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.
Sermons do a lot of things, but sermons don’t make
Here’s the dilemma: the church’s mission is to “go and make
disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). If sermons don’t make disciples, then how does
the church fulfill its mission? If sermons don’t directly fulfill the church’s
mission, then why is so much emphasis placed on the weekend worship service and
What Do Sermons Do?
I’m a preacher. I have nothing against preaching. I take
exception, however, in depending on preaching to accomplish what it cannot
Sermons serve to inspire, inform, and motivate. People can
come to Christ as a result of responding to a pastor proclaiming the Word of
Truth. Preachers are brokers in hope. They can help people reframe their lives
from a context of frustration and despair to embrace hope and God’s love.
Sermons anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit are dynamic things that can
make an impact. Yet, sermons don’t make disciples.
If discipleship was a uniform process or the mastery of a body of knowledge, then the information delivered in a sermon would certainly add to knowledge acquisition. But, that’s not what discipleship is. Disciples aren’t processed. They’re crafted.
How Do You Make Disciples?
Disciples make disciples. While much of Western Christianity
has depended on the definition of a disciple as a student, then placed the
student in a class and delivered thorough teaching, it has ended up with very
educated, yet disobedient students. Here’s the proof: what they know is not
adequately reflected in their attitudes and actions. I’m not building a case
for perfectionism. But, I am a believer in the principle that what people truly
believe is reflected in what they do. Or, put another way, “faith without works
is dead” (James 2:17).
Now, I realize that some at this point will wonder if I am
advocating some works-based approach to Christianity. This is where I’m going:
if church-goers have no desire for the things of God, then I would question
whether they truly belong to God. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “Therefore,
my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now
much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and
trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to
fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). We don’t work for our
salvation, but we work out our salvation because God is working in us.
If disciples aren’t merely students, then what are they? The
word “disciple” is derived from several different words including follow and
“to rub off on.” The model Jesus gave us was to spend 75 percent of His time
with His disciples and 25 percent with the crowd. How much time is spent on the
sermon? How much time is spent making disciples?
Why did Jesus spend such a disproportionate amount of time
with a small group of people? Jesus knew how we learn. People learn by
imitation, not instruction.
Who has been the most powerful influence in your life? For
most people, they would say their parents. You act more like your parents than
anyone else. After all, you could read a dozen books written by experts in
marriage, yet your default is a marriage that more closely resembles your
parents’ marriage than anything presented by the experts. (Depressing thought,
huh?) Change requires intentional effort, committed support, and better models
Paul challenged his followers to imitate him (1 Corinthians
4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Imitation requires transparency. Imitation requires
time and attention. Disciples make disciples.
Why is the Sermon so Important Then?
Sermons can start something. A presentation of the Gospel
can help someone start their relationship with Christ and their journey of
discipleship. The sermon can lead a congregation to love their neighbors, to
focus on the majesty of God, and to hold on to hope. But, the result of a
sermon is not another sermon. The result of a sermon is a next step – make a
decision, join a group, lead a mission, serve your neighbor, pray…you get it.
This is why I’m a big believer in alignment series and
groups that help church-goers take their weekends into their weeks. The sermon
can deliver a challenge, and the group can provide the support and
accountability necessary to meet the challenge. The sermon by itself, however,
is forgotten usually within 48 hours. If they can’t remember it, how are they
supposed to do it? Groups help with this.
On any given weekend, pastors have the opportunity to lead a
large portion of their congregations to take a step. The weekend service is the
largest things a church does in any given week, but it’s not the most important
thing they do. After all, sermons don’t make disciples. Disciples make
For most pastors, whether their churches are 100 people,
1,000 people, or 10,000+ people, would view the sheer scale of disciples making
disciples as completely daunting. The key is to start small and multiply. Jesus
invested in 12 disciples which multiplied over 2,000 years into some 2 billion
people. If pastors invested in just eight people, and then those disciples made
disciples within four years the church would have 4,096 disciples making
disciples (8x8x8x8). Without disciples making disciples, pastors have audiences
for their sermons.
Back in college a speaker challenged us to think about 5
sermons that influenced our lives for Christ. To be honest, most of us couldn’t
come up with one – not even the sermon from last Sunday. Then, the speaker
asked us to name 5 people who had influenced us for Christ. Those names
immediately came to mind.
Small groups are no longer making disciples at the rate they once were. For many churches, the purpose of groups is to assimilate new people and keep them connected so they won’t leave. Everyone needs to go where everybody knows their name, and they’re always glad you came… But, if the purpose of small groups ends with assimilation, host homes, and the church-wide campaign, then how are disciples being made? Host homes and campaigns are great to get groups going, but not so great for on-going discipleship.
Disciple Making is Not Complex.
Programs are complex. Disciple making is not. Jesus told us what we need to know to make disciples.
First, Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). Jesus boiled 613 commands down to two: Love God and Love your neighbor. God is easy to love. But, neighbors, which neighbors? Look out the window.
Second, Jesus gave us the Great Compassion in Matthew 25. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). Feed hungry people. Clothe those in need. Show hospitality to strangers. Visit the prisoner. Care for the sick. Essentially, love your neighbor as yourself. See #1.
Third, Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Read this and try not to “yada, yada, yada” it. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus told us to “Go.” How well are we scattering? We’re pretty good at gathering. Jesus didn’t say the lost should come to our seeker services. That’s not working as well as it once did.
Does this seem too simple? If our lives were focused on these things, we would grow. Our people would grow. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
Disciple Making is Customized.
Disciple Making relies on a system to produce disciples. When we hear the word system, we often resort to a manufacturing process, a catechism, or a training program. While some of these methods might add to disciple making, there is a considerable flaw in the thinking. People don’t come to us as raw materials. They aren’t blank slates. They have a past. They are different – genders, races, backgrounds, educations, experiences, personalities, gifting, callings, opportunities, abuses, and so many other things contribute to who people are. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. Yet, we are called to be like Jesus.
While we must all know basic things about the Bible and what it teaches, how we reflect more of Jesus is a different journey for all of us. I grew up in church. That’s a funny statement, but we were there so often that at times it felt like we lived there. I learned all of the Bible stories in Sunday school. Our church was more of the Arminian persuasion, so I’ve gone to the altar more than 100 times to make sure I was saved. I called this eternal insecurity.
I learned to live by a code of conduct which included no smoking, no alcohol, no dancing, no movies, no playing cards, and the list went on. In my church we couldn’t belly up to the bar, but we could belly up to the buffet. That’s how we got the bellies!
In a holiness tradition, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart for God and becoming legalistic. Legalism defined the don’ts for me, but not all of the don’ts. The don’ts seemed more significant than the do’s. But, if I lived better than other people, then God would bless me. The others got what they deserved. I didn’t need to understand people from other backgrounds. They were sinners. They were going to hell. There wasn’t a lot of love going around.
Now, put me in your church. How could you help me become more like Jesus? How can I learn to love my neighbor as myself? How can I see people who are different from me as people who God loves? I don’t need to know more of the Bible. I know it. Bring on the Bible Jeopardy!
How would you affect my attitudes and my behavior? How could I think more like Christ? How could I act more like Christ? By the definition set in the church I grew up in, I’m a model citizen. I fit with the tribe. They’re proud of me. Yet, I lack so much.
This is where cookie cutter disciple making goes wrong. We produce rule followers with cold hearts and no actions to demonstrate God’s love to those who are far from Him.
Fortunately, I’m much different now than where I was when I graduated from high school. But, it wasn’t college, seminary, or another church’s process that got me there. It was something unique that God is doing in my life. I’m not the exception here.
My friend John Hampton, Senior Pastor of Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL lost a ton of weight recently. By ton, I mean, 50-60 lbs. and he’s kept it off. How did he do it? He joined a gym who gave him a personal trainer. The trainer’s first question was “What do you want to work on?” The trainer didn’t prescribe a standard course of physical fitness. The trainer connected with what John was motivated to change. In turn, John’s team is now sitting down with people at their church and asking them, “What do you want to work on?” Then, offering a next step to get them started.
There is nothing outside of us that can motivate us more than what is inside of us. For the believer, God is inside of us – in case you didn’t know where I was going there. What we are motivated to change right now should be the thing we focus on changing. If we don’t sense a need to change, then we need to bring that question to God: “What do you want to work on?”
Disciple Making is Obedience.
The last phrase in the Great Commission punched me between the eyes not long ago: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Read the phrase again. What did Jesus tell us to teach disciples? Hint: Jesus did not say to teach his commands. Jesus instructed us to teach obedience.
In the area where I live, everyone goes to church. There are more than 75 other churches within 10 miles of the church I attend. It’s part of the culture. While these church-going folks are faithful to church attendance, it doesn’t stop them from being hateful, passive-aggressive, and racist. There’s a high incidence of domestic violence here. The daily news is not good news. Now, this isn’t everybody. But, with so much access to church, you’d expect people to be a little more like Jesus. Bible knowledge is there, but changes in attitudes and behaviors are lacking.
Recently, a man who grew up here, told me about his family history in the area. His family has lived here for over 100 years. It’s a colorful family history – running moonshine and other illegal activities. At one point, he told me, “My grandmother was a fine Christian woman, well, except for running a brothel.” I had no response.
How’s your disciple making? What results are you seeing? What’s missing?
There is so much to unpack here. Please join me in the comments for a discussion. We’ve got to get our people beyond just coping with life. We’re on a mission. How can your members join that mission?
Rooted is different. When Mariners Church began to report the outcomes of Rooted participants as 90 percent continuing in on-going small groups, 84 percent increasing their giving, and 73 percent increasing their serving, it sounded almost too good to be true. What’s more Rooted is high commitment, advanced preparation, and daily homework. This was counterintuitive to those who have lowered the bar and launched easy-to-use church-wide campaigns. Something was certainly unique about Rooted.
A Little History on Rooted
“I didn’t want to be remembered for building buildings or building a big church,” confessed Kenton Beshore, Pastor Emeritus, Mariners Church, Irvine, CA. “I wanted the legacy to be building disciples.” At the time, Mariners had a large menu of ministries with no clear path. “The idea of simple church was a big influence on us.”
Rooted, or Mizzizi in Swahili, is based on a discipleship method developed by Pastor Muriithi Wanjua at Mavuno Church in Nairobi, Kenya. It is a non-Western approach to discipleship, yet it is not new.
“Rooted is by far the best, most authentic, discipleship process I’ve ever experienced,” said Paul Dowler, Core Values and Community Life Pastor, Compass Christian Church, Colleyville, TX. “The secret to it is that it is not really something ‘new’. It’s actually an experience/process that has worked throughout the centuries by the first century church, the Moravians, the Celtics, the Methodists…the basics of the faith. [Rooted helps the participants with their] understanding the nature of God, the fall, and redemption; dealing with strongholds and sin; and activating people to mission. It’s totally refreshing to not chase the ‘culturally relevant’ because that changes constantly.”
Convinced God was using Mizzizi to disciple people in all stages of their faith, Kenton began to work with Pastor Muriithi to adapt the experience to Western culture. Mariners Church translated and designed it for use in the West without taking away the impact of the non-Western approach.
What is Rooted?
Rooted is a 10-week experiential study with three large group sessions, 10 small group meetings, 45 daily devotionals, and three experiences. The focus rests on three themes: Connecting with God, Connecting with the Church, and Connecting with Your Purpose. “People don’t grow in classrooms. People grow in experiences. They grow in relationship with each other. To motivate them, we have to put them in high risk environments. This is what we found in Rooted,” Kenton reported.
While Rooted is a Bible study, it is experiential in nature, meaning that the Bible, the relationships with others, and experiences work together to transform lives. The groups utilize “The Seven Rhythms of Rooted” which include Daily Devotion, Prayer, Freedom from Strongholds, Serving the Community, Sacrificial Generosity, Sharing Your Story, and Celebration.
The integration of study, prayer, experiences, and relationships accelerates life change because the participants are doing what they’re learning while they are learning it. “There are thousands of discipleship programs in North America, and I think I studied all of them,” Shelly Juskiewicz, Community Life Pastor, Mariners Church, says. “What I found is they all pretty much have the same content. What makes Rooted different is that it’s based on experiential learning rather than a lecture or leader teaching each week. Life transformation comes more through experiences than through knowledge. Teaching comes in and goes out and very little of it stays. But if you can share an experience together and do something, it changes people.”
The three large group gatherings include a Vision Night, a Money Talk, and a Celebration all led by the senior pastor. The Celebration typically includes a meal, worship, individuals declaring their faith, water baptism, and a commissioning.
The 10 small group meetings focus on the topics: Who is God?, How does God Speak to Us?, Where is God in the Midst of Suffering?, There is an Enemy, How Can I Make the Most of My Life (2 meetings), Why and How Should I Tell Others?, and Why is the Church Important? The topics are further explored in five daily devotionals per week, which are essential to the impact on the individual.
The three experiences are a prayer experience, a serve experience, and breaking strongholds.The two-hour prayer experience in the third week of Rooted is the watershed moment for most Rooted participants. Those who participate in the guided prayer session based on their The Lord’s Prayer, The Armor of God (Ephesians 6), or another Scripture passage, will continue on to finish the rest of Rooted and receive the full benefit. On average, 10 percent of participants drop out prior to the prayer experience. “The end goal of the prayer experience is to help them hear God’s voice in their lives,” according to Matt Olthoff, Network Development Pastor for the Rooted Network.
The serve experience gives each group the opportunity to serve the poor in their communities. The focus, however, is not based on the act of service. Rather, the participants are encouraged to listen to God’s voice while they are in the process of serving the poor. “You want to encourage everyone to experience God while they are serving, then debrief these experiences afterward. The debrief involves crystallizing next steps based on what God spoke to them,” said Olthoff.
Breaking strongholds in week five starts with a discussion on spiritual warfare, then the group is divided by gender into two groups. “Strongholds are areas of sin in our lives where our flesh and Satan work together to create destructive patterns that are sometimes hard to see. We have the authority and power of the Holy Spirit to break free from these influences.” If group members feel they have a stronghold, they confess the pattern of sin in their lives and choose to replace it with a new character quality they want to adopt. This is the beginning of a process that the Holy Spirit works in the life of the individuals. In some cases, group members may be referred for professional counseling.
These three experiences are both powerful and profound in the growth of the group members. Rooted focuses beyond the information the Bible provides on discipleship, but moves group members toward living out what God directs them to do.
How Do Churches Use Rooted?
While Rooted is a curriculum used in a small group, it is not a small group curriculum. In fact, individual small groups are discouraged from using the materials as a one-off Bible study. The implications of Rooted are for the church as a whole. Rooted cannot be used effectively as an isolated class, group study, or individual study. The full impact of Rooted is felt as a church-wide experience, but don’t read that as a “church-wide campaign.”
While church-wide campaigns have helped to connect entire congregations into groups for a six-week experience by offering video-based curriculum so anyone can start a group, Rooted is the opposite. Rooted can only be led by a trained facilitator. In order to recruit facilitators, most churches will offer pilot groups first for their pastors, staff, and church leaders, then a second round of pilot groups for other influential leaders in their church. After two rounds of 10-week pilots, in most cases the church is ready to launch Rooted with their entire congregation.
Rooted is not meant to serve as one of many options. For Mariners Church, initially offering Rooted as one more option to its large menu of options proved to greatly lessen the impact. Today, Rooted is offered as the entry point for every other level of involvement in the church. If someone wants to join a small group, they do Rooted first. If someone wants to serve, they go through Rooted. If someone wants to become a church member, they do Rooted first. This goes for every other ministry in the church without exception.
Part of the significance of the pilot groups with pastors and church leaders is to determine the church’s level of buy-in to Rooted. If the pastors feel strongly about Rooted, they will present it was the front door to everything else in the church. If the pastors don’t feel that strongly, then Rooted will more than likely not produce the result seen at other churches.
Once groups are formed and Rooted is underway, the facilitators meet for weekly training and coaching. Since Rooted often touches deep issues in people’s lives, it’s important for the facilitators to have the support of a coach every time they lead a Rooted group. In every Rooted session they will find new challenges and new issues among the group members. They may have never faced these things before, so support is essential.
Though high in commitment, Rooted provides results across the board. “Rooted has a way of impacting the unchurched, the dechurched, and the over-churched at the same time,” according to Drew Sherman, Senior Pastor, Compass Christian Church, Colleyville, TX.
“For far too long the American Church has been redesigning and/or trying to improve something that doesn’t really need to be improved. I can totally see Rooted creating a legitimate movement and revival in the American Church.” writes Paul Dowler, Core Values and Community Life Pastor, Compass Christian Church, Colleyville, TX. “Maybe I’m just on the mountaintop from celebrating the lives that have been transformed. But, I’m pretty confident this is going to keep working, and it’s not a ministry fad.”
Love God and love your neighbors. In the Great Commandment, Jesus boiled 613 commands down to these two. He went on to say, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV). In other words, if Jesus’ followers do anything, they should focus on these two things. The Neighboring Life focuses on the second commandment in order to follow the first one.
Who is My Neighbor?
The act of taking time to learn a neighbor’s name demonstrates obedience to Jesus’ command. Once a believer knows their neighbor’s name, then they can pray for their neighbor. Pray for their lives, their families, their jobs, and even an opportunity to get to know them better.
Neighboring is also serving next door neighbors. By offering a helping hand, often the next step is offering a listening ear. “We love our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians,” says Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, co-authors of The Neighboring Church. “We need to stop hijacking the endgame with other things. It happens so subtly. We love our neighbors so they will go to church. We love our neighbors so they will join our small group…Those motives turn people to be loved into projects to be directed…People will know when they are a project.”
The Neighboring Life is the creation of Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, and the team at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, CO. Built on the foundation of The Externally-Focused Church, co-authored by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (Group Publishing 2004), LifeBridge along with many other churches, has sought to transition ministry from missional, community-wide, Service Day approaches to a more granular form of ministry. Rather than donning matching t-shirts, serving for one day, and making local headlines, The Neighboring Life is a daily, personal experience with one’s neighbors. More importantly, it adds the relationship component to serving.
“The bridge between being missional and incarnational is relationship,” according to Scott Campbell, The Ascent Church, Colorado Springs, CO. “You can be missional without being relational. You can’t be incarnational without relationship: ‘love neighbors as you love yourself.’”
“For years [LifeBridge Church] had been getting into the stream of our community to serve. A city employee asked if we would take care of a woman’s yard for her. I said I would look at the situation and get back to her,” said Brian Mavis. “As I was driving up, I spotted the house from blocks away. They weren’t exaggerating. The grass was almost as tall as I was. I knocked on the door and a woman in her young thirties answered. Standing next to her was a little girl. I learned that this woman had recently survived stage-four cancer, and she was taking care of the nine-year-old girl, who was in foster care. This woman was tearful and embarrassed about her yard, but she said her health prevented her from trying to take care of it.
“My heart broke for her, and I was happy that our church was going to help her. I gathered a dozen people and they brought their own equipment. A few hours later we had the yard looking almost as good as new. We came back the next week to put down some mulch. We prayed for the homeowner, and we felt great about what we had done. I was proud of our people, and I was glad the city knew they could call us and count on us to take care of it.
“Over the next year, I called the woman a couple of times to see how she was doing. After the second call, while I was silently congratulating myself, the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is nothing to be proud of. This should never have even happened.’ I immediately knew the full meaning of this gentle rebuke by God. The woman’s grass should never have grown more than six inches tall.”
What should have been done differently? “First,” said Mavis, “I wouldn’t just ask a dozen people from our church. Instead, I would look to see who lived near her. We have several families within a couple blocks of her house. I would’ve called them and asked them to help me help their neighbor. Then I thought I would go one better. I would ask them to help me, but I would also ask them to knock on their neighbors’ doors, no matter if they were Christian or not, and invite them to join in helping this woman…If the church had done a better job of helping our people learn to love their neighbors, then I never would’ve received a phone call from the city in the first place…For years our church was serving the community, but were we loving our neighbors?”
A dilapidated house or an unkempt yard are easily recognizable signs of a family in crisis. But, not all needs are revealed from the curb. Needs are revealed as neighbors are known. Since neighboring is not a program and neighbors aren’t projects, the focus on neighboring is more of a spiritual discipline than a ministry initiative. Neighboring is moving life from the backyard to the front yard. It’s taking time for a neighbor when they are outside. The heart of neighboring is putting others ahead of oneself.
Neighboring requires no special talent. Anyone can be a neighbor. Neighboring does require a shift in thinking for pastoral leadership. Emphasis is given on scattering equal to the emphasis on gathering. This is not to discount the value of gathering, but to balance receiving and giving.
Stay, Pray, Play, and Say
Neighboring almost seems to harken back to years gone by when neighbors knew everyone and helped each other. It was the norm. Today, the norm is cellphones, garage door openers, and quiet streets in neighborhoods. Neighboring requires intentional effort.
The practices of neighboring are simple, yet significant. They can be summoned up in four words: Stay, Pray, Play, and Say. Stay means being available to get to know one’s neighbors. It’s stopping to talk to a neighbor instead of hitting the garage door button. Maybe it means sitting on the front porch instead of the back porch. Pray means praying for neighbors. Praying for both neighbors who are known and those who are unknown. Praying for opportunities to connect and serve. Play is offering hospitality to neighbors from dinner invitations to backyard barbecues to small scale events. The fourth word is say. When the opportunity arises, Christian neighbors are prepared to share Christ with their fellow neighbors. This isn’t the completion of the “project.” This is the start of a new journey.
Once pastors and staff have some experience with neighboring, the entire church can be engaged with The Neighboring Life study and companion video used as a church-wide campaign, group study, or individual study. These resources are available at TheNeighboringLife.com.
Jacob & Mary Alice: An Unlikely Pair
Ever since his wife’s death, 80-year-old Jacob called his neighbor, Mary Alice, regularly. Somehow Mary Alice had broken the ice with this self-proclaimed “crotchety old Jewish man who doesn’t make friends easily.” The two were quite a pair in the neighborhood: a mom of two teenagers chatting the ear off the grumpy old man.
When Jacob’s number came up on caller ID, she answered it, but on this evening, when she picked up the phone Jacob wasn’t talking but she could hear difficulty in his breathing. Rushing over to his house, she found Jacob at the bottom of the stairs and quickly called 911. The paramedic in the ambulance, the emergency room receptionist, the technicians drawing blood, and the doctor all asked her, “Are you his daughter?”
“No, I am just his neighbor” she answered every time, as she kept Jacob calm and answered their questions about his past medical history. As Mary Alice left the emergency room after Jacob was fully stabilized, the doctor asked her with a smile, “Will you be MY neighbor?”
Neighboring requires no special talent. There are no scripts or methods to follow. The heart of neighboring is taking an interest in one’s neighbors. Pastors can start their own neighboring movements by encouraging their members to take a few minutes to talk to their neighbors when they see them outside. This might be an introduction to a new neighbor or a bit of an apology for living next door for so long and having never met. This shouldn’t be embarrassing. It should be a start.
As churches embrace neighboring, any step toward a neighbor: a conversation, a meal, a prayer, or an act of service should be celebrated. What pastors tell stories about will cast vision to their congregations.
If pastors are ready to get serious about neighboring, then some tough questions must be answered – How can you be the best church for your community rather than just the best church in your community? What if you got better at the two things Jesus said mattered the most – loving God and loving your neighbor? How can the church put equal energy into scattering into the community as they do gathering for weekend worship services?
If your members move out of their neighborhoods, would they be missed?