How to facilitate discipleship post-COVID?



Feb 13


Peter Botross

The Church is commissioned to make disciples who make disciples until the second coming of Jesus Christ. Facts!

The recent events surrounding the Covid 19 global pandemic have forced churches across the world to rethink their discipleship approaches. Churches are now experimenting with online services and mid-week options. Whilst some churches see this as an opportunity, others feel like they have been forced into it. There’s truth to both those views.

Regardless, we all know that discipleship requires far more deliberation than simply publishing online content on YouTube or posting regularly on Facebook, Instagram or Tiktok. These platforms are a good start, but they certainly don’t make the cut!

So if these platforms are not the be all and end all, what is required in order to facilitate effective online discipleship?

Here are some insights and tips for how you can facilitate effective ONLINE discipling environments in your local ministry. We draw these findings from 20 years of training adults, from our research in a Doctorate in Education, from years of ministry experimentation and from successfully running online discipleship groups (that defied geographical boundaries and captured people from around the world) long before COVID hit.

Further, from the PhD findings of Dr. Hannaford conducted at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2012, we can confidently suggest that relational connections within a community are no longer constrained to physical environments.

Another research conducted in North Western Nazarene University USA, asserted that “students develop significant relationships that support them in ministry and in life… (and that) most of them would argue that they experience more authentic community in their online classes than in traditional courses.” Surely, that’s a jaw dropping finding for many. Online is not a threat, it’s an opportunity.

In another research conducted about online learning, participant reported “to have grown closer to God, developed deeper relationships to other students, and expended their horizons with respect to worship, spiritual disciplines, and course content.”

Wow, so how can you too jump on this bandwagon and witness similar results, and how can you implement effective online learning within your church context? Here are some ideas:


1. Foster a Blended Learning Approach

Don’t be rigid and catch yourself whenever you think of extremes, there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Transformative learning requires online and face to face interactions. That’s what we call blended learning.

Face-to-face interaction (at strategic points) within an online program will promote the already-developing authentic relationships within that community.

Rather than being totally online, learning should include some face-to-face session/workshops/intensives. Preferably one of those should be scheduled at the start of the learning journey given that meeting people in person creates significant relational connections. Blended learning incorporates the best of both worlds. Use it to your advantage as best as you can.

2. Agree on Purpose and Expectations

Transformative learning requires agreeing on the group’s shared purpose, values and expectations.

Learning communities require agreed rules in order to establish norms for relationships, accountability, direction for learning and to encourage strong and intimate relationships within the group. So at the commencement of your online group, set aside time to agree on a common purpose and share the agreed values that will guide your group interactions and culture. Agreeing on purpose and expectations will ensure more effective outcomes.


3. Facilitate Diverse Activities

Transformative learning requires a diverse set of activities to support the holistic development of its members.

You probably agree that the most important goal for discipleship is to facilitate the holistically transformation of learners. This requires a diversity of activities, such as brainstorming, group discussions, engaging with information, reflective practice, storytelling, music, song and other tactile expressions.

To do this well, be sure to structure activities that encourage learners to also interact outside their assigned meeting times. This can be done through the use of discussion boards, chats or collaborative projects.

Think creatively and create activities that cater for different learning style.


4. Develop Authentic Partnerships

Transformative learning requires authentic partnerships within the whole group, as well as authentic partnerships between one-on-one mentors and mentees.

Research suggests that there is a direct correlation between positive relationships among learners and how committed they are to the success of others in their group, how hard they work, and how productive they are. The more learners care about each other, the more they will put in a greater effort to achieve mutual goals.

Online learning should facilitate intentional activities so that individuals are able to foster authentic connections, share their stories, culture and context.

Mutual accountability is also integral in developing healthy and thriving online communities and partnerships, therefore encourage individuals to have a mentor in their local context with whom they have an authentic and accountable relationship.


5. Encourage Hard Conversations

Transformative learning requires honest and transparent communication.

This takes place when participants feel safe and comfortable enough to respectfully question others about their opinions and practices etc.

Did you know that confrontation leads to greater commitment in groups? Confrontation actually moves participants from being collaborative, to being committed. Don’t avoid polite confrontation or shut it down. Encourage it, but just ensure that it’s done in line with the agreed community values!


6. Design an Exit Strategy

Transformative learning requires a sensitive approach to terminating a learning community when that time comes.

Be mindful that some individuals will feel a sense of grief about this, so assisting people to prepare for this adjustment can take place by providing space and time for them to share stories, celebrate learning experiences and share and process their feelings about the group coming to an end.

And there you have it, 6 tips that can assist you as you design a blended learning environment most conducive for discipleship.

If you would like to learn more about our discipleship training, we’d love you to sign up for GenJ Equipping Disciplers online training course. It’s informative, research-based and practical. And… it’s totally FREE.