Fractal Discipleship

by Paul on April 17, 2009


Fractal by Jonathan Zander

Fractal by Jonathan Zander

I’ve talked quite a bit with David Watson and other experienced church planters lately.  One refrain in most of our discussions is the vitally important understanding of the fractal nature of discipleship.  Those discussions really have me thinking.  

What is a Fractal Image?


Before I get too into the discussion, let me provide a bit from Wikipedia on Fractals:


fractal is generally “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,”[1] a property called self-similarity. The term was coined by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1975 and was derived from the Latin fractus meaning “broken” or “fractured.” A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that undergoesiteration, a form of feedback based on recursion.[2]

Because they appear similar at all levels of magnification, fractals are often considered to be infinitely complex (in informal terms). Natural objects that approximate fractals to a degree include clouds, mountain ranges, lightning bolts, coastlines, and snow flakes. However, not all self-similar objects are fractals—for example, the real line (a straight Euclidean line) is formally self-similar but fails to have other fractal characteristics; for instance, it is regular enough to be described in Euclidean terms.


To boil that down, true fractal images display the same repeating pattern no matter how much you zoom into any portion of the design.  The image above is an example of a fractal image.

What is Fractal Discipleship?

Fractal Discipleship holds that at every level – church, small group, individual walk – the DNA of obedient, replicating disciples should be present.   So a large group meeting should follow a similar (or the same) pattern as a smaller group, as two friends meeting together, as a single person engaging the Word, etc.

This kind of perspective leads us to use the 3 Part Study approach – as individuals studying God’s Word, in our small groups, and in church plants around the world.  Sometimes they use an oral expression, sometimes it is written, sometimes it is a hybrid, but they all use an expression of the 3 Part Study.  Larger groups might add a musical element to the process, but that doesn’t mean the DNA elements change.

And here are some HUGE things we learned along the way:

  • Process and what you measure are more instrumental to establishing DNA than knowledge.  
  • Your DNA must be present from the first meeting with a non-believer.  
  • You cannot ‘phase-in’ DNA.  
  • Group DNA is established by the third time a group meets.

So, as you look at your small groups, how much thought have you given to the engagement of lost people and to the small group process?  Do you spend more time on what the group will be studying rather than how they will study it?  Is the process of establishing DNA a knowledge-dependant process or an action-driven process?

These are the things I’m dealing with as I look at starting online groups with non-Christians help them discover Jesus.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’d like to see a copy of the materials we use to disciple groups of lost people to Christ, leave a comment and I will email it to you.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • email

{ 1 trackback }

Kleingruppen mit der DNA für eine Gemeindegründungsbewegung « Gemeindegründung im Süden
May 5, 2010 at 6:17 am

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Ailsa Wright April 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I really like this idea, Paul. It’s quite sobering to think that group DNA is there by the third time a group meets. Presumably then it’s not possible to change without having a fresh start?

There are implications here for ministries which are just not working well in their context I assume. Maybe it’s necessary to end whatever is going on, to let that seed die and to allow something new to grow.

I’d be interested in your materials for discipling.

Mike Medders April 17, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I would like to see a copy of the materials you use to disciple groups of lost people to Christ. I talked with David, last week to discuss how to introduce House Church / Cell Church to our Pastor. We meet with our Pastor on Monday 4/20. After talking with David he mentioned your online activities, we plan on introducing this new concept as well.

GOD Bless,

Mike, South Carolina

Paul April 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Hey Mike,

I just emailed that document to you. My phone number is on the email. Call me if you have any questions. Thanks for introducing Reaching the Online Generation to your pastor.


Paul April 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Hey Ailsa,

Changing group DNA is extremely difficult and requires consistant effort and committment from all members of the group to change. It is’t impossible, but it is very difficult. Also, you have to realize that some may not want the new DNA and will choose to leave the group. That is difficult as well.

It is always easier to start a new group with new DNA than to introduce new DNA into an old group.

Yes, sometimes you let old groups die. Sometimes you let them continue to exist, understanding that they will not produce multi-generational fruit. There is no hard and fast rule as to which decision is best. You really have to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit on that.

I just sent you a copy of the Discovering God pdf. Love to hear your feedback.


Lay Kuan April 19, 2009 at 2:31 am

Hi Paul
Would appreciate getting materials on how to start online groups with non-Christians.

Thanks for all your efforts!

It’s true that most of the time, we plan what to study rather than how to study it. It’s not easy to think as an unbeliever… again.

One time, when having to explain “fall short of the glory of God” to an online respondent, I first ran my “answers” by a new young believer, whom I also met online, to help me filter the right meaning across as much as possible.

Lay Kuan

Peet Venter April 22, 2009 at 1:48 pm


I am mailing from South Africa. Could you please send me the discipleship material

Thank You

Peet Venter

Van Ingram March 11, 2010 at 7:56 am

Thanks for the article. Could you please send me a copy of the materials you use to disciple groups to Christ?


David Crane March 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I just subscribed today after reading this article through a link through Guy Muse in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I'm interested in the materials you use in studies to lead lost people to Christ. Would you please send these to me?

Odessa July 2, 2010 at 12:30 am

Hi Paul,
I just subscribed today. I also tried the idea you put on facebook regarding prayer requests. I sent messages to most of my friends on the list believers and non-believers. Most of them responded so far today with a prayer request. Thank you for the idea.
Yes, I would like to see a copy of the materials you use to disciple groups of lost people to Christ. Thank you for your time.


davidkuchun July 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Been trying to plant a church for the last 2 years with very little growth. Heard about Paul and David at a recent conference. Immediately felt that this was what our church has been missing. God willing, with your help, our church will grow and multiply.
Yes, I would love a copy of the materials you use to disciple groups of lost people to Christ.
Dave C

phildec August 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Hi Paul, I came across your site and that of your dad a couple days ago. I am working in central america in campus ministry. I would love a copy of your material. I would also be interested in connecting more with like-minded people. I would love to be able to dialogue with you at some some point. Thanks!

Sondra September 5, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Blessings to you! I'd love a copy of the material you use to disciple people to Christ! Thank you!

Ryan September 17, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Hi Paul, I am pretty sure I am going to engage your strategy in my walk with the Lord. I am at the point where I am "shopping around" for ideas in how to evangelize. Your's seems to have the most credibility. You said in the article that you will send your materials to whoever asks for them. Could you send them to me?


Fred October 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm


I would appreciate if you would send me the materials.

Greetings, Fred

Doug November 28, 2010 at 11:12 am

I just moved to Africa from the US to begin work here. I found your blog through the CPM site. Would like to look at your materials you are using. Thanks!

Craig Olive December 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Can you please send me what you use to disciple unbelievers and believers? Thanks, Craig

Kyle January 10, 2011 at 3:56 am

Hey Paul, I'd love to get the materials you have on discipling groups! I'm in Orlando, Fl. and am looking at implementing this "simple church" strategy with a team of people.

Thomas Ooi January 31, 2011 at 4:06 am

Hi Paul, would be grateful for a copy of your materials used to help non-Christians discover Christ and to disciple group to maturity in Christ. I am from Penang, Malaysia, and would like to introduce this resource to my church. Thanks and Blessings

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: