life Ministries (where Jim is lead minister/pastor) and the second is from my church, Harpeth Christian Church (where I serve as lead minister/pastor).

Are you a senior minister/pastor and you would like to join our July 7 Learning Community event with Jim Putman to learn more about how these funnels describe the discipleship path and how to develop a reproducing disciple making church? If so, please contact

[1] See for details.

[2] provides the following definition of a Disciple Making Movement (DMM): “A rapid and exponential increase in disciple making churches (1,000 or more) within a local culture who plant multiple churches and these churches are churches who multiply disciples, groups, and churches of obedience-based disciples so that we can see at least four generations of churches produced in six streams of disciple-making activity and these streams multiply consistently into churches (100 churches or more within 2 to 5 years).”

[3] “National Study on Disciple Making in USA Churches: High Aspirations Amidst Disappointing Results,”

[4] See more details on the transparent space in Harrington and Absalom, Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow.

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