While in college I was a youth leader at the local church where I was attending. Every year we would take our students to the all night party called the “Super Bowl.” Don’t let the name fool you.  It had nothing to do with football. The evening consisted of a minor league hockey game, all night bowling and then on to all night roller skating. We would leave for the all night event at 6pm on a Friday and wouldn’t return until 6am the following morning. In all honesty, it was an alright event. The students loved going each year. They loved staying up all night driving from one location to another through out the city, hanging out with their buddies and meeting up with hundreds of other students from youth groups all over.

The focus of the evening wasn’t just to provide an all night party for students. It was primarily put on as an evangelistic opportunity. Right after the hockey game, before the bowling and the roller skating took place, all of the fans who weren’t part of the youth event would leave the arena. All who were part of the event would stay and gather on one half of the arena. At this point a youth speaker would come out on to the ice and give an evangelistic/gospel presentation message. And after he finished speaking the students were given an opportunity to make a decision for Christ. Then, all those who made decisions for Christ were invited to go to another part of the building for a little extra counseling and instruction while the rest of the group sang worship songs awaiting their return so that the “party” could begin.

This was an event that I attended as a student before I ever attended as a youth volunteer. And each year when we would come to this point in the evening I always wondered what went on when all of these students would file out of their seats and leave the arena. The first year I went as a youth volunteer we had a couple of students make decisions, so I followed them out.  This was partially because I wanted to be a good youth leader and be supportive, and partially because I was simply curious.

We walked a surprisingly long way and ended up in what appeared to be the basement and locker room entrance for the athletes. As we walked in we were handed a card and a pencil. Once inside the room,  a group of a few hundred students sat on the concrete floor while some guy said to them that this was the best decision that they would ever make in their life. Then our attention was directed to the cards in our hand and we were asked to check off the line that best described us.  On the card it read:

Once we checked off our cards and turned them back in, the “additional counseling and instruction session” (aka head count) was over.

But in that moment, what really got me was the response of one of our students who I followed in there. As we were leaving, once again trying to be a good supportive youth leader, but at the same time motivated by curiosity, I enthusiastically asked the students about the decision they just made. Their response in no way matched my enthusiasm when they said, “Yeah….. I’ve actually done that before. Just thought I would do it again.” Not expecting that at all, I was speechless for the remainder of our walk back to our seats.

Since then, as I recount my time working in student ministry, this has not been the only time I’ve had a conversation like that with a student. One time at a summer camp when my entire cabin went forward in making a decision for Christ, I asked the one remaining student why they didn’t also go?  Their response was, “Eh… I go up every year. I think I’m gonna sit this one out.”

What both of these accounts communicate to me is that these students think that deciding to accept Christ is more important than actually following Christ. And for most of them they’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

However, the real kicker in all of this is that we (those who lead youth events and youth camps) are the ones who have taught them this. For as long as I can remember, in all my ministry work, it seems that churches, para-church organizations and camps have over emphasized counting decisions rather than making disciples. And as I write this, I include myself in that as well.  There have been many mission trips and summer camps that I have led and upon my return, my report to my sending church was, “X number of people heard the gospel message. X number of people made decisions for Christ.  And X number of people made recommitments for Christ.”

But I guess I’m wondering if maybe we’ve (I’ve) gotten it all wrong.

Maybe counting decisions isn’t as significant as we think it is?
Maybe counting in general isn’t all that important?
Maybe actually equipping students to live the way Jesus did is what we need to do?

So I guess rather than pressing people to make decisions and then just leaving them in the lurch, we need to be focused on following Jesus ourselves (I mean really following him, not just showing up to church and reading our Bibles). And actually believe Jesus when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Think about all the things Jesus did; healing, miracles, challenging the status quo, starting a revolution, walking daily in the power and authority of the Kingdom of God. The thought of living that kind of life and inviting others into it really cranks me up. Counting people who raise their hand, check a box or walk an aisle… not so much.

However, living the life of Jesus, intentionally making disciples, is hard. It’s slow and seemingly inefficient. We don’t get quick results. We don’t make speedy progress. We may take two steps forward to all of a sudden to find ourselves taking five steps backward. Yet we live in an instant culture that expects results now. But Jesus wasn’t worried about counting. Jesus wasn’t worried about results. He spent the majority of his ministry with only twelve people. So why do we think that counting big numbers in arena basements and summer camps is somehow more effective?

So, I guess I’m wondering…

Maybe less really is more?
Maybe small should be the new big?
Maybe we really should focus on making disciples not counting decisions?

What are your thoughts?


8 Responses to “Making Decisions vs. Making Disciples”

  1. Matt Tebbe

    Love it, man. Making disciples not counting decisions. I’ve been a disciple for awhile and I make the decision to follow Jesus every day. Maybe we should pay attention to decisions for discipleship rather than decisions to “get saved”?

    • bryanmarvel

      Matt – I agree. I think that having the mentality of deciding daily is crucial. Especially when we are taught and conditioned that we only decide once to follow and for many of us that decision is a distant memory of the past. Thanks for reading and contributing.

  2. Melissa Martin

    My first thought is:

    I have never filled out a decision card – am I really a Christian? (j/k)

    I wish I’d had more true discipleship anywhere along my walk, from the beginning in my teens, through now. To be honest, much of my Christian life has felt like I’m trying to figure it out on my own – I mean yes, I’ve had good sermons on a Sunday, but how to navigate Monday-Saturday. With lots of prayer and a personality that is “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” – I’ve navigated ok. But who wants ok? And not even a capitalized “OK” at that. Not me. I agree with your assessment that it’s hard to intentionally make disciples – it is also hard to find someone to disciple you when you’re hungry for it – people suggest a small group or a Bible Study – and if you’re lucky, someone there may become close enough to speak into your life – but I have found that it’s rare. This is why I think community is such a vital part of the Christian life and discipleship – for me anyway, I find that I must really trust and have a mutual respect those who would speak into my life – this trust and respect is gained through transparency in relationship – relationship is formed over time through community. (At least that’s what I have found to be true.) And I think this is why discipleship is not a speedy or quick process.

    • bryanmarvel

      Melissa – it continues to surprise me how many people that I know are all saying the same thing, that they have never been discipled, yet they would love to be discipled.

      Community with in the context of discipleship is important, but I don’t think that we can mistake that having community necessarily equals discipleship. I think that has been a common misconception over the years. Community is important, but discipleship is something a little bit different than that and quite a bit more intentional that that. But yes, it is slow and there are many hurdles to over come by in large because of the junk and sin that we bring into the process.

      • Melissa Martin

        Yep – and that’s my point. I’ve found community, but I don’t think I’ve found discipleship. I’ve had glimpses of discipleship – but have never been truly “discipled” by a fellow Christian. The whole conversation though has had me thinking today, and sadly I’ve realized there are times I have missed opportunities to speak into others lives – I am hopeful discipleship will become something more a part of all our lives.

  3. mwpatrick


    There are some good questions here. Simply put, isn’t doing life together making a decision to “follow” which is part of making disciples? Seems that way to me.

    • bryanmarvel

      Mike – thanks for taking the time to read this and responding. I would say that doing life together is part of it. But a lot of people do life together and that life together has nothing to do with Jesus. This is similar to what I said in Melissa’s comment, community can easily be mistake as discipleship when in reality discipleship is something quite a bit more intentional and focused. But you are right, doing life together is a big part of discipleship.

  4. Chris Stanley

    Bryan. You make a very good argument. Being a senior in college, I have observed just that. I think it is more than making the decision to follow Christ! It should be about what you do after the decision. Where you take your life. God says that prayer in silence is the best way to get across. As a leader in a church in Knoxville, I can agree with you that we should invest time to educate those who make the decision. Its great to read this and it is great to see that a change may be needed. Your continuous leadership means so much.


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