The Evangelism vs. Discipleship Debate

It seems like the conflict within the western church regarding the priority of evangelism and discipleship has come to the forefront in recent years. So many articles, books, and blog posts have been proclaiming the importance of one or the other. Unfortunately, I have observed that many churches have elevated the importance of one over the other. To me, evangelism and discipleship are inseparable. You cannot be faithful to the Great Commission and not do both.

Some churches in reacting to the spiritual shallowness of churches that neglect discipleship, have abandoned their efforts to reach the lost and focused only on growing believers. Have you ever heard the statement that church is just for believers. Stop and think about the absurdity of that statement. Do we completely turn our backs to those who don’t know Christ and turn church into some kind of Holy huddle where outsiders are not welcome? I know that we should live our lives in such a way that non-Christians are drawn to the hope that we have within us, but they catch a glimpse of a Holy God when we come together to see believers worship corporately. They are challenged and convicted when the truth of God’s Word is preached.

Some churches in reacting to the spiritual elitism of churches that neglect evangelism, have focused entirely on reaching their lost and forgotten the command to “make disciples.” Churches like this have a great outreach program but have become ineffective at leading people to a deeper walk with Christ. I know the Holy Spirit can work inside of us and can lead us as we grow, but that does not allow the church to abdicate our responsibility to teach people how to walk with Christ.

Instead of being reactionary and choosing one extreme or the other, I feel that the church must be focused and committed to both reaching the lost and leading them to obey Christ. Evangelism and Discipleship working hand in hand. It has been exciting to me to follow Willow Creek’s story as they have realized that discipleship does not necessarily come through serving within the church. They have re-focused their Sunday morning service to both believers and seekers. I will share more about what we are learning at Cornerstone in a future post.

If we are fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, we will always have both seekers and believers together. It is the church’s responsibility to provide opportunities to seekers so that they can follow Christ, and then provide believers the training and knowledge to grow closer to Christ. As churches, we need to quit throwing rocks at each other and instead work together to make an impact in the Kingdom of God.


I am a former design engineer who now pastors Cornerstone Community Church in Galax, Virginia. I'm passionate about following Jesus and I love technology. I've been married to Jennifer for 28 years, and we have three adult children.

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