Core 3 Strand Disciple-making Process: Crowd + Cell + Core (C3)

Jesus gave us this pattern. Wesley followed it. You can too.

The Backstory

In 2001, Phillip Hearn, founding pastor of New River Fellowship, Weatherford, Texas listened to my vision about implementing a third strand of discipleship to our existing church educational process. He agreed and I launched what I called a Core Discipleship Group. After 18-months meeting with three other guys and watching those guys grow leaps and bounds, we took the process church-wide. We cast the vision to the church staff, realigned staff around the process, communicated the process to all church leadership (cell group leaders and ministry heads), and finally to the body in a 3-part sermon series entitled “The 4-12 Trilogy” (based on Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Within two years, I was overseeing 28 Core Groups, had developed and published the Core Discipleship manual, and once I believed the process soundly tested and evidenced into a second and third generation, I launched the website. Phillip went on to write his doctoral dissertation for Regent University on the findings. You can read and even order the entire study here: “The Three-Strand Church: Understanding the Scriptural Values and Structural Venues of a Three-Strand Approach to Discipleship.”

Here’s a graph based on Phillip’s research of what happened when we moved to a 3-Strand discipleship model:


Like Jesus’ “inner core” of three (Peter, James and John), a Core Discipleship Group is made up of 3 and no more than 4 believers of the same gender who purpose to grow in relationship with God and one another. Core is a Biblical process that can develop a life-transforming, spiritual discipleship network and community in your church where no one stands alone, struggles alone, develops alone or grows up alone.

We call this the 3-Strand Core Discipleship Process (C3 = Crowd + Cell + Core). This 3-Strand Discipleship process is not something new. Christ’s ministry was to the multitudes, the 12, and the three (Crowd + Cell + Core).

In 1743, John Wesley imitated Jesus’ discipleship process by creating societies, classes, and bands (Crowd + Cell + Core). A Core Group comes under the supervision of your local church and is facilitated by, but never dominated by, a more spiritually-mature believer.

There are 5 key Scripture passages which form the “hand-shake” of a Core Discipleship Group and emphasized from beginning to end: Matthew 22:37-40 (Great Commandment); Matthew 28:19-20 (Great Commission); Acts 2:42; Ephesians 4:11-16, and 2 Timothy 2:2. Core embraces an environment where life-transformation and multiplication can be greatly accelerated.

I realize that each local church must determine God’s specific directives for that body. I hope you will review the 3-Strand Core Discipleship Process and benefit from our free workbook. I’m not selling anything. The process and the workbook are entirely free. Continue reading if you really want to make disciples who make disciples …

Jesus’ 3-Strand Discipleship
The most effective manner to train and equip people for any skill is by providing effective models and opportunities to practice the skill itself. Jesus used a show, tell, release, and supervise model of 3-Strand Discipleship training. Jesus ministered to the multitudes (crowd), the 12 (cell), and the inner circle of 3 (core). After calling the disciples, He took them along with Him, teaching and healing the sick as He went. Then, after He thought the disciples had seen and learned enough to try for themselves, He commissioned, empowered, instructed, and sent them out to do the same things. This discipleship process should be no different for those desiring to bring others into a complete understanding and walk in Christ-likeness.

John Wesley’s 3-Strand Discipleship
In 1743 John Wesley created a 3-strand discipleship model, a “company of people having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they might help each other to work out their own salvation.” The 3 groups were called societies (crowd), classes (cell), and bands (core).

3 Strands. 3 Stages. 3 People.
The C3 discipleship process can be integrated into any church using all 3 strands or by launching stand-alone Core Groups. It can be used by any Christian church as a roadmap and adapted to fit any church expression, small groups or for individual study. In addition to the process, we also provide free resources to assist you in equipping the saints.

3 Strands


Strand 1: Crowd (vast majority of churches have “Sunday” services)
C3 DiscipleshipSize: 50+ people – typically the large gathering in most churches for corporate worship
Purpose: To bring about a change in knowledge
Focus: celebration/worship

Strand 2: Cell (large number of churches have cell or life groups)
Size: 5-16 people
Purpose: To bring about behavioral change; character
Focus: community/fellowship

Strand 3: Core (few churches have personal discipleship groups)
Size: 3 people – no more than 4
Purpose: To bring about a change of direction, heart and position; knowledge, character and conduct
Focus: commitment/discipleship

3 Stages
Matthew Henry wrote, “All Christians are not of the same standing and stature; there are babes in Christ, there are grown men, and old disciples.” From 1 John 2:12-14 the Apostle John references three spiritual life stages: children, young men, and fathers. Core provides a variety of discipleship materials for all three stages. These resources are organized in a suggested sequence: Beginnings/Children (A1-A9: “knowledge”); Intermediate/Students (B1-B9: “character”); and Seasoned/Adult (C1-C9: “conduct”). The purpose of these categories is to help you develop a balanced set of discipleship resources as part of your church discipleship process.

3 People
In each lesson, study, and guide, the Bible is the text and the Holy Spirit the teacher. All members of a Core Discipleship Group, including the facilitator, learn, share, pray, and grow together.

  • Consists of 3 and no more than 4 people
  • Same gender
  • Meets weekly for an extended time
  • Purpose is to grow in relationship with God and each other
  • Mutual transparency, trust, encouragement, instruction, accountability and “peer” counsel desired by all
  • Each person desires to be formed, conformed, and transformed through Biblical knowledge/understanding/application, growing in Christ-like character, and evidenced by Holy Spirit-empowered conduct
  • The Bible is absolutely essential (Acts 2:42)
  • Core resources are available to you as free tools to use in conjunction with the Bible
  • The group is facilitated by – but not dominated by – a more spiritually-mature believer (2 Tim. 2:2)
  • The groups create an environment of life-transformation and multiplication by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:19; Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:11-16)
  • There must be equality, independence for each person to hear God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, open and honest dialogue (not monologue)
  • Must produce disciples who can then make disciples
  • Christ-like growth is the ultimate goal of each Group
  • Accountability focuses on learning to “observe or obey all that Jesus has commanded” (Mth. 28:19).

Simple. Proven. Biblical. Reproducible.

  • Adaptable to your unique ministry setting.
  • Undated process and resources so that you can begin and integrate Core at any time.
  • Translation independent so that your church and Core Group members are comfortable using their preferred English-language Bible translation.
  • Free. The Core discipleship process and all of our materials are free.
  • Core Discipleship is not affiliated with a denomination. We are sensitive to the doctrinal distinctions among Christians, so we have focused on the
  • Core teachings of our Christian faith. Core has been used by a wide spectrum of churches, ministries, organizations and schools.
  • Core purposes to make disciples who can then make disciples. Plus, from the very beginning, each Core member is encouraged to begin praying for his or her own Core Group and for someone who does not know Jesus as Lord.

Next: Continue overview and Get Free Workbook…

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