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Discipling at a Distance
By Dan Vis
April 13, 2020
Comments: 15

With social distancing in full force right now, many personal discipling efforts have stalled to a halt. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some helpful tips on how to invest in others during these difficult times...

Two people at a distance

For many believers, the Great Commission is seen as our primary mandate. Our mission. Our purpose. The reason the church exists here in this world. And that commission revolves around the essential work of making disciples.

And it doesn't really provide exceptions for pandemics.

Which suggests we, as God's people, may need to be a bit more creative about finding ways to make disciples in times of social distancing. Fortunately, modern technology gives us some options that can help. In the paragraphs below, I want to share a few basic concepts, and provide some hints at what is coming in the near future at FAST...

Personal Efforts

As important as formal discipleship classes can be, personal effort is still the first step in making disciples. And now, with so many people living at a slower, and often lonelier, pace people are more open to initiatives to reach out. This creates great opportunities for sharing.

Here's a simple strategy you can try:

1) Make a list of a dozen or so people you haven't been in touch with for awhile. If more names come to mind, jot them down too.

2) Set aside a 15 minute period day to reach out to one person on that list. If you have a phone number, reach out by phone. If not, use some other means to get in touch and ask for their number. Explain you've been thinking about them, and just want to call and catch up sometime. Always whisper a prayer before calling.

3) When you get them on the line, check to make sure if it is a good time to talk. If not, ask what time is better, and schedule it in. Make sure it's a time that works well for you too.

4) When you finally connect, take some time to talk about how things are going for them. If they are a believer, get around to asking how they are doing spiritually. Ask what they are doing to keep strong spiritually without being able to worship at church, and experience normal church fellowship.

5) If they are open to it, share some resource you have found helpful. If you've recently completed a class at FAST, or read some helpful memo, share that, along with a word of testimony. Getting them plugged in to our online school could mark a turning point in their life.

6) Don't make your initial phone call too long. And afterward, assess how well the call went. If they seemed to appreciate it, schedule another call anywhere from another week to another month from now--depending on what you feel is most appropriate. Jot it down in your calendar.

7) Continue calling new people on your list, and adding new names as they come to mind. If it's a day you've scheduled a repeat call, make that instead. Keep your efforts flexible, but keep moving forward.

You never know what an impact reaching out like this might have on a person. Not only will they appreciate the fact you were thinking about them, your efforts might provide some much needed spiritual nurture. And it could open doors for future ministry. Never underestimate the value of personal efforts to care for people.

Idea: If you haven't yet checked out our sharing tools, they include a number of resources to make sharing resources easy. Give them your personal invite code, and you'll know when they sign up, and be able to give a warm welcome when they do. And by sharing, you can win prizes that unlock free resources for you or your friend. Check it out!

Social Challenges

Another great way to reach out to people is through social media. For lack of physical social interaction, countless millions are scrolling through the newsfeeds on their favorite social media platforms as a way to connect with people. This provides another opportunity to make a discipling impact.

Consider launching a social challenge. Make it something simple like: memorize 10 verses in 10 days, or read the book of James in 7 days. Internet challenges are all the craze these days, with people staying home and having nothing to do. And while there's nothing wrong with dumping ice buckets over your head, or doing pushups and planks for a month, promoting something spiritual is far more valuable. To quote the apostle Paul: "Bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable unto all things" (I Timothy 4:8For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.).

How do you run a challenge? Here's the general process:

1) Define what your challenge is going to be. And then choose a good hashtag: #MyChallengeName

2) Choose a social media platform. Facebook and Instagram are probably the best for this.

3) Create a post explaining the challenge and the basic rules involved. Be sure to include your hashtag!

4) Reach out to as many friends as you can directly and encourage them to participate. Usually it will be something like: "I decided to do this challenge, come join me!" If you are part of a church or small group, try to get buy in from the whole group, and urge them all to participate.

5) Post a daily update on your progress in the challenge and encourage other participants to share their progress as well each day.

6) Do a daily search for your challenge hashtag on your platform and respond with a quick note of encouragement to any posts you see.

7) Conclude with a short summary of lessons you learned or blessings you received from the challenge once it is over and thank everyone for participating.

While social media lacks some of the intimacy of a phone call, it can have greater reach. With a little success, your challenge can zip around the internet, inspiring hundreds or even thousands to participate. Friends share with their friends who share with their friends. One day, someone may just share that same challenge back with you!

Idea: One of the ideas we plan on implementing soon, is the ability to create your own custom verse sets and issue a challenge to memorize those verses using our memory tools. The plan is to make these challenge sets interactive and dynamic, so you can see who is participating, what verses each person has memorized, and send little notes of encouragement along the way. Cool, huh?

Virtual Teams

In my experience, the best way to make disciples is in the close fellowship of a face to face team, where believers can meet together, and encourage one another in their walk with God. It's the model Jesus followed to train the 12 (Mark 3:14And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,), and the model Paul used as well (Acts 20:4And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.). Our ministry began as an effort to create small group study guides carefully designed to tap into that small group dynamic.

And while much of our ministry has shifted to providing online training now, ultimately, our goal is to equip leaders who can bring what they learn back to their local churches and small groups, and teach others face to face. This is still where most life transformations take place!

During times of social distancing, getting together in small groups like this is not advisable--but you can still meet face to face, using video conferencing software like Zoom, Skype, or any number of other platforms.

How do you do it? Here's the basic strategy:

1) Put together a plan. Decide what set of study guides you want to work through, what platform you will use to connect, and who you want to see in your group.

2) Reach out by phone to the people you want to train and secure their commitment. Tell them you are wanting to start a virtual small group and urge them to participate. If you like, open up the announcement to others in your church, in case some of those you invite say no. Aim for a group of 6-8 people.

3) Once you have those commitments, schedule a time for your initial orientation meeting, and send out instructions about how to access it. Choose a platform that people can easily access with a simple email link on their phone or webcam-enabled laptop. Follow the instructions in our Leaders Manual for this orientation meeting, with the addition of a few tips on meeting virtually.

4) Schedule your weekly meetings, and run them just as you would a regular team. Be sure to send out reminders before each meeting, and follow up with anyone who misses to make sure they don't get behind. If anything, a virtual team will likely require more support than one meeting face to face, so be sure to give team members extra attention during the week.

5) If you are using FAST resources, make sure your team is operational and each participant has joined your team. I'd also recommend they sign up for whichever study guide course you are doing online, so they will receive our reminder emails, can access our online discussions, and lessons, etc. Make sure they do this right after your orientation meeting so they will be able to advance through the class together. If not, you may need to mail out whatever lessons you are using at the right time each week.

6) For the accountability time, have them pair up with a partner and go over their objectives by phone each week before your group meeting and report to you how that went. Some video conferencing software can transition into breakout sessions, and these could potentially work for this as well.

7) Always end a training team with some kind of acknowledgement of their success. Perhaps a small gift you can mail out to each person, or a nice printed certificate, or something similar. Whether it is done face to face or screen to screen, it's always worth celebrating the completion of any effort to climb higher.

Most of the principles related to leading a physical team will apply to leading a virtual team. Pray that God brings the right team together. Encourage each participant to take their training seriously, and to give it their best. Urge them to fulfill every objective successfully. Interact with participants in between meetings by phone, text, and email. And constantly hold out a vision for making the most of their training opportunity.

Following the same principles for training in a physical team should lead to similar results in a virtual team.

Idea: Here is something else we're working toward: virtual classes. Imagine being able to go to your team area, pick a class you want to teach, set a start date, and invite members in your team to join in. You control when the class begins and ends. And can even add and remove members as needed, or pause for a week or so if your team has to skip a meeting. It's coming!


In short, disciple-making doesn't have to grind to a halt, just because many of us are shut up in our homes. We may not be at church each week, or meeting with our regular small group, but that doesn't mean we can't still continue to prioritize the Great Commission.

Through making personal efforts to reach out and connect with people by phone, by using social media to run a social challenge, or by launching and leading a virtual team, you can still make an impact for the kingdom of Christ.

And even when things get back to something more normal, you may just decide to keep a few of these strategies in your arsenal.

Whether we are physically close, or physically distant, the Great Commission remains our divine mandate. Let's work at making disciples together...


How has the coronavirus impacted your ability to make disciples? How important is it to adapt our efforts to invest in people to changing circumstances. Which of the above strategies most appeals to you, and why? Leave a thought below...

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/18/20 

That's a good suggestion Qing. I wonder if it would be better to have a list somewhere of several articles that would be esp helpful to training center leaders. There are a number that are quite helpful. Let me stew on that a bit...

I'm also eager to get the upgrades in this article put in place and developing some documentation around those. Exciting times ahead!

Posted by Qing Ling on 04/18/20 
Dan I recommend you attach this article to the My Team page where leaders go to print guides etc. It's quite relevant to give them these cyber-class options there :)
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/16/20 

You are very welcome Suzi. Zoom is pretty easy to use. Maybe you can get your studies to continue using that. As for a challenge, try something smaller and keep it simple. You never know. The key is lot's of promotion, both on and offline.

As for hashtags, they are just a word or phrase with the '#' symbol attached before and included in the post. It might be something like '#MyMemoryChallenge'. If other people use the same hashtag, you can search for it, and see who is using that particular tag and interact with them. Twitter popularized this, but I think it has spread to most of the major platforms. It's quite useful...

Posted by Suzi Woods on 04/16/20 
Thank you 😊 for these ideas! I was so disappointed when two Bible studies I was involved with stopped meeting till after social distancing. I tried the memory challenge on Facebook but failed. I don’t know about how to use hashtags.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/15/20 
I'm sure God will give you ideas to continue your sharing ministry if you ask Him! Stay on the lookout for creative possibilities Carla...
Posted by Carla Phillips on 04/14/20 
I would leave books for neighbors or places I visited, in hopes of helping to spread the gospel . With alot of places closed I cant do that right now . There are alot of great ideas on this lesson, thank you
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/14/20 
Sorry about that Georgia! Mistyped the page. Fixed now. If you are on the desktop version, it's the DISCIPLESHIP link across the top of any page...
Posted by Georgia Kenny on 04/14/20 
Thanks for your response and encouragement, Dan.
I’ll look into those classes.
Ps - just to let you know, the link in the comment doesn’t go to a page, just the “oops” page.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/14/20 

Glad you found this inspiring David! And yes, I do hope they report back so we can update this article with even more tips and suggestions...

I loved your post Georgia, both that you've been connecting even more during this, but especially this line about starting a small group: "recent events seemed to closed that down... until I realised we CAN still do a small group, just in a different manner"! That was exactly the thought I hope to suggest.

The nice thing about a virtual group is your team doesn't have to be local. You can include friends wherever they happen to be.

As for what content to use, I think I would lead people down our Discipleship Track for both groups. It starts with Dry Bones and ends with Revival Keys. But in between you cover the Survival Kit and Basic Training and various course related to personal discipleship. Explore our Discipleship Track for more information...

All the best in your plans to get started!

Posted by Georgia Kenny on 04/14/20 

Interestingly, I feel that this COVID quarantine has allowed me to connect MORE than I would have! For a while I have been practising the phone call connecting, but at this time I have reached out to more people than I usually would have.

I’m very interested in setting up a virtual small group. Late last year God was placing it on my heart to either be part of or host a small group seeking revival, and early this year I made a commitment to do so this year. However, recent events seemed to closed that down... until I realised we CAN still do a small group, just in a different manner!
I am thanking God for technology like I never have before.
I’m open to suggestions as to the best class to run for 2 different groups:
1) believers seeking revival and baptism of the Holy Spirit.
2) growth and discipleship group, range of established christians and new believers.

Posted by David Grabe on 04/13/20 

Greetings, ALL FAST Friends, in the Believing, Beholding, & Becoming Name of Jesus Christ our Lord & Saviour!

Wow, Pastor Dan, THIS article is just as Sister Berith stated:
TIMELY-as well as inspiring! I will be interested to hear how Laurie & Berith Discipleship classes will go!
Blessings to all!

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/13/20 

That's awesome Berith. Please share back any lessons you learn. I think we are all learning together in this.

Definitely appreciate your report Laurie. You were one of several to inspire me to write this. Appreciate what you are doing. I think things will be easier if we can create better tools for easier lesson distribution and objectives accountability. I'm working on those to make virtual training a lot easier...

Glad these inspired you Sheri. I think when we turn adversity into opportunity, it breaks much of its power in our lives. All the best going forward!

Posted by Sheri Trueblood on 04/13/20 
Excellent ideas!! Thanks for getting my wheels turning on what more I can be doing! Want to take advantage of this time. 🙏
Posted by Laurie Wissink on 04/13/20 

With so many people calling me and asking for prayer and guidance at the beginning of this virus, I talked with my team of disciples (who I took through training last year) and we decided to start a new discipleship training class using Zoom.

I spoke to our Pastor about what we wanted to do and he was totally behind it. He was looking at video conferencing apps already and had decided to go with Zoom (for prayer meetings, church board, etc) We reached out to church members via group texts. Margaret, who has used Zoom at work began learning how to use it to hold meetings of our own and we practiced a few times at prayer meeting and then team meetings to plan. Several of those who graduated last year will be taking turns to lead out the classes.

We had 8 sign up. We mailed the materials (although I may drive to their homes and deliver their materials to their front doors except for those who live too far away to save on postage. Also the mail service isn't as timely as it was before).

Our orientation meeting was last Sabbath. It went fabulously. We started a half hour early in order to iron out any issues with Zoom as this is new to most of us. The group of trainees are very earnest in seeking a closer relationship with God, and with each other. I'm excited for this class. I'm just so grateful that this training from Fast is available to us!

Posted by Berith Bermejo on 04/13/20 
I was just thinking of starting a discipleship team online. And this reading came at the perfect time. :D

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