7. Discipling Oral Learners


Studies show that the majority of the world’s people are oral learners, not visual learners. In other words they learn by hearing and doing, dance and poetry, drama and storytelling. They do not learn well through reading or writing and computers. This is why around 2/3 of the Bible is story telling!

Even in Western countries which have 97% literacy, some 50% of all people are still oral learners. Studies have also shown that even Bangalore IT specialists are mostly oral learners!

This means the ratio of oral learners in villages where literacy is low has to be very high. This is exactly why testimonies resonate with average people but theology does not. This is also why Jesus told so many stories and parables. He knew his audience. For example someone asked him one day who is my neighbour?  Jesus answered with a story but not theological points (Luke 10:25-37).

So how do we teach truth from the Bible to illiterate people? Getting illiterate people to read does not solve the problem. The nerve pathways in their brain are already locked in, and anyway they also live in an embedded oral culture. It’s a completely different thought process.

An oral learner’s world is much smaller than the world of a literate person, it’s limited to the physical world around them. So we must use tools from that world to reach them for the Gospel and train them in discipleship. That is why this whole DMM seminar is built around the concept of four agricultural fields. It’s familiar and easy to remember.

So we must master oral evangelism techniques if the villages of any nation are going to be reached.


Literate Learners Oral learners
Back and forth Linear
Print Stories, song. dance, drama, poetry
Theological and philosophical Experiential
Individual learners Group learners
Quiet Noisy

Case Study: The Tiv people of Nigeria.

Western missionaries had great difficulty reaching this sub culture from the nation of Nigeria for Jesus when using traditional Western methods which were Bible-focussed. Only 250 out 6 million of them came to Jesus in 25 years of missionary effort using traditional methods. Then they changed to an oral teaching approach and saw 250,000 saved in the next 3 years!


The DBS system can be easily adjusted to an oral audience. You simply have to completely memorise the story so well that you do not miss a single detail when telling it to them. You literally become the Bible for them.

Often in most groups of oral listeners there will be someone young and educated enough who can read. So that person becomes the one who checks with the Bible and verifies the story for the group. Then simply follow the same normal DBS pattern.

A skilled oral discipler will eventually memorise up to fifty or more stories from scripture that they can use at a moment’s notice on the street or in a village. These master story-tellers are having a huge effect for the Gospel among illiterate West African herdsmen and women of the Sahara Desert who were previously almost unreachable for Jesus using traditional methods.


  1. Memorise the story completely yourself and practice it.
  2. Speak the story slowly and accurately to the group.
  3. Tell the story again adding gestures, using physical or verbal props, songs etc.
  4. The audience then tells the story as a group to each other, correcting each other if things are missing.
  5. The audience pairs off and again each tells the story with the other correcting.


  1. Remember there is a limit to how much information that can be absorbed in one sitting.
  2. Begin with simple stories that come at the beginning of the life of Jesus. Then build up.
  3. Don’t use technical terms like scribes and Pharisees, just use religious leaders. The Samaritan woman becomes a person from another culture and religion that was not liked.
  4. Don’t embellish the story. Stick to the facts. If you embellish then the next teller will embellish even more. The goal is accurate story telling through many generations of disciples and simple churches.
  5. If one person can read then they become the moderator with the script.
  6. Always give the context of the story before telling the story, but just a few sentences.
  7. Don’t use any more than three names if possible. With new names, don’t introduce more than two.
  8. Look for words and phrases that repeat. Emphasise them as memory hooks.
  9. Progress through visible landmarks as memory hooks. Example, parts of the room, items on the ground, trees and shrubs.
  10. Don’t use geographical place names that are not central to the story.
  11. Tell the story in the exact order, don’t use flashbacks
  12. Don’t use pronouns; use names even if the Bible uses a pronoun.
  13. Church planters should have 20-40 memorised stories explaining Christianity in their toolkit.
  14. Make sure they do 70% of the talking in the meeting


Picture sets

Local worship songs that use scripture

Dance and drama

Lots of story telling


Physical props

Local landmarks


  1. Start learning a few of the Gospel stories off by heart in preparation for use when out sowing Gospel seeds.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit if He wants you to get involved in reaching oral learners.