Thursday, September 28, 2006

FAQ: What is the Discipleship Map?

For several years, our sole discipleship goal for NCCers was “plug into a small group and plug into a ministry.” That’s not a bad goal (that was basically Jesus’ goal-- come follow me in community and I will send you out to make disciples). However, our strategy was not taking into consideration each individual’s spiritual history. We needed to develop a system for helping people grow in their faith that was more strategic than simply “pick a small group, any small group.”

The Discipleship Map was developed out of a desire to provide a systematic, logical yet flexible framework to help people take the next steps in their faith journey. American Poet William Stafford wrote of people who want a “wilderness with a map.” That describes our generation. We want to experience the wild and untamed adventure of life, but at the same time, we desire a roadmap of some sort.

The Discipleship Map includes the groups, retreats, classes, and experiences that we believe every NCCer should participate in during their time at NCC. It is built around the Seeker, Learner, Influencer, Investor framework for discipleship. So, the journey begins with Alpha, a practical introduction to the Christian faith. Then, explorers can move to Journey, an outpost island 8-week small group that prepares people for the map by introducing them to the four dimensions of discipleship (Seeker, Learner, Influencer, and Investor).

Each island has a "port city" that serves as an introduction to that particular dimension of discipleship. Then, each map contains other experiences to help people continue to grow in that particular characteristic. We designed the map so that a person could complete Alpha, Journey, and the 4 port cities in 2 years time-- which is the average length of time we have a person at NCC.

The map is different from most discipleship strategies in the following ways:

  • It is not linear. Rather, it is rooted in the belief that discipleship is a journey. Instead of giving a linear set of points to reach or boxes to check off, it gives road markers to help people navigate their spiritual growth.
  • It is not one-size-fits-all. It does not assume that everyone needs to learn in the same pattern. There is flexibility to jump in and out as needed.
  • It does not have an endpoint. The journey never ends. Individuals are encouraged to explore Alpha, Journey, and the 4 port cities. From there, each island will be populated with other discipleship experiences, and our small groups help people continue their journeys. We never “arrive” at home plate or at the top of a ladder. It is a life-long process of discovery and growth.


At 4:26 AM, Anonymous Pastor Chris said...


Very interesting map! It is very close to our current thinking and we have actually been talking as a team about having an "islands" mentality approach to our church growth strategy. But I was interested in your comment that NCC only expects to have people for 2-years; what do you mean? Why?

I am a Pastor in the UK, working as part of a staff team where my responsibility is for pastoring people until they are part of the church. My drive is evangelism, but also to establish and disciple people - from the world into the church family.

We are focused on church growth, from convert growth, and i have spent a lot of time seeking to answer the questions about shutting the back door so that as people come through our doors we can help them to stick, grow, be transformed and fulfil their God given potential by becoming part of the church family.

Why do you think people move on, and is this a natural thing that we have to accept, or can we do something about it? Should we?

I'd be interested in your thoughts!

Chris Drury

Pastor, Fulwood Free Methodist Church, Preston (UK)
see: for my story
See to find out more about us

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Heather Z said...


I have no idea when you might have left this comment-- I just found it as I was digging around in the archives. We only have people at NCC for about 2 years because that's the average time a person stays in DC. Our church just happens to be in a very transient city. We are 25% college students. And the majority of our congregation work on Capitol Hill, in the Administration, or in some other political or politically-related capacity. It's just the nature of the area. It's very fluid and always changing.

Groups are definitely key to the "stickiness factor"

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Pastor Chris said...

I agree, helping people to connect in small groups has to be key to helping them become part of any church family, and to feeling valued, wanted and important.

The challenge, and something we are thinking through here, is that a "course" mentality approach can develop (be it moving from Alpha to other islands) so that people see themselves doing "courses" or "programmes" and not seeing them as being bridges into an incarnational family.

Do you have these challenges, or does the transient nature of DC mean you haven't had to think about this?

Pastor Chris

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Hey Pastor Chris-

Good comments and thoughts. Actually, I don't have a problem with people developing a "course" mentality on some of these things. Don't get me wrong-- I think community is key. But some people are wired with a more "intellectual" approach to discipleship, and we have a lot of those folks in DC. So I'm okay with having a little of that "course" feel to some of these experiences.

The reality, however, is that all of these map experiences occur within the context of our small group structure. So there is still a high relational factor to them. We are only about a year into this map experiment, but here are a few things we've discovered:

**Several people last year formed a group and moved from island to island on the map to explore together.

**Some groups are taking the core discipleship/map group curriculum to do within their already existing community/fellowship/small group.

**People come to the core discipleship groups-- which are short and don't really focus that much on community building-- but in the group they will meet other people and get plugged into their more traditional community groups the following semester.

The other thing that keeps people from simply "checking off boxes" is the fact that it's non-linear.

In addition to the groups listed on the map, we've got about 60 traditional small groups which are more relationally-driven than content-driven.

We are still trying to figure it out, and we certainly don't have all the answers! We've got lots to learn, but it's an exciting process.

Tell us a little more about what your discipleship looks like.


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