Our Methodology

The Research behind the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA)

While we suspect this might be the least read page on the site, it is probably the most important. Spiritual growth is important to the church and is clearly taught and expected in Scripture. All throughout the Bible, we are taught that we are a spiritual people and we are created to know and have a relationship with God.

The team at LifeWay Research committed to developing the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA) with the hope of helping churches faithfully engage in the process of making disciples. An online assessment should never replace the personal engagement of people spending time with other people and God as they grow in their faith. However, we believe this tool can provide insights to individuals and leaders on making the most of that time together. Discipleship isn’t somewhere you can finally “arrive,” but it does have steps and some fundamental processes that can be learned and practiced by Jesus’ followers.

The TDA is a statistically validated assessment tool built on exhaustive research. “Statistically validated” (for those who haven’t already clicked to another page in boredom) simply means you can trust the numbers “under the hood.” This research revealed eight factors at work in the lives of believers who are growing in their faith.

Those eight factors or attributes are: 

  1. Bible Engagement
  2. Obeying God and Denying Self
  3. Serving God and Others
  4. Sharing Christ
  5. Exercising Faith
  6. Seeking God
  7. Building Relationships
  8. Unashamed (Transparency)


How did we find these eight attributes?

In 2011, the LifeWay team conducted an exhaustive research look at discipleship-specifically, who is doing it and how is it getting done. The team conducted this research in three key phases:

  1. Expert Interviews
  2. Protestant Pastor Survey
  3. Laity Survey

In the first phase, the LifeWay Research team interviewed key discipleship experts from all over the world. We asked them how they “did” discipleship, what they had learned, what is going well in the church today, and where are we failing. These interviewees included:

  • Jerry Acosta- evangelism coordinator with the Venezuelan National Baptist Convention
  • Francisco Aular- pastor in Canada and founder of the Latin American Baptist Discipleship Movement
  • Henry Blackaby- president of Blackaby Ministries and author of Experiencing God
  • Luis “Gary” Cesar- senior pastor of First Baptist Church Satelite
  • Marigene Chamberlain- professor at Samford University and former member of General Board of Discipleship, The United Methodist Church
  • Neil Cole- founder and director of Church Multiplication Associates
  • Robert Coleman- author of Master Plan of Discipleship
  • Hector Hugo Arias Contreras- leader at the Chilean Baptist Convention
  • Earl Creps-professor of leadership and spiritual renewal at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and author of Off-Road Disciplines
  • Edgard Castano Diaz- senior pastor of Central Baptist Church, Bogota, Columbia, and former president of the Colombian Evangelical Council
  • Jon Ferguson- teaching pastor, Community Christian Church
  • Angel Mena Garcia- pastor and denominational leader with the Assemblies of God in Panama
  • Alton Garrision- assistant general superintendent, Assemblies of God
  • Billie Hanks- founder of Operation Multiplication
  • Alan Hirsch- founder of Forge
  • T. W. Hunt- author of The Mind of Christ and The Doctrine of Prayer
  • Mary Kassian- professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of In My Father?s House
  • Larry Lee- executive secretary of Youth and Leadership Development of National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia
  • Aubrey Malphurs- founder of The Malphurs Group, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and author of Advanced Strategic Planning and Strategic Disciple Making
  • Robertson McQuilkin- president emirtus of Columbia International University
  • Jaime Riquelme Miranda- pastor and leader of the Chilean Ministers Alliance
  • Alexander Montero- director of Venezuelan National Baptist Convention
  • Steve Murrell- founding pastor of Victory Fellowship, Manila
  • Waldemar Morales Roca- director of Guatemala Baptist Seminary
  • Leonard Sweet- professor at Drew University and author of The Gospel According to Starbucks
  • Natan Velazquez- pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Caracas, Venezuela
  • Victor Villanueva- leader at the Mexico National Baptist Convention and professor at Yucatan Autonomous University
  • Don Whitney- professor of biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

In the second phase, LifeWay Research conducted a telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors:

  • The telephone survey was conducted August 17- 24, 2011.
  • The calling list was randomly drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Up to six calls were made to reach a sampled phone number.
  • Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called.
  • Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches.
  • The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

In the third phase, LifeWay Research completed a study of church laity in the United States with 2,930 completed surveys.

  • Surveys were conducted in October 14-22, 2011.
  • A representative sample of American adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more was surveyed.
  • A demographically balanced online panel was used for the interviewing.
  • Respondents could respond in English, Spanish, or French.
  • The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +1.8 percent . Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

This is not the first time LifeWay Research has taken an in-depth look at the state of discipleship. Five years ago, an initial study of 2,500 Protestant regular church attendees laid the foundational work for this more recent study. This initial project revealed trends in the practices, attitudes, and beliefs of those in the church and those growing in their faith. From that study, the Spiritual Formation Inventory (SFI) online instrument was developed based on thorough analysis of Scripture, the data, and expert feedback on New Testament discipleship. The results were reviewed by a panel of experts and validated statistically. The SFI proved to be a helpful tool to individuals and churches. With their feedback and insights, and current questions related to discipleship, the LifeWay Research team decided to take another look at the state of discipleship. This led to the 2011 research and the development of this newest tool, the TDA.