Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Are We So Ineffective In Making Disciples?

One of my classes at the University of Minnesota this spring was focused on adult education and particularly, how adults learn and retain that learning.
Let me share some basic points regarding adult education that many years of research have shown:

1. Adults retain 90% of what they learn if they teach it to someone else, and have immediate application of what they learn.

2. Adults retain 75% of what learn when they practice it.

3. Adults retain 50% of what they discuss in a group.

4. Adults retain 30% of what they see demonstrated.

Look at those percentages and think about it in the context of how it relates to making disciples. Paul told Timothy to be effective in his ministry of making disciples and extending the Kingdom when he exhorted Timothy's efforts with; "so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" 2 Tim. 3:17.
If we truly want to see a multiplication movement of the Kingdom of God, instead of the centralized "addition" model we have settled for, then we have to understand how this is best accomplished. This a accomplished when we use the most affective ways to teach, train and equip.

Jesus obviously knew how to teach adults. Although we have him on a number of occasions standing publicly and teaching the masses, the majority of His training of the disciples took place in demonstration, (raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out demons), discussion ("Who do men say I am?, What do you think?"), practice (He sent them out two by two, "You do it"), and go teach someone what you know ("go and therefore make disciples... teaching them to observe all I have commanded you"). The gospels are full of examples of these top four ways that adults learn and retain what they learned. Go through the gospels yourself, and highlight all the ways you find these top four ways of learning.

Now in contrast to these top four that we've covered, here are the ways that adults learn and retain the least:

1. Adults retain 20% of what they see and hear in Audio-Visual teaching

2. Adults retain 10% of what we learn through reading

3. Adults retain 5% of what we learn through lecture

Wow! Doesn't that resemble our dominant teaching/training practices of today? Almost all of what we do in 'making disciples' involves preaching and podium speaking at conferences, in churches every Sunday, and in the writing of books and blogs. Add some cool and entertaining video clips, and we have all the least effective ways to train up and equip a disciple for the work of the Kingdom!

Let's get real about all of this and start being more effective in producing disciples. I know I want to see a movement that is true multiplication and not stagnated or settling for a few additions.

We have settled for the pedagogical manner of downloading all the information we want people to know, and then think we have accomplished something powerful and impacting. Where is the impact?
It's pretty easy to give information download (I'm doing it right now and it's taking a couple hours of my day - not such a sacrifice). Taking this route to make disciples really has little impact, except to make names for ourselves (ouch!). Easy, noncommittal, pretty ineffective and totally Western in culture. It also is primarily done by only a small minority in the Body of Christ. Have we had enough of it yet?

The good news I see in all this, is that we ALL can do the top four in the list of effective ways to learn and retain that learning. All of us! That is how God designed it to be. We can ALL demonstrate, discuss, practice with others, and give away what we already know! We are all in unique places that we are called and equipped by God to do this in. Each of us!

We are not all called to be teachers, writers and bloggers that download information regularly and hopefully through the Holy Spirits anointing. That is a gift the Body needs and does grow from, but it is not the only, or even BEST way. The BEST way is for us all to demonstrate, discuss, practice with others and give away what we know! Even a new Christian has things to give away, and that is why we see so many new Christians bringing others to Christ during the first year or two of their conversion. Then what happens? They settle into passivity. They get taught to do so.

Come on Church! Let's get activated! Go activate others to make disciples through demonstrating, discussing, practicing and applying all that we know and turn the world upside down! Jesus has equipped and called us and provided all that we need. He is enough!

"Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and lo, I AM with you always, even unto the end of the age". Matthew 28:19-20.


  1. Great post. Passivity is the key killer of men in the church. Men are called to be great warriors for the gospel yet we equip them to be 'nice guys' i.e passive. I love your passion for the body to step up to the plate. Thanks!

  2. Excellent as always Katie and I will repost this on Making Disciples. I think these stats should be considered after we know what kind of learner people are. Some are visual learners predominantly, other audio, and others tactile.

  3. Great feedback Michael. These statistics refer to general learning retention for adults overall, inclusive of all the learning style tendencies.

    Research I've read, indicates that although adults still may retain a stronger tendency in a particular learning style, as they mature and age, the differences for a specific learning style shrinks.

    Thanks for the encouragement and posting the blog!

  4. I too have been researching this subject, and I appreciated these insights. Do you have any research references for the statistics?

  5. The statistics are from "National Training Laboraties. Bethel, Maine" The numbers come from what they published called the "Learning Pyramid".

    Please keep me in your loop of sharing what you learn in your research. I am greatly encouraged that others are seeing the same issues in our lack of really making disciples.

    Keep in touch!

  6. Great post. I agree with you and I have been thinking a lot of these things also! :)