My friend Lewie, a veteran disciple-maker and mentor, wrote:
"Make disciples first and it will result in kingdom communities of faith and love. Plant churches first and there is the danger of not only not making followers of Jesus but also of setting up the church for failure" (imitatingjesus.org).
Author and theologian C. S. Lewis also once said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
Jesus showed us how to make disciples and called us to do the same, but He said that building the church is His job. If our goal is simply to make disciples that reproduce, it removes the twinge of disappointment when a disciple moves away. If they are reproducing, then that is how it should be.
Very few people have all the gifts to plant churches (as we know them in the West), but everyone has potential to make disciples — it’s much the same process as parenting or guiding a younger sibling.
If the church is a family, why do we aim to create church structures that will remain unchanged for centuries? Families grow, mature, send out their kids to reproduce, start new families, mentor them, enjoy the grandkids and die — having experienced both the joy and the sadness. Can we say the same about churches?
Technically, there is no church multiplication without first having disciple multiplication. Years ago, professor Robert Coleman exhorted the church:
"One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master. The necessity is apparent not only to select a few laymen, but to keep the group small enough to be able to work effectively with them."
Next time you’re tempted to feel like you failed, remember that all you’re asked to do is make disciples. Christ Himself will build the church.