7 Predictions for Discipleship in 2016

Look up.

The goal of discipleship hasn’t changed in 2000 years, but the mode of discipleship has always shifted with changes in culture (both secular and sacred), technology, and politics. Here are 7 predictions about discipleship in 2016 that are being influenced by those 3 factors.

1. Churches discipling millennials successfully will be good at micro-communication.

Millennials are all over Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and chat (iMessage/Hangouts/Whatsapp/Kik). Their attention span hasn’t dropped, but their communication style is increasingly characterized by very small interactions that carry deep meaning through subtle nuances. Send the wrong emoji or forget to add a 😉 to your sarcastic message and a millennial will panic.

If you’re still leaning on a 30+ minute sermon (lecture/speech) to communicate with millennials, you’re depending on the wrong vessel to carry your message to the youngest adult generation.

2. Video will continue to require less production and more spontaneity in order to feel authentic and connect with online viewers.

People are used to watching YouTube celebrities recording million-view videos on their iPhone, selfie Vines of people walking down the street, and Snapchat videos of entertaining nonsense they watch over and over.

Your 3-minute, high-production-value “sermonette” with an intro, outro, and lower thirds is going to feel very canned. Setup your smartphone against a book on your desk (with good lighting) and just talk. It’s easier and people will like it better. I promise. Nils Smith made a great simple course on how to do iPhone videos right.

3. In-person classes will continue to lose ground as the primary learning environment while online courses will gain momentum with every age group.

As important as practice and devotion are to discipleship, learning is still central to the process of growing as a Jesus follower. Requiring that learning to happen on your church campus just doesn’t scale and churches of every size and budget are beginning to realize it.

We’ve already seen this trend for the past several years. RightNow and Ministry Grid have each been in this space for a few years and my company, TrainedUp, is just getting off the ground and already seeing exciting levels of adoption and usage.

4. Learning/training will continue to make a resurgence as a primary activity of discipleship.

After many years of “experiential discipleship,” churches are seeing the lack of effectiveness of disciples who don’t know the Bible well. Learning the Bible, and how to appropriately apply it to life, will regain ground as a widely-understood reality.

That means learning has to be balanced with practice and churches who find that balance will dominate ministry in their communities.

5. Christians will pull away from politics and pastors will continue to distance themselves from particular parties.

This may be more aspirational than actual, but I see Christians more and more losing interest in politics as a way to bring about change in lives and communities. And, either as a leader or a follower of that trend, pastors will preach less on voting right and more on living right.

I believe this is connected to a loss of trust in politicians, a sense of distance from the general direction of American culture, and an increasing realization of the futility of government to correct moral decay.

6. Churches who win in discipleship will figure out how to measure progress.

Measuring discipleship wins is one of the hardest things in church leadership life. How do you measure when someone is growing closer to Jesus?

Those churches that find success will understand how the “principle of the fruit” works. That is, they understand that bearing fruit is an outward sign of inward change.

That means the numbers that churches track will change, too. Instead of attendance and overall budget giving, they’ll measure ministry mobilization, ratio of givers to non-givers (even better, systematic givers versus casual givers), and number of guests invited by members.

7. Programs will die and individual responsibility will take precedence.

Churches, for years, have been a central place where the faithful go to be ministered to. Churches that figure out the sweet spot of discipleship will flip that model and instead equip people to minister in their neighborhoods, releasing them to start Bible studies, host block parties, and share the Gospel without the need of a church-sanctioned program.

That shift is already happening in many churches (and has been happening for a while), but the trend will pick up speed in 2016 and we’ll see formal training materialize to help churches that want to make that shift.