Since its founding in 1933, The Navigators has been all about discipleship. Its founder Dawson Trotman worked alongside Billy Graham, following his revivals with an approach for new believers to grow in their faith and deepen their understanding of Christianity, then share their faith in God with the people in their lives. Today, The Navigators has grown into a broad international Christian outreach ministry to college campuses, military bases, cities, prisons, and youth camps and with a publishing division that provides resources to help people “know Christ and make Him known®.”
The Navigators commissioned Barna Group to conduct a comprehensive, multi-phase research study with laypeople and church leaders of various types, professors and practitioners, across the spectrum of American Christianity to determine the current state of discipleship in America. In the context of a shrinking church and evolving technologies, they desired to understand what may be getting in the way of following Jesus, and what is proving effective. How is discipleship defined and perceived today; what resources and models are necessary for effective discipleship in the 21st century; and how do The Navigators’ methods and resources align with the needs of the Church?
The first phase of the study was a series of in-depth interviews of 36 educators from Protestant and Catholic seminaries and Bible colleges, conducted online as open-end questions. The second phase included similar in-depth interviews with leaders of 30 churches and seven parachurch ministries that exemplify excellence in discipleship. Participants were identified by Navigators staff or nominated by Protestant pastors from Barna’s Pastor Panel.
Next, a total of 2,003 self-identified Christians, including 1,237 practicing Christians, participated in a survey conducted online and by telephone. Barna also wanted to discover how closely the perspectives of those connected with The Navigators compare to other U.S. Christians. To that end, Navigators invited people formerlydiscipled through the organization to complete the Christian population survey.
The final phase of research consisted of 833 online and telephone interviews conducted with Protestant senior pastors and congregational leaders who specialize in discipleship and spiritual growth. A total of 615 interviews were conducted with senior pastors and 218 with discipleship leaders.
The research found that Churches are in need of new models for discipleship. Current programs capture only a minority of Christians, and most believers do not prioritize an investment in their spiritual growth. Millennials crave relationships, especially one-on-one mentorship; yet in a culture of spiritual isolationism and hyper distraction, they are particularly hard to engage.
All the groups Barna interviewed agreed on the two most significant barriers to spiritual growth: the general “busyness” of life and a lack of commitment to discipleship. It was also clear that church leaders desire a clear plan and lack systems to evaluate spiritual health – the two elements most central to being a discipleship exemplar.
Using these research findings, Barna worked with The Navigators to develop and publish a highly designed report (monograph) that includes professionally designed infographics and extensive data. Results were shared at the annual Navigators staff conference in 2015, but the monograph was made available to leaders in any Christian organization for the purpose of assisting them in their mission to help individuals grow in their faith.