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.
The key to discipleship is not a process or a proclamation. The key to discipleship is a disciple.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.
The Christmas season that starts with Thanksgiving and goes through New Year’s Day is pretty intense for most of us. (Or does the season start at Halloween now?) Office parties, family gatherings, school functions, church services, shopping, shopping, shopping, cooking, cooking, cooking – boy, the list goes on. With all of this activity going on, should your group take a break? Well, a lot depends on your group. Here are a few things to think about:
1. Ask your group. While some people feel that they can barely come up for air during the holidays, others might experience a great deal of loneliness. Even though it’s a busy time, most people are still working every day and going about their daily routine. Before you decide to cancel, see what your group wants to do. If there are three or four who would like to meet, then you might consider meeting. Please note, however, that if your schedule has gone berserk, then it might be good to take a break for your own sake. But, make sure that your group is taken care of. Will someone spend Thanksgiving alone? Maybe a group member could include them in a family gathering.
2. Have a party. There is a healthy ebb and flow to small groups. Most groups can complete a study or two during the months of August through November, then will start again in January. Your group is not “more spiritual” by persisting in an inductive Bible study through the holidays. But, there is more to group that study. Having just completed a study or two in the Fall, your group has something to celebrate. Throw a party. This might even be a good time to invite prospective members and neighbors to check out the group and possibly join for your next study.
3. Serve together as a group. The holiday season offers many opportunities to serve the underprivileged in the community. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and children’s homes have a lot of needs, especially during the holidays. While many groups and organizations will help during the Christmas season, the reality is that these groups have needs year-round. Christmas is a great time to introduce your group to serving together. If they are interested, then plan to serve on a regular basis.
4. Give your group the next step. Some groups continue to meet during the holidays. That’s perfectly okay. Some groups decide to take a break. Some groups will follow one of the suggestions above. Whatever your group chooses to do, you will want to announce to your group when you will start again in January. They need to know that there is a next step. Announce your start date and maybe even your new study.
Is your church already beyond church-wide campaigns? Before you start demonizing campaigns, first, you need to consider some solid reasons to launch campaigns in your church. Your progress will determine whether you need a church-wide campaign or not.
Why You Need Campaigns
First, if your church is rapidly growing, you will constantly need campaigns just to keep up. While the weekend service is a great attractor, groups are the place where you keep people and disciple them. Campaigns are the best way to recruit new leaders and get a lot of your people connected into groups very quickly. If you’re growing, then keep campaigns going.
Second, if your congregation faces continual turnover, campaigns are necessary. If your church is near a military base or in a college town or full of Millennials, your members are regularly deployed, graduating, or getting married and moving to the suburbs.
Manna Church, Fayetteville, NC sits next to Fort Bragg. They regularly lose 1,000 people every year who are either deployed or reassigned. Campaigns have helped them connect the regular influx of new members. Manna has “deployed” their groups all over the world. Then, they got really smart and started campuses near military bases across the U.S. Different bases, but the same church!
Rapid growth and steady turnover are fertile environments for church-wide campaigns. Every year you will need new groups. In order to have new groups, you need new leaders. After all,
The primary purpose of church-wide campaigns is leader recruitment.
Most of your people don’t see themselves as leaders. A six-week campaign gives them the opportunity to test-drive a group and show them they were the leaders they never knew they were.
When to Start Using Campaigns
Through my book, courses, and coaching groups, pastors learn how to launch and maximize church-wide campaigns. These are churches who have never done campaigns or who have just started. After 16 years of campaigns, we know a lot more about how to keep groups going once the six weeks is over. We can definitely begin with the end in mind. In fact, I encourage pastors to develop their coaching structure before they recruit a single leader or start a group. That’s one key to lasting groups.
If your church has a wide gap between your weekly attendance and your group participation, you need a church-wide campaign to catch up. Now, if there are other Bible study options available at your church, don’t count them in your group numbers. People who are committed to Sunday school, Midweek Bible studies, other Bible studies, or women addicted to Beth Moore don’t need to join a small group. That is their small group. Your concern should be for the people who are only attending the weekend service but are not connected otherwise. If it ain’t broke…
Once most of your people are connected into groups, you can certainly use campaigns with relevant topics to reach your community. You can also use campaigns occasionally to launch a new initiative in your church or just reinvigorate your groups. But, the continual use of campaigns will eventually produce a diminishing return.
Is it Time for Your Church to Move Beyond Campaigns?
Church-wide campaigns are great sprints toward connecting a lot of people in a hurry. But, disciple-making is a marathon, not a sprint. The ultimate goal of groups is to make disciples. Disciples are not the end result of a process. Disciples are crafted [Read more here]. Eventually, you want your video-based-curriculum-dependent newbies to be able to rightly divide the Word of Truth and facilitate a discussion leading toward on-going life change. You can’t grow disciples in fits and starts. As Eugene Peterson once titled a book, it’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.
Where is your church? Do you need to recruit a bunch of new leaders and launch groups? Have you been doing campaigns for years? Are you seeing your groups going the right way? How well are you making disciples?
Campaigns can help you or hurt you. Just like hot sauce, you’ve got to know how much to use and when. Otherwise, you’ll numb your taste buds for campaigns. Is it time to start a church-wide campaign? Or, is it time to stop?
Join Allen White for a Free Webinar: Beyond Church-wide Campaigns on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 3pm EST or Wednesday, Nov 14 at 12:30pm EST. CLICK HERE for more information
It’s time for your church to move beyond church-wide campaigns. The first widely publicized church-wide campaign, the 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren was launched in 2002. By far, it has been the most popular campaign to date. I am grateful for every person who ever “hosted” or joined a group for that season.
At this point, some of you may be confused. I wrote a book called Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential (Hendrickson 2017), which is all about church-wide campaigns or alignment series. You might ask, “Now you’re telling us that campaigns don’t work.” That’s not what I’m telling you.
Church-wide campaigns used to work. But, there was a time and a season for campaigns. Here are the reasons for those seasons.
When to Stop Using Campaigns
There are two measures for when campaigns are no longer effective. Your church will hit these marks, and then campaigns will no longer be helpful.
First, if a high percentage of your members are in groups, you no longer need to use campaigns. For most churches, there is a 1-3 year window when campaigns are highly effective to recruit leaders and connect people into groups. Beyond that three year window, your church will experience “campaign fatigue.” It’s a strange phenomenon.
Every week, your people will hear a message in the weekend service. Every week, your people will meet in their group and probably study something. But, the idea of continually aligning the weekend service with the group study gets exhausting for people. This seems strange since there is a sermon and a study every week. But, it’s a reality with a few exceptions.
Some churches use sermon-based groups, which I believe is genius from a Christian education point of view. The normal course of sermon-based groups is steady. You don’t face all of the ups and downs of church-wide campaigns. While there’s a push to join groups every semester, it’s not the bandwagon effect over and over and over again. The bandwagon is fatiguing, which leads to the second point.
If your church has used campaigns for more than 3 years, you will experience a diminishing return. For about 8 years now, I’ve told the story of a church who had dramatic success in connecting all of their people into groups within a 9-month 3-campaign push. The pastor was engaged. They were naturals at creating their own curriculum. They launched multiple campaigns year after year. They began facing a steady skid downward. When I caught up with them about a year ago, groups were at an all-time low. Did the campaigns fail?
Their campaigns succeeded for the first year or two. But, by year 3 campaign fatigue had set in. They were excellent at the sprint of the campaign, but suffered when the sprint became a marathon. Your church will suffer this too.
Once the majority of your congregation is connected into groups and you’ve run campaigns for two or three years, it’s time for a change. If you don’t make the switch, your groups will decline, except for two scenarios…Click Here for Part 2.
Join Allen White for a Free Webinar: Beyond Church-wide Campaigns on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 3pm EST or Wednesday, Nov 14 at 12:30pm EST. CLICK HERE for more information
By Allen White
Group member’s personalities certainly have an impact on the dynamics of the group. For about 20 years, I have taught Vicki Barnes’ The Real You people skills training. Based on a study of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Vicki’s own research, this training gives great insights into group dynamics as well as team relationships. (If you’d like me to lead one for your team, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Over the next few posts, I want to explore the four personality types plus one bonus post. We’ll be looking at the Producer in this post as represented by the Apostle Paul. From here we’ll examine the Planner, the Promoter, and the Peacekeeper plus the bonus.
A producer is known for being bold and drawn to action. The Apostle Paul is a great example. He was definitely a dynamic leader both for and against the church. A producer’s biggest concern is power and results. I’d say Paul certainly had results.
Paul says of himself, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20). He didn’t set out to thoroughly research and write his own version like Luke, which is very much Planner behavior. Paul wasn’t impetuous like Peter, our Promoter. He also wasn’t trying to avoid rocking the boat like we see with Abraham. Paul wanted to break new ground, fish or cut bait, poop or get off the…you get it.
In a group, the producers concern will be over pace and results. They won’t have a lot of tolerance for long winded stories or discussions that go round and round with no clear conclusion. Now, please understand that even though this describes producer behavior, it is not license for bad behavior. Producers can learn patience just like everyone else.
A producer’s motto is “get to the bottom line.” In a group, the bottom line can be reaching the end of the study, taking on a group project, making a hostile takeover of another group so your group can grow. Ok, maybe not that last one.
Producers typically have the highest self-confidence and the lowest self-esteem. Their persona will be to charge any mountain, but their minds they are only as good as their last accomplishment. When a producer has a setback, they will try to “slogan” themselves into a positive attitude: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison) or “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” (Og Mandino). Now there is some truth there, but as a group leader, realize that a producer with a devastating setback is feeling it more deeply than they let on. Now, this isn’t permission to start delving into their wound. They probably won’t open up and share. But, their pain can certainly be exhibited in other behaviors like escapism, over-working and certainly irritability.
Producers will help the group get things done. Sometime producers will get things done at the expense of speed bumping the relationships in the group. They will plow through a lesson to get to the finish, but may not pause long enough to discuss a heartbreak in one of the group member’s lives.
If you want something done, put the producer in charge, but maybe not in charge of the prayer time. Like all of us, producers can learn and grow to become more like Christ. Jesus is working in them, even if it feels like you might be dealing with Attila the Hun. Remember, Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t give us a personality transplant. After all Dr. Billy Graham has shown tremendous producer behavior. Remember when he was challenged about his trip to Russia years ago? Someone told him Russia wouldn’t accept the message of Christ. Dr. Graham replied, “They will when I leave.”
The ambitious producer nature of Paul’s personality accomplished much for the spread of the Gospel. What can the producers in your group help you accomplish?
For more information on my workshop, CLICK HERE.
To pick up a copy of Vicki Barnes, The REAL You: Making Sense of Relationships: CLICK HERE.
For More Posts in This Series:
Planner: What if Dr. Luke Was in My Group?
Promoter: What if the Apostle Peter Was in My Group?
Peacekeeper: What if Father Abraham Was in My Group?
By Allen White
Rick Warren has talked about his small group in messages at Saddleback Church and at conferences around the country for years. But, who is this small group? I’ve known for quite a while because I work for Brett Eastman, one of the group’s members.
Last Sunday, Rick and his group did something remarkable — Rick Warren’s small group presented the weekend message together live on the stage of Saddleback Church. Watch this message called “Fighting for Awesome Friendships” and see Rick’s group in action. The group includes: Rick & Kay Warren, Tom & Chaundel Holladay (Tom is the group leader), Glen & Elizabeth Styffe, and Brett & Dee Eastman. Watch here: http://mediacenter.saddleback.com/mc/m/44B1D
One of the reasons Saddleback Church has maintain an unusually high percentage of its members and attenders in small groups is because of Pastor Rick Warren’s example. He doesn’t just talk the talk, but he walks the walk on small groups. If your pastor is not in a small group, his heart isn’t in small groups either. Think about it.