What does it cost to make a new disciple?

I was once asked “What is the fruit of an apple?”  Without thinking too hard, I answered “the seeds for more apples”.  While that is true, it is NOT just more apples, it’s ultimately an orchard.

If we apply this to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, then the true fruit of a disciple is a disciple who makes disciples – who makes disciples.  Another way of saying this is, the seeds of a disciple-making movement are contained in every disciple.

If the fruit of a disciple is a disciple-making movement then a fair follow-up question to ask leaders is: What does it cost to make a new disciple?  This may seem like an odd question to ask, but is it really?

A colleague of mine put me onto an international network of disciple-makers that has done the hard work to track and calculate the return on their investment so they could study the metrics that mattered most to them.  To-date they have facilitated the transformation of approximately 830,000+ people (this is a conservative estimate) who now follow Jesus at a cost of about $35 per new disciple.  In addition, they tracked some other data points:

  • 36,000+ churches started
  • 720,000+ people in small groups.

Back to the question: What does it cost to make a new disciple?

The benefits of asking this question are:

  1. It clarifies the type of fruit that is being harvested
  2. It helps to channel resources in the direction of making disciples
  3. It helps a leader know what opportunities to say “no” to
  4. It has the potential to align ministries to support the work of making disciples
  5. It empowers teams to celebrate “wins” along the way

Rodney Stark in his book “The Rise of Christianity” points out the following:

  • In AD 40 there were 1,000 followers of Jesus – .0017% of the population of the Roman Empire
  • In AD 400 there were 34 Million followers of Jesus – 56% of the population of the Roman Empire

Because the Church made disciples through personal relationships there was little or no cost involved financially.

These figures got me thinking. How much does it cost a local church to make an active disciple (not a passive spectator)? As I’m sure you have already guessed, it is very difficult to answer this question because of the multiple variants, but why not try the following: 

  • Work out your budget figure for the last five years.
  • Work out the number of new disciples (not transfers or passive attendees) who have been added to your Church over the last five years.
  • Divide the number of new disciples into the budget figure.
  • If the investment of your money is creating few new disciples, what is it being used for?

The above will trigger a number of reactions:

  1. Defensive (We don’t track that sort of thing!) OR Curious (Why do you ask?)
  2. Closed (Are you kidding?) OR Open (I’ve never thought about it that way before.)
  3. Criticism (Aren’t you bringing business principles into the church?) OR Willing (That is an interesting question!)

I’m the first to agree that this process is too simplistic, but I don’t apologise. Hopefully it will encourage you to think outside of the box and ask the question, “What do we have to do to become a movement that makes disciples who makes disciples”.

3 thoughts on “What does it cost to make a new disciple?

  1. Can you tell us more about that international network of disciple makers please? I’d like to see more of their stats and the background to them.

    1. Hi Graham,
      You will find what you are looking for at Multiplication Network Ministries

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