The Fatal Flaw of Discipleship Strategies

The Fatal Flaw of Discipleship Strategies

I’ve probably spent the last 15 years of my life trying things in the local churches I’ve led or with leaders I’m coaching or walking alongside to help them innovate discipleship strategies. And more recently at Catapult, we’ve been piloting some new strategies to help churches create a discipleship process that really gets the fruit they are going after. As you can imagine, the learning has been in overdrive.
The more I’ve done this work, the more I see that there are probably 6 different kinds of Discipleship churches.


Each has a different strategy, different outcomes, pros, cons and almost all of them have a fatal flaw. But as you’ll discover at the end, there is one fatal flaw they all have in common.

Church #1: Discipleship as Preaching

Headline: Churches with this discipleship strategy love (mostly) expositional preaching and rightly dividing the Word of God. And that’s a good thing!

Greatest Strength: This creates a culture of people who love the Word of God in both their Sunday morning experience and in daily times with the Lord, nourishing them as they go.

Fatal Flaw: These churches overestimate what preaching can do in and of itself. Did Jesus preach? Absolutely. But the Bible shows that’s not what the majority of his discipleship process looked like. Jesus was the best disciple-maker who ever lived. And while preaching was part of his strategy, it was a small piece of it.

Church #2: It’s all organic, baby.

Headline: Disciples are made in the everyday comings and goings of life; after all, the Great Commission says, “and as you go, make disciples.”

Greatest Strength: Some things are simply better caught than taught. The organic process allows people to learn from the places of real life where the Gospel is being lived out, in real time. After all, how much of the twelve disciples formation happened just by being with Jesus and processing in real time?

Fatal Flaw: There is often a lack of intentionality, focus and overall direction for where the person being discipled is being taken. Sometimes it feels like it’s just two people in a coffee shop or bar hanging out and it’s not really going anywhere. Jesus knew exactly where he wanted to take twelve and was exceptionally intentional about getting them there.

Church #3: Just join a small group!

Headline: The seeker sensitive movement and simple church emphasis created a place for everyone in the church to go. Most churches are using some version of a small group strategy. But does it lead to spiritual transformation?

Greatest Strength: People can form deep relationships with a consistent group of people over a long period of time who can love them, grow with them, walk with them and speak into their life.

Fatal Flaw: Ultimately the small group strategy started as a kind of relational flypaper. Churches were trying to close the “back door” of the church. Small groups are great at cultivating relationships because that’s what they were designed for. But they weren’t necessarily designed to help people grow spiritually or propel them into mission. The real fatal flaw? A fair number of small groups are led by spiritually immature people leading other spiritually immature people.

Church #4: We’ve got a program for that.

Headline: This strategy focuses on creating a large choice of classes and programs that pinpoint people’s felt needs and then seek to deliver the goods.

Greatest Strength: People are able to locate a place of weakness, pain point or something they simply want to learn and then applies the Gospel to that specific area.

Fatal Flaw: There are a couple. First, it creates a caste system of the elite vs. consumers of religious goods and services. Second, very rarely does this discipleship strategy create a culture where people are engaging in everyday mission or discipling people of their own. Third, it means the church is always looking for “the next program” to scratch the itch of those consumers.

Church #5: Discipleship as a spark.

Headline: Churches deploy and execute a system for discipleship that leads to reproduction, train people in it and release them as yeast into the dough of the church and wider community.

Greatest Strength: Reproduction gets into the water and as you get into generational disciple-making where disciples are making disciples, it leads to people outside the church who don’t know Jesus yet. Discipleship is now leading to evangelism.

Fatal Flaw: This model is built on low control. That can sometimes be positive, but there’s often a drawback with unintended consequences. The spark that you light might look different than you think it should. Or maybe it burns something down.

Church #6: Discipleship as optional.

Headline: Churches with this strategy see the almost exclusive mission of the church to get people to heaven when they die and very little time or energy is spent on this present life.

Greatest Strength: There tends to be a heavy evangelistic fervor in this culture, albeit for a very small version of the Gospel.

Fatal Flaw: When discipleship is seen as separate from the Gospel, as an optional add-on, it means people are missing the essential ingredients for transformation. They might go to heaven when they die, but they often cause a lot of misery and brokenness while on earth. Very few people who aren’t Christians look at their lives and think, “I want that kind of life.”

But what’s the fatal flaw they all have in common?

One of the things we’ve found at Catapult is virtually all of these plans are IMPORTED or CUT-AND-PASTED from other places. And what might have worked in one place rarely works in a different place…or it works quite differently. For instance, the small group strategy that might be producing a lot of specific outcomes for Andy Stanley at North Point might be imported somewhere else and rarely gets the same results. (Which, by the way, is an incredibly frustrating experience for pastors!)


So what’s the fatal flaw? It’s not having a contextualized discipleship process built on your church’s DNA.


It’s for this very reason that we created the Disciple Making Innovation Lab. We wanted to help churches create something unique to their DNA, theology, vision and context that leads to deep spiritual transformation and reproduction of disciples who make disciples. (And actually works!)

Wanna hear a little more about this Lab? Check out this video and get more info at this page.

Schedule a Call to Hear More.

What does Weezer have to do with Church Innovation?

What does Weezer have to do with Church Innovation?

At the end of 1995, Rivers Cuomo enrolled at Harvard University to study classical composition.

There were two things that separated Cuomo from the rest of his classmates. First, he’d recently undergone the Ilizarov procedure. When he was born, his left leg was two inches shorter than his right leg, and the painful procedure involved breaking the bones, a steel brace and months of stretching and physiotherapy. Th second differentiator? As the frontman of the band Weezer, he was one of the most famous new rock stars on the planet. The Blue Album had just been certified platinum (selling more than 1,000,000 copies), including iconic tracks like The Sweater Song, My Name is Jonas and Say it Ain’t So.

 In the end, classical composition didn’t stick. “”The only time I could write songs,” Cuomo later commented on his time at Harvard, “was when my frozen dinner was in the microwave. The rest of the time I was doing homework.” He dropped out two semesters before graduating, citing a hatred for modern classical composition and wistful longing for a Weezer reunion (He eventually finished his degree in 2006, earning a BA in English).

 But one thing did stick from his time at Harvard, and not something you’d expect for someone who’d later write inane lyrics like for a song called “Beverly Hills”:

 Beverly Hills
That’s where I want to be!
Gimme gimme gimme gimme
Living in Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills
Rolling like a celebrity!
Gimme gimme gimme gimme
Living in Beverly Hills

So what stuck at Harvard? He started to obsessively use the programming language Python to study music and then generate new musical ideas. Yes. You read that correctly.

 As Gab Ginsberg wrote in her article for Billboard magazine, “The Weezer frontman has lengthy used algorithms to optimize his songwriting, funneling creativity by way of laptop applications just like the programming language Python. Cuomo is thought to carefully dismantle a success music, analyzing every component to seek out precisely what works, and apply that information to his personal writing.”

In other words, he wanted to take the mystery out of why some music works and other music doesn’t. Why does a song become a hit?

Over time, his acumen grew, and so did his legendary spreadsheets. In describing the writing of a recent Weezer album, Cuomo commented, “I wrote a program to get all the information from Spotify’s API, and we seemed on the songs that have been hottest that weren’t tagged “basic rock” or “various rock,” and that got here out earlier than 1994…I feel there have been about 200 songs within the report, so we picked the highest ones and began studying them.”

He doesn’t just study them. He uses them to generate tempos, chord progressions and hooks (the catchiest part of a song that gets stuck in your head). Talking about their 2017 release Pacific Daydream, Rolling Stone journalist Brendan Walter wrote, “Cuomo estimates he drew on thousands of riffs, chord progressions, and beats stored on his home computer for the album, and even wrote a custom formula in Google Sheets to pair up musical ideas – some dating back to 2000 — based on their key and tempo.”

Everyone thinks that what makes some songs successful is a mystery. Rivers Cuomo turned into an algorithm on Python.

Weezer has dropped 13 albums. According to Nielsen, they have 1.4 billion on demand streams. The ridiculous song Beverly Hills? As of the writing of this book, it’s been watched 52 million times on YouTube. Weezer songs are generally stupid, shallow and inane. But they are also wickedly catchy, and they’ve been writing hits (and cashing those royalty checks!) for more than 25 years.

Rivers Cuomo literally created an algorithm to crack the code of “Why do these songs work?”

So let’s make a hard right turn and talk a little bit about kingdom innovation. Now I’m not here to say that anyone can “crack the code” for how innovation works within the life of the church or the kingdom. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, he’s known as the wild goose for a reason! But I do think when God is on the move and he’s clearly up to something, we are wise to ask, “Why is this innovation working? What is God doing? What’s at work here?”


Because God is in the multiplication business.

That innovation that started with one person, or one group…God may very well want to multiply it. How do we know this? Well Jesus says that a kingdom return is a like a farmer who scatters seed and receives 10, 30, 60, 100 fold in return. That’s multiplication!

What Rivers Cuomo did was simply pay enough attention to what people like about hit songs to codify the process. I think the Lord wants to call a whole new generation to pay attention to what he’s up to in this brave new world and learn how to innovate within it.

My new book on kingdom innovation, Ready or Not, is almost here! It comes out on October 6 and I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy!