Disciple Bible Study has changed lives. The 34-week study has been credited by many people over the years with helping them at least start down the path of fulfilling the United Methodist Church’s mission statement of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In fact, more than 3 million people have participated since Disciple's inception in 1987.
But at 34 weeks in length and with classes of 2½ hours each week, fewer and fewer people seemed to find the time to take part in such a study.
The developers of Disciple I, which provides an in-depth survey of the entire Bible, are attempting to address that issue with Disciple Fast Track: Bible Study for Busy Lives. This 21st century version of the popular study condenses the coursework from 34 weeks to 24 and each class period from approximately 150 minutes to 75.
“When Disciple first came out, there were three TV stations, no Internet and few club sports teams,” said Susan Wilke Fuquay, developer of the Disciple Fast Track study. She is the daughter of United Methodist Bishop Richard Wilke, who created the original Disciple Bible study with his wife, Julia.
Wilke Fuquay said she once attended a church in North Carolina that provided a children’s program for about 90 minutes each week.
“Parents were dropping their kids off like crazy,” she said. “I started thinking about what we could do to develop a Bible study like Disciple that would fit into that kind of time period.”
The hope was to get parents such as these involved in a Bible study.
The result was Disciple Fast Track, which is in the beta testing mode. Churches can sign up to take part in the new version of Disciple by designating at least one person to take the "beta 2" leader online training course. The cost might seem steep for some people at first at about $212. But the fee includes the new leader’s guide, DVDs with 48 videos for the class, flash cards used for reviews, online training and the opportunity for leaders to chat online with others leading groups through the course.
Wilke Fuquay said the condensed version of Disciple provides greater flexibility for congregations. She cited several examples in which churches taught the class to as few as 12 people and as many as more than 120. The larger-scale groups require table leaders to facilitate small-group discussions. Some churches teach it during Sunday school time. Others teach it in the evenings. Yet others teach it from noon to 1:15 p.m. one day a week.
“I discovered a lot of people can take a long lunch one day a week,” she said.
Participants can expect to embark on a journey through the Scriptures in the Fast Track version just as they would if they were to take the established Disciple I course. The new version includes 12 lessons from the Old Testament and 12 lessons from the New Testament. Lessons that were combined don’t mean there is a doubling up on reading assignments in some weeks. In those cases, Scriptures that keep the Biblical narrative moving forward are still read and discussed while secondary stories are omitted from the reading list for that week.
Students use the same book as the established Disciple I course with instructions each week from the leader about reading assignments.
Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Great Plains Conference endorses Disciple Bible study as a means of growing in the faith of Jesus Christ.
“I believe that every Christian should be in worship every week, and belong to two small groups — one where he or she is spiritually fed. Disciple Bible Study, in all its forms, is one of the best small-group formats I know,” Bishop Jones said. “I have taught Disciple I nine times and Christian Believer two times. I have seen people come to a deeper faith in Christ and get more active in Christian service. People have discovered spiritual gifts and become much better acquainted with the Bible and the Christian faith. It is life-changing!”
Wilke Fuquay said one of the benefits of Disciple Bible Study is that people start out wanting to learn about the Bible and find along the journey that they grow spiritually. In the full Disciple I course, the final session includes participants sharing the spiritual gifts that they see in their classmates. Disciple Fast Track features an online spiritual gifts inventory that participants take, and the class then gets the opportunity to discuss and affirm those gifts.
Wilke Fuquay said the first round of beta testing showed overwhelmingly that the 24-week approach makes a positive influence on the participants. Bishop Jones said he has found that to be true as well.
“More recently, my new neighbors completed Disciple Fast Track at their United Methodist church, and it was clear that their group of young adult friends were brought closer together because of the experience,” Bishop Jones said.
Wilke Fuquay said people who go through the training to be a beta 2 leader will receive the finished product once it publishes, perhaps as early as next year, at no additional cost. That makes the investment of time and money worthwhile as churches use Disciple Fast Track to create or strengthen a culture of discipleship. She said in her experience, the people who take Disciple Fast Track become the next class for Disciple II or other Bible study – small groups that help churches fulfill their missions within their churches, communities and the world.
Bishop Jones said the Christian faith is partially about building that sense of community among people and that churches in the Great Plains and beyond should offer different small-group options as a means of helping build strong communities of faith.
“A healthy church should offer many different types of small groups, and the format, style, frequency and content should be different to reach different types of people,” Bishop Jones said.