After examining Jesus’ methods of developing disciples in the Gospels, the speaker on a recent podcast* made this statement– “Connect, Grow, Serve does not compare to how Jesus made disciples.” I would have to agree.
When you examine how Jesus made disciples, he spent about 75% of his time with the disciples. Only about 25% of this time was spent with large crowds. Disciplemaking is time consuming. Disciplemaking is personal. In large congregations, disciplemaking seems impossible. Conventional wisdom dictates that we put people through a process and call that discipleship. But, we’re not making sausage here.
I have tremendous gratitude for those who gave us the baseball diamond, the five G’s, and growth track among other strategies. They gave us a start and connected some of the dots about making disciples. Unfortunately, they didn’t go far enough.
For instance if you take a membership class and sign the membership card, you become a member. But if you take a class on personal growth, spiritual disciplines, or giving, and sign the card, you usually end up with a signed card, but not a disciple.
These are processes. These are assembly lines. But we’re not manufacturing widgets. People are unique. People require different amounts of things at different times in order to produce growth. A process is inadequate to achieve that goal. As Marcus Buckingham once said, “The problem with people is that they’re just never done.”
We frequently quote Acts 2:42-47 as the standard for disciple-making.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
This is where the church was at its inception. Now that we’ve had 2,000 years to work on this, why does it seem we are making less progress? We have the same Gospel. We have the same Holy Spirit. Yet, the modern church is experiencing vastly different results. Something is wrong.
What we miss is the part about being devoted. The first century church was devoted. What are people devoted to? What are believers devoted to? What gets priority in their lives? Is it family, sports teams, political affiliation, or entertainment? I would say that many people are more devoted to their cell phones than anything else (as I dictate this post on my cell phone). But, how are we dedicated to the things of God? Is this once per week, twice per week, Christmas and Easter, when we think about it? What kind of devotion are we asking of the people we lead when it comes to their relationship with God? What is God asking?
So what’s the answer? Do we grow our churches smaller and put less effort into the weekend service? Maybe. Do we switch to house churches and forsake the big box church all together? I’m not sure. How do we change a Connect, Grow, Serve mentality of assimilation and “discipleship” into something that actually transforms lives. (If you’ve got a rocking Connect, Grow, Serve that’s making an impact, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org).
I believe there is a place for large groups, small groups, and individual disciplines. I also see how current systems of discipleship and even small groups are failing to produce lives that reflect Christ. I understand that people are busy and distracted. I understand that every local church requires a certain amount of time, talent, and treasure to operate. But, what are we producing? What is the return on investment? If you surveyed your church members, do their attitudes and actions reflect Jesus? Are they growing to become like Christ or are they merely trying to cope?
I would like to invite you on a journey to find some answers to these questions. Will you join me? The Disiciple Making R&D Pilot begins on Wednesday, May 9 at 2pm Eastern. Click here for more information.
*Pete Scazzero on the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, Episode 238, March 27, 2018.
The key to successful church-wide campaigns has been
lowering the bar on leadership. It’s time to stop.
Campaigns have seemed successful in the past. The numbers are up and to the right. Every campaign recruits more leaders and connects more people into groups. But, have you considered the attrition? How many people are no longer leading? How many group members are no longer in a group? If you look only at numbers and aren’t tracking the individuals involved, you are entering into a scenario of disposable small groups.
The problem with qualifying anyone to lead is that you’ll
get just anyone to lead. They aren’t equipped. They are inexperienced. They
might be new in the faith. How can they give what they don’t have? But, there
is a way to recruit an abundance of new small group leaders without lowering
Where Are You Headed?
The goal of a church-wide campaign is not to create
DVD-dependent hosts who can never open their Bibles and rightly divide the Word
of Truth. In fact, many churches have experienced a diminishing return having
launched campaign after campaign only to discover their group members are
unchallenged and frequently forced back to “kindergarten” spiritually. There is
a time to begin and a time to grow up.
Ultimately, small groups should be environments where
disciples are made. How do you make a disciple? According to Mike Breen,
“People learn by imitation, not instruction.” To make disciples you must make
disciples of the group leaders. Felt needs topics on video-based curriculum is
a great test drive for admitted non-leaders to try their hands at leading
groups, but it’s not a long term strategy.
But, if you go back to “quality” groups, then what happens
to connecting everyone into groups?
Where Do You Start?
The benefit of church-wide campaigns and small groups for
that matter is leader development. The dilemma comes; however, most people
don’t regard themselves as being any kind of leader. I’ve had numerous people
turn down the invitation of “Would you like to lead a group?” It’s the wrong
question. Many avowed non-leaders have leadership qualities that they haven’t
recognized as leadership gifts. This is where the campaign comes in.
By offering a short-term opportunity for someone to gather
people they are comfortable with and do a study together, they demonstrate the
ability to lead a group without asking them to lead a group. Yea, but, didn’t
that just lower the bar? This is more than semantics – you didn’t invite anyone
to become a leader. You invited them to recruit themselves for a trial run at
leading a group without saying “lead.” Unfortunately, this is where most
church-wide campaign efforts stop. This is not the finish line. This is the starting
Now, It’s Time to Raise the Bar.
Once a “leader” and group have a couple of series or
semesters under their belts, they are effectively indicating that they want to
continue. Now it’s time to bring back the requirements you might have delayed
initially. There’s a big difference between lowering the bar on leadership and
delaying the requirements. When leaders have proven themselves and have
fulfilled the requirements for leadership in your church, then it’s appropriate
to call them a leader.
Calling anyone a “leader” right out the gate is risky. As
Paul told Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…” (1 Timothy
5:22). Before anyone is commissioned or given a title, they need to prove
themselves through some kind of trial run. If they pass the test, then invite
them to more. If they don’t do well or exhibit the wrong attitude, then thank
them for fulfilling their commitments. You see, there was something to that “host”
strategy after all.
Grow your leaders. Grow your groups. Turn up the temperature
in the curriculum and in expectations of the groups. Challenge them to take
risks, to serve, and to do things that scare them. Encourage them to face hard
conversations and to tell the truth – good or bad.
Jesus commissioned His disciples to “go and make disciples” – not connect people into groups and not to assimilate newcomers. That may be part of it, but how is discipleship coming along in your church? How many are connecting? How many are growing? How many are leading? Where is your bar set?
Want to continue the conversation? Join the Stop Lowering the Bar Webinar on Thursday, June 6 or Tuesday, June 11 at 2 pm EDT. Register Here.
Most pastors realize their church’s Easter attendance is a
better indicator of the church’s true size than its weekly attendance. Albeit
there are a significant number of visitors on Easter Sunday, the reality is
many of these visitors are not visiting. This is their church. They don’t
attend another church. They claim yours.
In his new book, Connect: How to Grow Your Church in 28 Days-Guaranteed, Don Corder writes, “On any given Sunday, eighty percent are regular attendees and twenty percent are non-regular attendees” (p. 30). He goes on to explain that the 80 percent attend about 33 times per year, while the 20 percent of non-regular attendees are there only 2.4 times per year based on researching The Provisum Group’s database of church clients. What does this mean?
An Attendance of 100 is Really More Like 559.
A church of 100 people is really made up of 559 people. By
Corder’s calculation, 126 people attend 33 times per year on average, while
another 433 make up the other 20 percent of weekly worship attendance. So, how
many people actually attend your church?
If your church averages 1,000 people on the weekend, then
your actual attendee number is somewhere around 5,590. By the same calculation
used above, 1,260 of your people attend about 33 times per year, while another
4,333 attend about 2.4 times per year. If you have any doubts, look at the
total number of records in your church’s database. It’s not so farfetched, is
What Does This Mean for Discipleship?
Often the measuring stick for groups is compared group
membership to the weekend attendance. If you’re in a church of 500 and have 250
people in groups, then you could claim that 50 percent of your people are connected
into groups. But, that’s not realistic in light of this new calculation.
A worship attendance of 500 really represents 2,167 people
who attend your church over the course of the year. If you have 250 people in
groups, you actually have about 12 percent of your people in groups. Well, you
weren’t supposed to be proud of numbers anyway, right?
The church’s mission is to “go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Sermons don’t make disciples. How do you engage the 77.46% of your congregation who only attends an average of 2.4 times per year?
Get Them While They’re There.
What are your church’s peak worship services of the year?
Christmas and Easter, right? The first pastor I served would often say in
Easter services, “Well, if I don’t see you for a while, I want to wish you a
Merry Christmas” and the reverse at Christmas. Rather than ridicule your
infrequent attendees, why not invite them to something?
A pastor’s immediate reaction is “But, it’s impossible to
get any airtime on Easter Sunday (or Christmas)…” That’s true. And, it’s okay.
If you could get airtime in the worship service, that would be great. But,
what’s more important than airtime is a plan.
Make a Plan to Connect Your Infrequent Attendees.
Your infrequent attendees took a step to attend a service.
You just need to give them another step. What are their needs? Where do they
need help? What issues in their lives do they need answers to? If they checked
their children into your children’s ministry on Easter, then a parenting group which
is appropriate to their stage of parenting might be of interest. Are they
married or single? How far do they live from the church? Is there a small group
in their neighborhood? What groups could you promote to these folks? As long as
you have their contact information, you can promote a group that meets their
needs. Or, better yet, a group leader could call and invite a few to their
group. Better still, a person who knows an infrequent attendee could call and
invite them to a group (or start a group).
It doesn’t matter if an announcement wasn’t made in the
service or didn’t appeared in the bulletin on Easter Sunday. For most parents,
their children have overdone the sugar and just want to get home. They’re not
thinking of signing up for a group on Easter or Christmas anyway. But, since
they’ve just attended a recent service, the church is on their mind. Then, when
they receive an invitation by email or a phone call from a warm, friendly group
leader, they might be open to join a group.
While You Have Their Email Addresses…
Remember, infrequent attendees are only coming to your
church for the most part. They may not attend very often, but they aren’t going
anywhere else. If you invite them to a group launch or connection event, they
just might join a group.
Many pastors look at that overly bloated part of the church
database and wonder why they keep all of those records anyway. Many folks don’t
appear to attend much or give anything, so why not purge the database? Don’t
purge the database. These folks are familiar with your church. They are more
likely to attend a service or join a group than people who have never attended.
Invite them to your next connection event. Use the Summer for groups to host
open houses and invite infrequent attendees who live in their neighborhoods.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Your connection percentage just got blown out of the water. Start thinking about turning every group member into a group leader (or every church member into a group leader). The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few.
With so much curriculum available on the market today, why write your own curriculum? Curriculum from publishers is written by professional, well-known authors. It has been thoroughly edited and proofed. The curriculum is designed and printed. All you need to do is buy it, right? While you can purchase the right study with the right topic (and without the work of creating your own), there are some distinct advantages to writing your own curriculum.
Integrate Your Church’s DNA into the Study
Published curriculum is written based on someone’s else’s doctrine, point of view, and even denomination. If those things align with your church, then published curriculum should be the way to go. But, even if the curriculum comes from your denomination, doctrinal statement, and point of view, it won’t reflect the vision and values of your church. Every church is unique. Even churches in the same tribes vary widely according to their region, their culture, their setting (urban, rural, suburban), their demographic, their ministry approach and so many other things.
You can hang your church’s mission statement on the wall, where everybody can see it, but few will remember it or live it out. Or, you can bake your vision and mission into every lesson your group members study and help them better apply your church’s vision and values to their lives.
Some churches will even name the main sections of their curriculum template after their church’s values. Let’s say your church’s mission is summed up as Connect, Grow, Serve (which is a great assimilation strategy, but is not a discipleship strategy. Read more here…). The icebreaker section of your curriculum could be the Connect Section. The Bible discussion could be the Grow Section. And, the application questions could be the Serve Section. This is not a great example, but you get it.
In order to reinforce your church’s values and take your people deeper into your church’s interaction with the community, writing your own curriculum will remind people of where the church is headed. Vision leaks. Your curriculum can recast vision on a weekly basis.
Motivate Your People to Do and Not Just Talk
A great deal of published curriculum focuses on a knowledge-based approach to discipleship. Don’t get me wrong. God gave us a book and a brain. That’s not a coincidence. Reading and studying the Bible is important. But, living out what the Bible says is even more important. After all, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Often published curriculum leads people into gaining more knowledge about the Bible and a greater understanding of the meaning of the text. But, is it changing their lives? D.L. Moody put it this way, “The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.” If your people are growing in knowledge, but lacking in transformation, there is a problem with how they are studying the Bible.
By writing your own curriculum, you can help your members set weekly goals for themselves, participate in specific community projects, or take on an assignment to apply your Bible study where the rubber meets the road instead of where the rubber meets the air.
As Howard Hendricks said, “Most believers are educated well beyond their level of obedience.” By writing your own studies and directing your members toward lesson outcomes that focus more on obeying God’s direction rather than outcomes focused on mere education, you will take them closer to Jesus’ instructions to “teach them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
Include Future Leader Development
Curriculum does not need to serve just the single purpose of Bible study. You can integrate leadership development into each study. Rather than spending hours training group leaders to develop apprentices, you can put the leader training directly into the group study. Write questions that will help group members get further involved in the group. Nothing is off limits. Ask group members, in the lessons, to share responsibilities for the group like facilitating the discussion, leading a prayer time, opening with an icebreaker, hosting the group in their homes, bringing refreshments, organizing a serve project, or planning a social event. Group leaders can delegate everything they are currently doing to the group members. The only thing they can’t delegate is the responsibility for the group.
By including these instructions in the actual lessons, even if the leader is reluctant to ask group members to participate, the curriculum asks for them. If you provide a sign up sheet or calendar for group members to record their assignments, then it’s all set. The leader no longer has to carry the entire burden of serving the group. The members will feel greater ownership for the group. Future leaders will be identified and developed to lead future groups.
You have to do this yourself. Very little published curriculum includes small group leadership strategies as part of the lessons.
Reduce Your Curriculum Costs
Published curriculum is expensive. The average study guide will range from $8-$20 per person. While that’s merely the price of a good cup of coffee or two, for some people and for most budgets, curriculum costs are expensive. If your curriculum is video-based, then you’re probably shelling about another $25-$35 for DVDs or streaming video. Fortunately, this is not the only way.
By creating your own curriculum, you can output your lessons as a pdf and upload your videos to Youtube. There is very little cost. If you want to up the ante and provide a professional looking study guide for an alignment series or church-wide campaign, services like Amazon’s CreateSpace offer print-on-demand services. For instance, my All In study costs $2.34 per copy. You can publish books on Kindle for free or upload video to Amazon Direct Video and not charge anything.
Creating your own curriculum will not only reduce costs, but will provide flexible formats for your groups. For more information on creating curriculum teaching videos, go here.
Keep What’s Important in Front of Your Groups
Publishers care about providing quality resources to help your group members interact with God’s Word. They use very gifted, well-known teachers and speakers to produce these resources. They can do a lot of things that most church’s can’t. But, there is something they cannot do.
Publishers cannot customize their curriculum for your church. But, you can. As I stated before, you can integrate your church’s mission, vision, and values into every lesson. You can lead your people toward serving your community by including details of upcoming outreach events in the lessons. Even better, you can lead the group through a discussion on serving and outreach with your serving opportunity as the outcome of the lesson. You can train your group members to become group leaders by including your leadership training in the actual lessons instead of a page in the appendices of your book.
I’m not saying to avoid published curriculum. But, I do want you to consider the possibilities of writing your own curriculum. It’s your responsibility to lead your people, not a publisher’s responsibility.
I am offering a 4-week Writing Effective Curriculum Workshop. We start on May 7th! This is a WORKSHOP, so it’s interacgtive, and there are assignments. I will give you personal feedback on your writing. For more information, click here.
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