Needed: Offline Training

By Dan Vis
May 30, 2018
Comments: 20

FAST began as a personal effort to share the basic skills of discipleship with a few friends. I had gotten some great help early on, and was eager to share what little I knew. It started in a small SS class in the little church I was baptized in. Because there were no other rooms available, we had to squeeze into a tiny mother's room!

At the time, the internet was a largely unknown tool used primarily by academics. The world wide web as we know it today did not even exist.

The Lord blessed, and in time we gradually started sharing our study guides with others. Groups started up in churches all over the country, and we were soon expanding into other countries and languages. Everywhere it seemed, there was a hunger for practical, nuts and bolts discipleship training.

During that time, the internet grew up too. Like many others, we put up a website to help us distribute resources and provide support to team leaders. Today, our site runs on our own software platform, offering numerous tools and resources, and is home to thousands of members and scores of churches. Many access our site daily for study, memorization, and fellowship.

In many ways, FAST and the internet grew up together.

While I'm thankful for this growth, I sometimes worry about drifting from our roots. Our world has definitely changed, but the need for face to face discipleship training has not. Our passion to provide the best training we can to believers via the internet, must not be allowed to weaken our emphasis on the need for small group, face to face, training classes in local churches. While we live in an online world, we desperately need offline training!

The Face to Face Advantage

Why do we need offline training? A quick look at the life of Jesus suggests the model of using a small group as the primary training environment. And at the end of His training, He gave them clear instructions to follow that same model: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.).

Granted, there was no internet in His day. And were Jesus here on earth today, I suspect He would use any technology that enhanced His ministry. But there are several real advantages of meeting face to face:

  • Access. Not everyone has a computer or smart phone. And many who do, don't spend a lot of time online. If we want to reach every person possible in our church, we need to provide other options.
  • Consistency. While some have that inner determination to set a goal and stick with it, what we often notice at FAST is people are active for awhile, then fizzle out for a time. It's an on again, off again pattern. With a regular weekly meeting, it's easier to stay consistent.
  • Accountability. There's an inherent lack of accountability to internet training. I may send an automated reminder or two if I don't see you for a few weeks, but that's a poor comparison to getting with a partner every week to check off your weekly objectives and quote your verses!
  • Support. It can feel lonely if you are doing training online all by yourself. In a small group however, members can encourage, pray for, and support one another. And that support can continue even after the group ends as you see each other at church week after week.
  • Balance. We all have strengths and weaknesses. In online training, we'll tend to gravitate toward areas that come easy. But in a small group, different participants will emphasize the benefits of different areas. And as a result, all learn more together. That's just how the body works.
  • Relationships. Ultimately, the quality of your relationship with those you train will largely determine the effectiveness of your training. There's a certain superficiality to online relationships. But in our local discipleship teams, we see amazing, life-changing friendships form every year.

You can probably think of other advantages to meeting in a small group with real people in your church. But in summary, that is the purpose of your church: to be a training center for Christian workers. And if that is its purpose, it makes sense that training should be done there.

How to Start a FAST Team

So how do you start an offline FAST team in your local church? In today's module I'll give the exact steps:

Recruit Leaders
The first step in starting a team is to share your vision with one or more people and ask them to join you in leading a group. Running a discipleship team is different from teaching a class, and having one or more assistants to help with the group is vitally important.

In my church, we usually had 3 or more leaders working together in each team. "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour... and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. . . . And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.). There are several reasons for this. One is that having a team of leaders will lighten your load in providing support to each team participant. Another is that it can help in recruiting members. Each leader can tap into their own network of friends.

Note that you do not have to be FAST graduate to help lead a team. Our tools are easy to use if you follow our instructions closely. But leaders should have a vision for making disciples. If you cannot find other leaders to join you, it might be better to simply go through the lessons with two or three friends first. Then once they are trained, they can assist you in leading a larger team.

Select a Time & Place
Next you will need to consider where and when you will meet. In our experience, the best option is to create a special SS class for your discipleship training. Some churches choose to use midweek prayer meeting for training, others do training in small groups that meet at other times in member homes. But people are busy, and it is difficult to get them to come together outside the regular weekly worship service. Plus you have the added advantage that child care is usually available through the various children's programs.

It takes about 8-9 months to go through our main discipleship track, and you will need to set aside between an hour to an hour and 15 minutes for each meeting. We usually started in August and went through May to avoid the disruption of summer vacations. We also allowed class members to skip the opening SS exercises to give them a little extra time for training. You can try a different time and location, but you do need to put together a detailed plan.

Church Support
Next, schedule a time for you and your leaders to discuss the program with the pastor, church board, or SS Council, as most appropriate, and secure approval for the course. Discipleship training works best in the context of a supportive church family. That support should include a meeting room for the team, and funds for materials. If your church is registered as a FAST Training Center, there are no additional costs for training other than making copies, and purchasing a few verse packs and cards. Everything else is included.

If for some reason you cannot secure consent, you can always resort to small study groups that meet in homes. But remember, the ultimate goal is to see the church develop a vision for disciple-making. Work to overcome any obstacles, and do your best to work cooperatively with local church leadership. It's difficult to have healthy discipleship training, without healthy church relationships.

Prepare the Leaders
Once you have approval, the leaders should start preparing themselves. In the Training Center area, there is a complete library of teacher resources, in the area marked "Teacher Tools". There, you will find our Certification Manual which gives you step by step, detailed instructions, for every facet of the course. There is also a link to our full Discipleship Pack, which includes our entire training curriculum. Grab these and start familiarizing yourself with them.

The instructions explain exactly how to promote the class, conduct the initial orientation meeting, and guide your group through each lesson, quiz, exam, and booklet--all the way down to the dedication ceremony at the end of the course. We recommend following these suggestions as closely as possible, until you have led a successful team or two, and fully understand the reasons for each suggestion.

The fact is, leading a discipleship team is very different from leading a regular SS class. It will require you to shift from teaching to training. You will have to build a high level of commitment, and maintain motivation for a sustained period of time. The goal is not just to impart information, but to teach skills--and to build those skills into the lives of each participant. You won't get different outcomes, until you start doing things different.

FREE Gift!

Once your class is approved, how do you get people to sign up? Here's a handy checklist of 13 creative ways to invite people to join your next training event. And it's FREE to members...

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The Role of Online Training

All of this is not to say there is not a place for online training. While face to face small groups meetings in the SS of your local church is the ideal environment for disciple-making, it can be supplemented by online resources. Not only can we disseminate lessons, teacher tips, certificates, printable forms and all the rest more efficiently, but we can provide supplemental training and support for both team leaders and team participants.

Leaders, for example, should take our Lost Art of Disciple-Making class before launching their first group for a quick overview of the whole training process. And if your church is a training center, we have step by step teacher tips for every single lesson in our discipleship track. Generally speaking, the more a leader learns from FAST, the more effective they will be at teaching our core curriculum. In many ways we see our role as training the trainer.

But we can also help participants. We have advanced training on almost every aspect of our core curriculum for those who want to dig deeper. Participants can also greatly enrich what they study in your group, by interacting with students from around the world. And our coaches are available to answer questions via our Help Hotline any time they get stuck or stumble across something that is not clear.

But online training should be thought of as a way to supplement face to face training, rather than being seen as a replacement for it. Our primary focus must always be investing in friends, person to person. And preferably in the context of a SS class in your local church.


Throughout the month of June we will be focusing on the importance of making disciples. We'll be talking about it in our Monday Memo's, and in our featured class. But the bottom line is this: without creating space in our busy church schedules for real discipling to take place offline, all the best online tools in the world will never transform your church into a training center.

In my church, the first things we did was start a discipleship class. My wife and I led the first group. Then each year after, for 7 years in a row, graduates from the preceding year helped lead each new class. When we moved to North Dakota, we were literally watching our great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren being trained! Scores of members were discipled, many of them took the program more than once, and many of them went on to serve as leaders. Through it all, our church nearly tripled in attendance and we grew a band of highly dedicated, spiritual leaders.

The same can happen in your church. But you will have to do it offline.

Take the Next Step

Want to learn the nuts and bolts of leading a FAST discipleship team for yourself? Give our Lost Art of Disciple-Making class a try. Recently revised and expanded, and FREE through the month of June. Click here to sign up:

Tell Me More...


Does your church have a specific class devoted to discipleship training? If not, what would it take to get a class like that started? Is God possibly calling you to help lead a group?

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Posted by Dan Vis on 06/26/18  
Sounds like a great idea Rebecca. For years most of our groups met outside of regular church times. Works just fine. :)

Carole, you were mentioned in the comment below.
Posted by Rebecca Gottfried on 06/19/18  
I was born in Hinsdale, IL Carol Bliss, and I am so happy to hear of their growth!

I'm interested in starting this group in my home as a midweek study! I teach Cradle Roll to my 2 children, so it'd be easier to do it during the week, where I can get them to bed while we study.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/18/18  
Starting a class in the church where members don't have to go online might be a solution Ann. Even if you could get 6-8 people, you could have a great group. Once that first group goes through it, they can share testimonies that will attract others next time. It's just getting the first group going...
Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 06/18/18  
I just got back from camp meeting and am trying to "catch up" on memos. We are trying in our church to get more people involved in using FAST. So far it really is just the pastor's wife and myself. There is a core group that attends prayer meeting but so far no-one is committing themselves to more intensive Bible study. I guess we just need to keep praying!
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/17/18  
Thanks Carole!
Posted by Carole Bliss on 06/13/18  
I will be sure and pass your message on the Pastor Ron.
He is a favorite of mine, also.
God bless your ministry.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/13/18  
Yes Carole, I know Pastor Schultz very well. He was one of my favorite pastors in Illinois. You were blessed to have him all those years. Next time you talk to him, please say hello for me!
Posted by Carole Bliss on 06/12/18  
My Pastor for many years was Pastor Ron Schultz. He is over the prayer coordinators in Illinois.
I happen to be one of them, at Hinsdale.
Prayer has grown in many circles at Hinsdale. We have phone conferences, were we pray regularly and also, a Moms and Grandmoms prayer group, that meets once a month, but, we pray daily for one another.
We meet over the phone with Pastor Ron and other prayer leaders, once a month.
We are blessed.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/11/18  
Yes, that was Carlos. He was one of our first leaders at North Aurora. An all around great guy. Didn't know you went to Hinsdale Carole! Too bad we didn't get better acquainted before we left Illinois. :)
Posted by Carole Bliss on 06/11/18  
Someone from the Aurora Church came to Hinsdale church a few years ago, and had a discipleship class during S.S. For those who attended, it was successful. One of the members, who took the class, may be interested in starting a class, I will talk to her about it. I believe she would be the most equipped one to lead out. We will pray about this.
Thank-you for all the information.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/11/18  
Thank you David! It will not be easy to change the culture of our churches, and sometimes it feels like we are just taking small steps here and there. But it all adds up. As long as we keep seeking God, and moving forward, He will bless.

I firmly believe there are still more pieces to the puzzle, and God is more than willing to reveal them to us. Then, when everything is in place, things will begin to accelerate much more quickly. Can't wait for that day!!!
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/11/18  
Thanks Qing! Glad we could be a support to you. I don't normally think of our community as a church, but you've definitely been a huge part of our team, and I thank you for that. And anything we can do to support your church, you know we are here!

As for a one stop shop, there's still a few things I'd like to add to our "inventory" of training resources. Including some big things the second half of 2018, and maybe some even bigger things in 2019. Then maybe you can say one stop shop. :)
Posted by David Jeffrey Grabe on 06/11/18  
Greetings, Pastor Dan, in the Mighty Name of Jesus!

Your blessed article was just what I needed to read, hear, and respond to!
Yes! I have wanted to establish a discipling class here in our church in El Paso & I know now that FAST has all the tools to have a big part in making it possible! I have given & will continue to give tutorials for our members in how to use the FAST website, but as you said, "without creating space in our busy church schedules for real discipling to take place offline, all the best online tools in the world will never transform your church into a training center."
Called? Without a doubt! (John 20:21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.)
Convicted? YES indeed! (Romans 13:11And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.)
Committed? ABSOLUTELY! (II Timothy 1:12For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.)

Coveting earnestly your prayers for God's leading in this endeavor!

Exodus 33:14And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.
Deuteronomy 33:25Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
I Samuel 7:12Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.
Posted by Qing Ling on 06/11/18  
Another great nuts and bolts article from the FAST office, Dan. Thank you. Have shared with my church pastors. Prayer is key in preparation.

I’m one of the FAST members who have benefited from ONLINE training, in the absence of having a local group to grow together with - and I’ve come to realise that for many years, FAST Missions has been my ONLINE CHURCH, even as I’ve been attending brick & mortar churches locally throughout these years. I don’t know where I would be without this community.

I agree an offline group is important.. and shared online resources are a bonus expansion pack to the experience. In today’s tech-savvy generation, Yet I wonder how many souls would be able to connect PRIMARILY through the cyber world.After speaking to some people, I actually think it works for a small few.
But to answer your article question - there is not currently a specific class devoted to disciple training in my church. But hearing your story about your great-great-great-great-great-great-great ‘grandchildren’ is pretty inspiring! :)
Thanks for the well organised resources available in FAST missions. It’s a great one-stop shop. There are some big projects already currently at play in my church’s journey. I will continue to look for opportunities to weave FAST’s practical methodologies into my local church experience ;) Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Posted by Denice on 06/05/18  
Thank you Dan,
I’m so excited about the discipleship training. Our new Pastor can see the benefit to our church . He has given permission to conducting this program through Personal Ministeries. At present our nominating committee are considering those who will be in various positions for new church year.
I have made this a matter of prayer and God has some folk ready to be leaders.
Thank you so much for all you do to help us grow closer to our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/04/18  
No problem John. Just know we are here. The first step in most cases, after prayer, is to find 1-2 others to join with you in the venture. It's too big to do by yourself. :)
Posted by John Gilmore on 06/04/18  
For the moment, Dan, your prayers will be appreciated.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/04/18  
Great point John. I'm planning to write more about some of these points in an upcoming memo. Didn't have time to include it in this post--but I agree completely.

Let me know if you have any questions about how to get started.

Great to hear Denice! So exciting. The same offer to you. Let me know if I can help in any way. As I often say, our goal is your success. :)
Posted by Denice on 06/02/18  
Thank you Dan for your commitment to helping us with training programs.
I’ve now been able to get permission to implement this started in our personal ministries program.
Praise God for answered prayer.

Posted by John Gilmore on 06/01/18  
Offline training seems to me also to be essential for church growth. Some church members don't have a computer, let alone internet, and never will. But more importantly, from what I've seen, our deepest relationships are almost never established online but rather person to person.

We have had some discipleship training, but mainly individually and I'm not sure how effective it has been. We do need to do something different.

"Is God possibly calling...?" I'm convicted so.

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