Evangelism with Johnny Hunt

#23 – Connecting Evangelism and Discipleship


Many things that happen in our churches for the cause of Christ seem to just happen. We call it inspiration, or simply the organic, unforced, sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. But when it comes to doing discipleship right, intentionality must be the rule.

In this episode of the Evangelism with Johnny Hunt podcast, hosts Johnny Hunt and Kevin Ezell chat with guest Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, about how intentionality and a strategic plan for evangelism and discipleship can take gospel sharing and soul winning to new levels in local churches.

Visit https://www.namb.net/evangelism/ to find more resources that can help you engage your church in effective evangelism.

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Introduction: You’re listening to Evangelism with Johnny Hunt, a podcast from the North American Mission Board that equips you and your church to share the gospel. Now, here are your hosts.

Kevin Ezell: Pastor, thanks for joining us today. I’m Kevin Ezell here with my good friend Johnny Hunt.

Johnny Hunt: Thanks for listening. There’s an ongoing conversation about both evangelism and discipleship in the local church, and which component we should be focusing on, and where more of our attention should be. The truth is, both are essential to leading a healthy church.

Today, I’ve asked my very good friend, Robby Gallaty, who pastors Long Hollow Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee to join us. Robby chaired a disciple-making taskforce, and has a heart for both evangelism and discipleship. Robby, thanks for joining us today, friend.

Robby Gallaty: Hey, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Johnny Hunt: Going to throw some questions at you and gosh, we’ll just talk about a variety of subjects, and really want to hear your heart, what you’re developing now, and how it can play into who’s your one and this marrying of evangelism and discipleship. Just like it is in a Bible. We’ve talked about evangelism problems in the SBC, but much of that stems from a discipleship problem.

How does the lack of discipleship dampen a church’s ability to evangelize?

Robby Gallaty: Yeah, that’s a great question. Even a question we’re wrestling with at Long Hollow, and even in Replicate, as we train churches on how to do this. Here’s the question I would ask pastors, and when we talk to pastors, we always say, would you like your people to be more missional? Everybody’s like, yeah, sure. Would you like your people to share their faith wherever they go? Sure. Would you like to move from an event to a lifestyle? Sure. Everybody’s amen-ing.

Then I asked the pastor, do you know how many people in your congregation shared their faith with the lost person last week?

Johnny Hunt: Quiet.

Robby Gallaty: How many people … Quiet. Exactly. How many people were out on mission this past week, living and loving their neighbors? They don’t know. What I say is, for years, I think what’s happened is, we have expected our people to do something simply based on an announcement from the stage, or a sermon from the pulpit.

We’ve just preached the Word and we say, you need to be more evangelistic. You need to show up for evangelism outreaches. The problem is, we simply have not been able to detect or even to identify how many people are doing that. What we’ve done recently is we’ve studied all the great evangelistic tools of the past 20, 30 years. You just put them all into a basket. Faith, Evangelism Explosion, EE, we’ve done that for years. Share Jesus Without Fear.

What’s the common denominator? We thought about this. What’s the common denominator that has made those, whatever they are, four spiritual laws, what has made those systems work? Here’s what we found, Pastor Johnny. The common denominator is accountability. Let’s take Evangelism Explosion. We’ve done this for years at my previous church that I pastored.

We would start on Monday night. Everybody would come together, we’d have a gathering, an encouragement time. We would send people out in the community. They would go out and share their faith, the Romans road, lead people to Christ, regardless, plant seeds.

What would make that program work, is the fact that they would come back to the church after they went out, and what we would do is what? Celebrate what God did.

Johnny Hunt: Exactly.

Robby Gallaty: Tell me what you did. Tell me what … What happened is, that level of accountability, that face-to-face interaction, that celebration time, would keep them going to do it again the next week. Now, here’s the thing we realized. In most churches, pastors are expecting their people to evangelize, but they’re not holding them accountable. Here’s what we found. When you implement a discipleship group model, for us, it’s called a D group. You call it anything you wanted. We call it a D group.

It’s a group with three to five, maybe six men who meet with men, women who meet with women. They meet every week. Now, I know Johnny, you used to meet on Sunday morning, I remember you telling me with your discipleship group.

Johnny Hunt:  Right.

Robby Gallaty: Mine met on Wednesday night. Here’s what we’d do. Once a week, we would come in and I would be able to have a real-time response, watch this, of guys as to, if they’re sharing their faith, if they’re not sharing their faith, and what can I do to help these guys.

Here’s the two questions I ask in every discipleship group, and these are great questions to really get people thinking: Number one is this, I asked every person every week, have you shared your faith with someone lost this week? The follow-up question, which is as impactful is, did you even try?

What I found is this, not every week people are sharing that. They’ll say, I was traveling, or I didn’t have an opportunity. What happens is, when you have a group of three to five guys, the built-in accountability of that D group, will have conviction set in the other people who aren’t doing it, just by the stories from those who are.

What I found is, we want people to be more evangelistic. We want people to be more missional. If we’re not holding them accountable to do that, and for us, the best way is in the D group, how can we expect them to do it?

Johnny Hunt: Yeah, that is good. I’ll tell you, when I travel across the country, when people ask me anything about discipleship and winning people to Christ, your name always comes into the conversation. I’ve been a part of the last two or three years of us doing discipleship conferences and challenging people in evangelism, and I know how important this next question is, but I want to hear it from you. How does Bible engagement impact one’s desire to share the gospel?

Robby Gallaty: Oh, man. This is the question. This is really, the crux of it. We had the privilege, you and I, had the privilege of serving on this disciple-making task force, which we met for about two years. It was a lot of work. Kevin graciously appointed this team in a partnership with LifeWay. For two years, we met and had the opportunity of polling thousands of churches and talking to hundreds of pastors, and just really getting some feedback as to what’s going on in the convention.

Here’s what we found, which was really interesting. On our team, we had the privilege of a guy named Eric Geiger, who was the vice president of LifeWay. He brought it to us all of this research. You can argue with anecdotal responses. It’s very hard to argue with the numbers. The facts don’t lie.

Here’s what we found out. We found out four things about discipleship in America, really, not just our convention, but America. LifeWay conducted the largest research study on discipleship ever done. Barna hasn’t done this. Gallup hasn’t done this. LifeWay did it. 10 years’ worth of research. Here’s what they found about making disciples. Again, let me back up, 30,000 foot view here.

I used to preach on discipleship for years, and I just thought people understood what I was talking about. Then I started getting some feedback from guys, and what some guys were telling me, and I didn’t know this, was that when I was using the word disciple-making or discipleship, what some people hear automatically is anti-Evangelism. They hear, “Man, that’s all Robby wants to do is get a group of guys in a room and spend time reading the Bible, memorize scripture and singing songs,” whatever.

What I would say is, that is not what we’re trying to do. That’s a part of what we’re doing. If our discipleship doesn’t lead to evangelism, listen, it’s not biblical disciple-making, because what we’re doing is, if our disciples aren’t reaching lost people and replicating their life in another … I tell people, if we don’t fix this ship, this ship of Evangelism and discipleship, if we don’t have an outreach to the in-reach, then what happens is, we just become chair arrangers on the Titanic. You can arrange the chairs on the Titanic all you want and change the seating order, the ship’s still going down.

Johnny Hunt:  Going down, yeah.

Robby Gallaty:We’ve got to have an outreach for the in-reach. What I tell people is this. Discipleship and evangelism are under the umbrella of the word disciple-making. You have this both-and approach, not an either-or apartment. I look at it this way: It’s two oars in a boat. For years, we have cried out, we need more Evangelism, which I think we do. But let us not be so Evangelistic that we neglect the discipleship oar, which is helping people come to faith in Christ, and then helping them grow into the image of Christ.

Okay, let me get back to the question. Here’s what we found. In order to make disciples, we found that four things have to happen. Here’s what LifeWay showed us. Number one is this, groups matter a lot. Here’s what the research found. You cannot be the disciple Jesus expects you to be outside of an intimate, communal, transparent relationship in a small group. We knew that, but the data proves it.

Number two, they found—and here’s what we reported with our task force. We found that discipleship is intentional. Discipleship, brother pastor, if you’re listening, with all due respect, discipleship is not going to happen in your church by chance. It’s not going to happen organically. You have to be intentional. Jesus was highly intentional.

I remember meeting with a pastor years ago, I went to seminary with this guy, he was pastoring a church, about a church of 12, 1300, and I asked him, I said, “Hey brother, tell me what’s going on in your church in the area discipleship.” He said, “Man, I don’t even know. It’s so organic. We don’t even know what’s going on. It’s just happening by itself.” I said, “Brother, I don’t mean to throw cold water on what’s happening, but Jesus never ministered that way. He was highly intentional. He was highly disciplined. In fact, Jesus had a plan with these guys from start to finish to create disciples.”

If Jesus didn’t leave discipleship to chance, why would we? Number three, and here are the two that are very helpful for us. Number three, LifeWay found out this: that the number one spiritual discipline in the Christian life – so if we’re going to be investing men and women of the gospel, we’re going to invest their time, invest their money, invest their talents, we want to have the best, what’s called ROI, on our investment, return on our investment.

What the research shows is, if you’re going to get your people to do one thing, and here’s the cool thing: this one spiritual discipline, and Brother Johnny, you remember this, is head and shoulders above every other discipline in the Christian life. Fasting, silence, solitude, journaling, sharing your faith, worship, reading the Bible, memorize it, whatever. Those are the disciplines. The number one spiritual discipline, if you’re going to get your people to invest in, that’s paramount to the rest, is Bible engagement.

Johnny Hunt: There it is.

Robby Gallaty: Now, Bible engagement is not just Bible reading, although that’s a part of it. As you know, Bible engagement is reading the Word and then allowing it to point your life in the direction of what the Word says. It’s the compass for your life, you’re living out what you’re reading.

Here’s number four, and those listening will appreciate this. The fourth thing the research proved was this: People who engage the Bible, the Bible engagement affected every area of the spiritual life and increased it exponentially. Here’s what I mean. People who engage the Bible are more Evangelistic. They found that people who engage the Bible are more generous with their giving. People who engage the Bible are more missional. They’re more open to be a part of a church planting team, or part of a missions team overseas.

People who engage the Bible volunteer more. Now, I know those listening would say, I don’t need any more volunteers, we have too many.

Johnny Hunt: Yeah, exactly.

Robby Gallaty: We all need that. Here’s what I found. If we’re going to get our people to be intentional about one thing and one thing affects every other thing, let’s go ahead and try to get our people in the word, until the word gets into them. Because when they engage the Bible, it leads to more evangelistic opportunities, and they live more missionally.

Johnny Hunt: Good word. Hey, let me ask you this one last question, because that was awesome, and I know we have lots of listeners, and they’re going to be so encouraged. What would you say Robby, because I don’t know of anybody doing a better job than you in this. What’s the best way to incorporate new believers into the active life of discipleship, so they in turn can be effective or being able to replicate, the very thing that you’ve taught them?

Robby Gallaty: Yeah. This is something I think all of us are trying to figure out. We want to be Evangelistic, we want to see lost people come to faith in Christ. Here’s a question I would ask those listening. If God decides this Sunday to bless your church with the book of Acts, chapter two, revival. Let’s just say by God’s grace, and we’re all praying for revival. Everybody I know, I ask this question, are you praying for revival? Absolutely. Do you want to see people turn to God? Absolutely.

What if God blesses your town and your church with an Acts 2 revival, where 3000 people come to faith in Christ Sunday morning? Do you have the infrastructure to handle moving those people from making a decision, to being a disciple? Do you have the infrastructure? The answer for many churches, including ours, would be, I don’t know if we have the infrastructure for that.

Here’s what I realized. When our people in our churches don’t know what to do, whether it be, don’t know what to do in being a disciple, don’t know what to do in making disciples, don’t know what to do in sharing their faith and leading people to … When people don’t know what to do, guess what? They don’t do anything at all.

Johnny Hunt: Anything, yeah.

Robby Gallaty: They don’t do anything. What I’ve found is, a lot of churches want to have a discipleship strategy. They want to have a disciple-making process, but they simply don’t know how. Here’s what we’ve done at Long Hollow. I had the privilege of doing this at Brainerd Baptist in Chattanooga, and now I’m at Long Hollow, very different context, but the principles work, because we don’t have a monopoly on making disciples. What I’ve done is, I’ve taken the ministry of Jesus, and I’ve incorporated that in a local church.

Here’s what I tell people. We all want a ministry like Jesus. We all want to see the blessings of God on our ministry. We can’t expect to have the blessings of the ministry of Jesus, and at the same time, divorce ourselves from the method used. I’m a Biblical preacher like you, you guys, and I’m an expository textual preacher. I believe the word does the work, and I believe the words are inspired, and you would agree with that.

I also believe, get this, I also believe the encounters are inspired. What do I mean? The fact that Jesus in John 4 just happens to go on that day, at this time, to a specific well in Samaria. Oh, by the way, a woman just happens to be walking out. I don’t know about you. That’s not by chance.

Johnny Hunt: Exactly.

Robby Gallaty: God had planned for that divine appointment to happen. If that’s the case, doesn’t it make sense for us to adopt the model Jesus used in making disciples? Here’s what Jesus did. Kind of a long answer, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes. Jesus moved people from the large gathering of believers, which I call the congregation, to a smaller gathering of discipleship, which we call the community group of twelve. The large would be the 120 of the 70, the 12 would be the community group.

Out of the 12, it’s interesting. Jesus formed a D group, if you will—a group of three guys, Peter, James and John. He met with those guys on five occasions, where the other nine guys couldn’t go to. The nine guys are here. Jesus is taking three guys over here on five occasions, and he’s investing in them deeply. Then out of that, those guys would change the world.

Here’s what we did. We took that four-fold model. We created a church strategy, whereby we move people through what we call the discipleship pathway. Here’s how it works. When a new person comes to our church, which would be the worship gathering, we asked them, we want you to take the next step in your spiritual journey. For some of you, that’s to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the repenting of your sin, the following Christ the rest of your life. If that’s the case, then the next step for you would be either to join our church, or to get in a life group. Then once you’re in a life group, we say, take the next step, because the life group’s like the community group of 12.

The next step for you is to be in a D group. Some of you are probably wondering, how do I get in a D group? After you’ve formed friendships in the life group, you get the D group. Then out of the D group, which is a small gathering, men with men, women with women, they meet for 12 to 18 months for the purpose of high accountability, scripture memory, scripture reading, scripture engagement, sharing their faith through accountable relationships, but watch this, to replicate their lives in the life of another person.

Out of that, we change the world. That’s our pipeline for reaching lost people. That’s the pipeline for planting churches. We have a plan at Long Hollow, we partner with NAMB, and NAMB’s been a great partner. We want to plant a church in all 32 Send Cities around the country. We already have six plants since we started this. We have one more in the pipeline, and we have a plan to plant the rest over the next 15, 20 years.

How do you do that? We’re raising up disciples. You don’t plant churches and then make disciples. Here’s what I tell people. When you make disciples, you always plant churches.

Johnny Hunt: That’s good.

Kevin Ezell: Right.

Johnny Hunt: I’m going to have to have a couple of more podcasts with you, because your subjects are just, they’re pregnant with glorious truth. Robby, listen, thanks for joining us on the podcast today. I appreciate you taking time to talk to us. Only heaven knows how many people have been helped. I hope everyone will check you out, look at your books. Nothing has helped me more in understanding how to make disciples, than what you’ve written through the years.

Pastor, if you have any questions about Evangelism or discipleship, we would ask you to listen to the podcast and help us to be more effective in trying to answer your questions, even on future podcasts. Email us at Evangelism@namb.net. Until next time, thanks so much for joining us.