3 Steps to Making Discipleship the Core of Your Ministry

By Doug Franklin July 22, 2020

There’s a growing trend in churches to make discipleship the core of their youth ministries.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve been noticing. These discipleship-focused churches are unwilling to watch students walk away from their faith in college; instead, they’re on a mission to raise up a generation that’s been discipled and knows how to disciple others.

I’ve watched these youth ministries replace games and entertainment with many of the necessary components for discipleship. Elements like relational ministry, small groups, and even student leadership.

Spend time with these ministries and, like me, you’ll realize that they are truly poised to help students reach spiritual maturity.

Rather than settling for shallow faith, they are preparing students to make a commitment to faith in Christ, feed themselves spiritually, AND consistently live out their faith at church and in the world.

And my guess is that because you’re reading this post, you’d like to join them. If you haven’t yet made this switch or you’re struggling to take the first step, here’s our simple roadmap for making discipleship the core of your ministry.

THE ROADMAP TO making discipleship the core


You might be surprised to hear that many Bible-believing ministries are not teaching students the Gospel. I don’t mean to say that their teaching isn’t based in Scripture; I mean that many youth ministries give students an incomplete picture of the Gospel at best.

Sometimes it’s the result of misplaced priorities. When a ministry prioritizes biblical literacy over discipleship, students develop a knowledge of God, but they often miss out on a relationship with him.

Other times it’s a ministry’s topical approach to teaching that can get in the way. It’s not bad or wrong to have a yearly series on dating or a lesson based on a pressing current event, but we’ve got to be careful.

If we don’t teach and reinforce the core truths of the Gospel, students can graduate from our ministries with critical gaps in their knowledge of the faith.

At LeaderTreks, we reinforce one of 8 core truths of the Gospel, which we call the “8 Roots of Deep Discipleship,” in every Deep Discipleship lesson we create. If you want to strategically teach the whole Gospel, the 8 Roots of Deep Discipleship is a great approach.

>>>>>Read “What Disciples Should Know About Scripture” to get an in-depth look at each of the 8 Roots, where they’re found in Scripture, and the core Gospel message they teach.


You’ve probably done the hard work of setting up small groups and getting students paired with caring adult volunteers. But here’s a piece of hard truth: small groups alone don’t inherently lead to discipleship.

Have you ever noticed that most of your small group leaders resort to the somewhat robotic walk-through of their weekly lesson? Do you ever hear the proverbial, “Just stick with me for five more minutes, and we’ll be done.”?

If so, your small groups probably aren’t discipling students and discipleship isn’t yet the core of your ministry.

Sticking a printout lesson in a volunteer’s hand and unleashing them on the students just isn’t enough. No one has ever been discipled by a talk sheet.

We need to start thinking of small groups like we think about power tools. You don’t just hand a novice construction worker a circular saw or a nail gun. You train them how to use it. You carefully coach them in the steps to take and the pitfalls to avoid.

Remember, most of your adult volunteers have never been discipled themselves. They may want to utilize their small group time for the purpose of discipleship, but they need to know how.

A critical step in making discipleship the core of your ministry is training adult volunteers in a step-by-step process to disciple students.

At LeaderTreks, we provide Tips and Training in each Deep Discipleship curriculum as well as video training in the HERO TrainingZone to help you train your adult volunteers to disciple the students in their small groups.

>>>>>Watch the video below to preview how we teach and train volunteers on the practical side of discipleship. You can also download the LeaderTreks Discipleship Model and Training Video.


The last step in making discipleship the core of your ministry is to encourage spiritual maturity in students. Not only are we called to introduce students to Jesus—we’re also told to grow them toward a mature faith. This looks like helping students live out the “marks of a disciple.”

A “mark of a disciple” is a sign of maturity. It’s evidence that the Gospel is bearing fruit in a student’s life.

It’s true that no one but the Holy Spirit can transform the heart of a student. But as leaders we are responsible for reflecting, uncovering, and resembling the truth that saves lives and makes disciples. We offer nudges, whispers, and embraces along the way.

We do that by teaching students how to apply their faith. We instruct. We model. We encourage. And we hold students accountable.

You know that discipleship is at the core of your ministry when you begin to see signs of maturity in your students.

You’ll see students trying to live their lives in obedience to what Jesus has commanded, and, in the process they’ll call more people to follow Christ. Because they’ve grown into a more mature disciple, they’ll go out into the world and make more disciples.

At LeaderTreks, we provide a “mark of a disciple” in every Deep Discipleship lesson. We also equip adult volunteers with tools called “discipleship maps” inside of HERO’s Youth Ministry Apps as well as the Know Growth Volunteer Journal. These “discipleship maps” help volunteers measure students’ spiritual growth by knowing what signs of maturity and warning signs to look for in students.

>>>>> Read the “8 Characteristics of a Disciple” to get a clear picture of a what a mature disciple looks like. You’ll see that it’s possible to measure spiritual growth, and you’ll find a resource to help your volunteers do the same.

If you’re ready to make discipleship the core of your youth ministry, do these three things. First, evaluate your strategy. Are your students repeatedly hearing the core truths of the Gospel? Second, develop a training program for your adult volunteers. Equip them with the tools to disciple the students in their small groups. Third, help students live out the “marks of a disciple.” Alongside your volunteers, teach, model, and spur your students on towards maturity.

If you take these three steps, you’ll join the movement towards deeper discipleship.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More