Changes in society, religious education, family, and the Church require that what happened organically within thick social/cultural settings of an earlier age (perhaps) now must be done deliberately. Even practicing U.S. Catholics in the twenty-first century are much less likely to have received the kind of integrated, holistic faith formation that produces a supernatural worldview and a desire for the spiritual life. It goes without saying that the many who were only baptized and perhaps given first communion, but never taken to Mass again receive no spiritual apprenticeship whatsoever. A new believer obviously has no experience living as a Catholic follower of Jesus and needs someone to show them how to life as a disciple.

The Evangelical Catholic has consistently seen over the years that in ministries where one-on-one discipleship mentoring becomes normative and natural, evangelization flourishes. This is why we encourage one-on-one discipleship in every ministry we partner with, and have ever since our inception in the early 1990s. It is the most essential part of our method.

The best-known Catholic book on this topic is Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell, co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute. She explores why we haven’t made disciples, and how we can start. Weddell is very explicit that not only does evangelization depend on making disciples; almost everything needed in the Church and the world does as well:

We have seen it happen over and over. The presence of a significant number of disciples changes everything…. Disciples pray with passion. Disciples worship. Disciples love the Church and serve her with energy and joy. Disciples give lavishly. Disciples hunger to learn more about their faith. Disciples fill every formation class in a parish or diocese. Disciples manifest charisms and discern vocations. They clamor to discern God’s call because they long to live it. Disciples evangelize because they have really good news to share. Disciples share their faith with their children. Disciples care about the poor and about issues of justice. Disciples take risks for the Kingdom of God.[1]

Some might be thinking: “Well and good, but easier said than done.” Few if any of us had the option to sign up for “Disciple Making 101”!

How to Make Disciples: Relational Ministry

Parishes or campus ministries could offer classes in discipleship, but the predictable few would attend. For those that came, they would be able to pass on very little of whatever they learned. Forget classes: form a few, like Jesus did, in close relationship with you so they can do the same for someone else. Faith is more easily caught than taught. It’s an old truism for a reason… Relational ministry works.

The EC, as Pope Paul VI did in Evangelii Nuntiandi, calls this “person-to-person ministry.” The Church calls this spiritual companionship “an apprenticeship” by which Christians “are initiated into the mystery of salvation and an evangelical style of life” (General Directory for Catechesis, 63).

More simply put, one-on-one discipleship offers the growth in Christ people need within the relationships they want. In an age of shallow conversation and superficial social media, people are starving for meaningful relationships.

You don’t have to be an expert. Share what you know about being a follower of Jesus with someone in your life who wants to follow him too. Disciples make disciples, just like Jesus said, in small groups as he did, and one-on-one, as his followers did.


[1] Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell, p80-81 (italics emphasis Weddell’s).