LifeWay Research surveyed 7,000 churches in 2008 to discover the principles involved with healthy congregations. Last year, LifeWay’s researchers went back into the field to focus on individual believers, asking more than 4,000 people about their spiritual lives and level of maturity.
The project has identified eight biblical factors that consistently show up in the life of a maturing believer. Those “attributes of discipleship” are:
1. Bible engagement
2. Obeying God and denying self
3. Serving God and others
4. Sharing Christ
5. Exercising faith
6. Seeking God
7. Building relationships
8. Unashamed transparency
“Jesus called us to make disciples of all nations, so we wanted to discover the common traits for those maturing in their faith,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We have collected and analyzed a huge amount of data about how each of these attributes leads to transformational discipleship in an individual believer,” Stetzer said. “Due to the sheer volume of material [for each factor], it will take several months to complete our analysis and release.”
Stetzer said the project’s purpose is to assist church leaders in discovering how to help their members grow, because “spiritual growth does not happen by accident.”
“God shapes congregations through the shaping of the individual members’ lives. This shaping doesn’t just happen; it’s through intentional effort on the part of both leaders and church members,” Stetzer said.
To help pastors, churches and individuals measure their spiritual development, LifeWay Research used the survey data to develop a questionnaire for believers, the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA).
Available online, the TDA results in a report on spiritual maturity using the eight attributes of biblical discipleship. It also provides helpful and practical suggestions for individuals to take the next steps in their spiritual development.
Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said the new assessment tool zooms in to the personal level.
“The Transformational Discipleship Assessment helps people see how they are doing with those eight attributes. It answers, ‘Are you growing? Are you consistently following Christ?’” McConnell said. “It also helps leaders know where to focus sermons, Bible studies, events and other disciple-building activities.”
McConnell said the research was conducted in three phases. First, recognized discipleship experts were interviewed. Their input was used to revise a set of questions that have been effective in measuring dozens of specific biblical principles that may be reflected in a believer’s actions, attitudes or beliefs.
Then 1,000 Protestant pastors in the United States were polled. In the final phase, more than 4,000 Protestants from both the U.S. and Canada were surveyed in three languages, English, Spanish and French.
The transformational discipleship project is the next phase in LifeWay’s long-term research project called the Transformational Initiative focused on discovering common traits of churches experiencing transformation in the lives of individuals, the church and the community. The first findings were compiled in the book Transformational Church, released in June 2010 by LifeWay’s B&H Publishing Group, providing a big-picture scorecard for the church. Now, transformational discipleship is examining the details at the individual disciple level.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications office of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)