The aim of this model is to understand the growth in maturity of church members from conversion to leadership through a discipleship process. The model explores the extent to which an individual congregation “grows” its workers and leaders from its own recruits and converts. The model quantifies:

  • The number of people at each discipleship stage;
  • How many people progress through stages each year;
  • Transfers into and out of other congregations.

This model was developed with church pastors in Cardiff, UK, with the assistance of the Cymru Institute for Contemporary Christianity, CICC. Summaries of the meetings are given on the Model Building Series page.

The model shows churches can overestimate the level of maturity in a congregation (static view) and underestimate the progression in maturity each year (dynamic view). One possible reason for the discrepancy may be that many mature believers in a congregation have transferred from other congregations, hiding the inadequacy in the church’s intended discipleship programme.

Purpose of Model

The model has four purposes:

  • To challenge people’s perception by comparing their static view of the church – how many are in each category, with their dynamic view – how the church is changing over time through the processes they think are happening.
  • To search out the true reasons for growth and decline in a congregation if the growth is not primarily through conversion.
  • To investigate the ways the church can effectively manage the discipleship process to keep a balance of spiritual maturity and new Christians in the congregation.
  • To investigate issues raised by varying the patterns of new attendance at the church.  


The model consists of six groups of people:

  • Unbelievers: These are the wider community in which the church is immersed. These people show little evidence of any interest in, or commitment to, Christianity or Jesus Christ. They may attend church on special occasions, but it is the interest and commitment that are lacking;
  • Potential Converts: Those who are interested in Christianity, perhaps attending church, but are not Christian. They have not made any meaningful commitment to Jesus Christ. These people are the church’s fringe;
  • Basic Discipleship: Those who are newly converted and are learning the basics of the faith and how to live the Christian life. They are seeking to move forward or are actively engaged in the process of moving forward;
  • Early Mature: Those who have passed the basics stage and have a spiritual involvement in the church. E.g. They may contribute to a Bible study, pray in a group, or be part of a church group that does spiritual things, e.g. a worship group. They may take on responsibilities, e.g. teach a Sunday School class, but not in a leadership role, or at least not in a role where they take the lead in discipling others;
  • Mature: Those that can take on lay leadership, run a housegroup, lead worship, run a discipleship course, elder etc. These are the category that resource and lead the discipleship process, whether formally or informally;
  • Inactive: The category for those who were once mature or early mature but have stopped participating in spiritual activities. They may still attend church and do participate in “non-spiritual” work, but that work does not disciple others or produce resources in which spiritual growth takes place. They have stopped growing spiritually. Inactivity may occur through choice, age, external circumstances or decisions made within the church.

Additionally, there are categories of people who have stopped progressing after conversion, basic discipleship and early mature. They have reached their particular stage, but although they may participate in spiritual activities (unlike the inactive), they are not interested, willing or able to progress in discipleship. After these categories, people may leave the church and form a group who are not open to re-joining church for some time.

Bigger Groupings
  • Church. This group is the sum of all the believing categories: Basic Discipleship, Early Mature, Mature and Inactive, as well as those who have stopped attending at each stage.
  • Congregation. This group is the church plus the potential converts, as these are deemed to be attending worship or other church functions.
  • Outsiders. The unbelievers who are open to being attracted to the church, plus those who have left the church.
External Processes

In addition to movement between categories, people may also move to and from areas outside the model:

  • Leaving. I.e. reversion. This is mainly people who give up on church but could also be used to represent those who move away geographically. People only leave the inactive and stopped categories.
  • Deaths. All categories have deaths at the same rate.
  • Transfers In. These are people who change from another local congregation to the one modelled. It could also represent those who move in geographically. People can move into any active category up to Mature. People may also move into unbelievers to represent a widening community.
Not Modelled

There is no model of the conversion mechanism or how people start attending church, as in the Limited Enthusiasm Model. The number of new people attending the church each year is set in advance. It may be constant, or it may vary.

There is no model of births. People who are born into the church are dealt with under transfers. This decision reflects the fact that many young people brought up in church usually move away from home in their late teens and join a different church. Of course, others leave the church altogether. Thus, there is no attempt to model child and Sunday School dynamics which is regarded as beyond the scope of this model.

Stocks & Flows

Unbelievers start attending church and become potential converts. Some of these choose to go deeper into Christianity and convert, leading to basic discipleship. Of the remainder, some stay as potential converts attending church, and some may drop out of church (not shown).

Basic Discipleship is where new converts learn the basics of the Christian faith, such as an Alpha course, Christianity Explored, or through contact with more mature Christians who help them. The ones who complete the process take on responsibilities in the church, called Early Mature. However, some in the basic discipleship level never complete the stage or never start it properly. They remain in the Basic Discipleship stock, and some may become inactive or leave the church (not shown).

The Early Mature are the type of people who attend housegroups, perhaps hosting a group. They may assist on a worship team, read in church, be members of an evangelism group, or engage in a whole host of practical work. However, they do not lead any of these areas or take on pastoral responsibility for people, or take a lead teaching role. Some may take up these roles, progressing on to the Mature category. Many remain at the Early Mature level, and some may eventually become inactive or leave the church (not shown).

Every church needs sufficient mature believers if the process of discipleship is to take place. Eventually, Mature people become inactive through age or choice, and some may leave the church (not shown).

Model Parameters

The behaviour of the model is controlled by a number of parameters that reflect the church’s effectiveness and the response of society:

Parameters Description
TimescalesTime spent as a potential convert before they convert or drop out. Time spent in discipleship before those who will progress to early mature take on responsibilities. Time spent in early mature before those who progress to mature take on leadership roles.
FractionsFractions of potential converts who are converted and who are not. The fraction of those converted who progress and those who do not. Fraction of those in basic discipleship who progress to early mature and those who do not. Fraction of early mature who progress to mature and those who do not.
Stock ValuesThe numbers (or percentages) in Potential Converts, Basic Discipleship, Early Mature, Mature and Inactive; those who have stopped at each level; and those who have left the church.
Leaving RatesThe fraction of those who have stopped progressing and leave the church each year.
Joining RateThe number who start attending the church each year.

Results of the Discipleship Model

The results show the difficulty of a church maintaining a balance of maturity through conversion alone. Even a small change in conversion leads to big changes in progression rates which are difficult to estimate. The likely result is people dropping out of church due to not being able to progress fast enough. The church finds it easier to restore balance by recruiting already mature believers.

The model also shows the mismatch between the pastors’ estimate of fractions in each discipleship category – the static view, with their estimate of the numbers who progress each year – the dynamic view. The dynamic view tends to be more pessimistic than the static view.

See Discipleship Results