Five time-tested discipleship models

Editor’s Note: The following material was first introduced several years ago in a Discipleship Training Resource entitled, “Becoming a Disciple-making Church” by Steve J. Williams. It has been updated and is used by permission. This is the final of three articles. This week we will look at five models for disciple-making:

Just over a generation ago most churches did disciple-making the same way. They did it in ongoing, age-graded groups that studied dated quarterlies and met on Sunday nights. Disciple-making began to change rapidly in the Sixties and Seventies as churches found that not everyone wanted to do disciple-making the same way. It may seem there are about as many ways to do disciple-making today as there are churches. However, most churches use one of five basic models for disciple-making:

The Henry Ford Model

This is a simple model based on ongoing, age-graded groups, using dated or undated periodicals/resources and meeting at the same time each week. It is the easiest of the five models to implement. The biggest job is the enlisting of leaders to operate it and choosing the resources to be used.

The Cafeteria Model

Choice is a big reason to go Cafeteria. A good mix of classes, studies and seminars dealing with a wide variety of subjects can be offered. Most adults today consider having options a right and not a privilege. Take away their options, and they may not participate. The Cafeteria model requires a good bit more planning and administration than does the Henry Ford Model. And it is a big step toward a process-driven approach to disciple-making which describes our next three models. Churches that use a process-driven model tend to view discipleship as a highly personal matter and recognize that individual needs vary.

The Sequential Model

A major distinction between the Sequential Model and the Cafeteria Model is in curriculum choices. Churches that use the Cafeteria model usually select resources based on people’s needs and interests. Those using the Sequential Model offer experiences based on readiness level and encourage people to participate in the ones they are most ready for. Sequencing the experiences people participate in means a church needs to have a system for determining which ones are appropriate for various levels of maturity. People then select courses based on what they believe they are ready for, but they are not required to take experiences in any particular order. A good example is Saddleback Church’s 100, 200, 300 and 400 level course system.

The University Model

Two things set the University Model apart from the Sequential Model. One, they have a core curriculum and, two, they require some experiences to be taken in a certain order. The core curriculum says that all believers need to take certain foundational courses in a prescribed order. Most University Model churches offer other experiences in addition to their core curriculum. It’s always good for a church to offer a general track of experiences alongside its core curriculum track. It’s that options thing again!

The Small-group Model

The most effective small groups typically have 5-6 couples or 8-12 persons. Most meet in homes. Small groups have flexibility in curriculum choices. They may be free to choose their own study resources or they may be required to choose from what the church recommends. Either way, they can tailor studies to match the needs and readiness of group members.

Is one of the five models for disciple-making better than the others? The answer is both yes and no. One model is definitely better than the others for some churches, but there is no pot of gold among the models. Each church must decide which model is best for it. For help in developing a disciple-making strategy for your church and for a list of resources available, go to the Missouri Baptist Convention Discipleship web page ( or contact Mark Donnell at 800-736-6227 ext. 331 (