This past March, our church took a survey for the second year in a row, aimed at helping us assess our growth as disciples. We did this because of our conviction that fruitful discipleship is central to our vision to see a gospel movement on the North Shore. Discipleship is the “irreducible minimum” in all of our efforts to see Christ’s kingdom come to earth in Essex County because everything hinges on whether we, as the people of God, are truly being transformed—knowing that our aim is not “arrival,” but continued growth (Philippians 3:12-16).
The purpose of our annual Discipleship Survey is help us reflect, as both individuals and as a whole church, on where we are in our discipleship journey, as well as where and how we can grow. This past year we had 194 people respond to the survey (a significant sample size). Here are 3 takeaways:
1) Spiritual Growth is Steady & Comprehensive
This past year, 89% of respondents (compared to 83% last year) felt they had experienced “some spiritual growth” or “significant spiritual growth” as opposed to only 11% who felt their growth had either “plateaued” or “declined.” Of that number, 30% of all respondents felt they had experienced “significant spiritual growth” (29% last year), over the past twelve months.
Most encouragingly, from the questions related to our five characteristics of growing disciples, our people reported growth in all five characteristics. We were able to measure this growth among the whole group that took the survey, as well as among those who reported taking the 2019 survey. Here is a breakdown for your encouragement:
2) Particular Growth in Missional Engagement & Multiplication
The highest area of growth was in characteristic #4, related to “living on mission.” Over half (52%) of respondents felt that they were “very aware of their everyday settings where God has placed them for mission, and were very intentional about living as a witness for Christ there,” compared with only 37% who could respond this way the year before. Likewise, 37% could say that they are “currently leading someone else to live as a gospel-centered disciple,” compared to just 26% the year before.
What makes these numbers even more encouraging is that they align with what has anecdotally been the experience of many of our leaders. At our staff meetings, for example, we share encouragements we’re hearing of God at work in the life of the church. During this past year, we’ve heard story after story of people engaging missionally with their coworkers, neighbors, and friends—many for the first time—as well as stories of people taking “baby steps” towards intentionally discipling others. The “data” then, seemed to fit with the stories we’re hearing and witnessing.
3) …And Yet More Room to Grow!
Nonetheless, we also found that people seemed to identify the most room for growth in these same areas. When asked “in which of the five characteristics of a disciple do you feel you have the most room for growth?”, the top response was “multiplying your faith” (35%).
Likewise, though we noticed the highest percentage growth in the area of “Living on Mission,” with people reporting how they’re feeling very aware of their missional calling, and also reporting greater intentionality in living as witnesses for Christ, it seems that this has yet to spill over into more explicit and regular instances of verbally communicating the gospel.
In the part of the survey where the North Shore Gospel Partnership (NSGP) Surveyed “spiritual practices,” for example, only 6% of respondents mentioned “personally sharing their faith with someone who is not a Christian” more than 10 times over the past year. This means that 94% of our church is verbally communicating the gospel less than once a month. While we believe that being a “witness” for Christ includes a robust combination of word and deed, evangelism and justice, declaring and demonstrating the gospel, we must never forget that boldly communicating the gospel message, in loving and appropriate ways, is integral to a gospel movement.
We recognize that no survey is perfect, and there are real limitations to this one as well. Nonetheless, we are encouraged by this year’s survey, and by the many intangible signs we see of kingdom advance as well. May we not coast, but only press on to know and serve Christ more!
Check out our simple online pathways to help you explore how you might develop each of the characteristics of a disciple in your own life.