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People point to discipleship as top need, survey shows

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources asked 16,000 people: What do you need?

Their replies signaled a need to be discipled.

LifeWay surveyed adults and youth attending 29 conferences and events sponsored by the Southern Baptist entity last year about what kind of help they need from their churches. The number one need expressed by both groups was help with personal needs — spiritual, emotional, physical and social.

In a previous survey of 1,500 pastors and ministers of education inquiring about the purposes of their churches’ discipleship ministries, the leaders’ responses indicated that many of the personal needs indicated by their members could be addressed through discipleship studies.

In the survey of 16,000 people, the question was asked involving six areas of their lives: In which three areas could you most use help from your church?

The choices were: Church; Education/Learning; Home and Family/Relationships; Personal needs (spiritual, emotional, physical, social); World/Culture; Work/School.

Personal needs ranked first with both adults and youth. The number two area for adults was Home and Family/Relationships; for youth, Work/School.

Third for adults was Education/Learning; for youth, Home and Family/Relationships.

Fourth for both adults and youth was World/Culture.

Fifth for adults was Work/School; for youth, Church.

Sixth for adults, Church; for youth, Education/Learning.

“Both adults and youth place Home and Family/Relationships as top areas in which they could use some help,” said LifeWay’s Scott McConnell, who directed the survey. “Students place more emphasis on school as an area where they could use help but, interestingly, adults place work, the response most equivalent to school, as number five.”

Discipleship ministries and studies available to churches are designed to address practical needs such as these. While many churches do not use the term “discipleship,” this area of ministry is still in many churches.

The latest figures from the Annual Church Profile (ACP), compiled by LifeWay from reports routed through local Baptist associations and state conventions, show that more than 2 million Southern Baptists are actively enrolled in some sort of discipleship study.

“A church might call this ministry area discipleship, or they might call it small-group studies, equipping studies, personal growth studies, video studies or any number of names, but it’s still about helping individuals grow in their relationship with and knowledge of Christ,” McConnell said.

In the earlier survey of 1,500 Southern Baptist church leaders, 69 percent said a purpose of their discipleship ministry was to inspire and motivate people in their Christian walk. Sixty-three percent said it was to provide opportunity for discussion; 61 percent said to encourage personal daily Bible reading/study; 57 percent said to foster life application (to give members a way to apply biblical principles to their daily lives); and 56 percent said to train people to share the Gospel.

“It’s interesting to note that all five of these discipleship purposes encourage personal growth — from motivation to building daily habits and skills to encouraging other group members,” McConnell said. “Then, when you look at what the people in the pew — both adults and youth — say they want their churches’ help with, it’s clear that these needs can be met through discipleship studies.”

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  • Polly House