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. Eventually, the church will want 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.
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
In Jesus’ work with His disciples, there are three distinct phases: “Come and Follow” (Matthew 4:19), “Come and Die” (Luke 9:23), and “Go and Make” (Matthew 28:18-20). While some churches attempt to start “serious” discipleship groups with “come and die,” it’s much easier to start groups with “come and follow,” and then lead them into maturity to reach “come and die.”
The purpose of the “Come and follow” stage is connection. Whether the church is trying to connect their worship attendance, the neighborhood, or both, this connection purpose can largely be achieved by offering a felt needs topic with an alignment series, as described in Exponential Groups. This low commitment, short-term approach allows potential leaders and their groups to test drive a group and begin the habit of meeting together. While the primary purpose is connection, other purposes including leadership development and spiritual growth can certainly take place at the “Come and follow” stage.
The danger in connection groups is in seeing them as an end in themselves. They should be viewed as the starting point for discipleship which will increase the maturity of the group members and group leaders. Some pastors embrace the notion that things must be kept easy and low commitment in order to produce maximum results. After working with churches in their alignments series for nearly 20 years now, the reality is the low commitment and low requirement approach eventually produces low maturity. What’s worse is that as the church continues into a minority Christian culture, the lack of challenge is off-putting to those who seek depth and genuine relationship with God and others. In the 21st century, people are looking for answers. They desire a cause to live for. Once they are engaged in groups, they need more. They need the challenge to “Come and Die.”
The purpose of the “Come and Die” phase is growth and spiritual maturity. Please don’t read those words as “deeper” teaching and more Bible facts. While the intellect is important (after all God gave humans a book and a brain), there is so much more to discipling the whole person. This is more than an academic exercise. A well-rounded approach to discipleship must take into consideration every aspect of a person’s life and being – physical, emotional, relational, financial, intellectual, and other areas. This topic is too large to explore here. There is a future book in the works.
The mission of the church in making disciples is to baptize them and teach them to obey what Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Obedience and surrender are best evidenced in a person’s attitude and actions. Rather than using all of the clichés about “walking your talk” and so forth, the point is the end product of discipleship is someone who resembles Jesus Christ. They have died to themselves and their ways of dealing with things and replaced their ways with those of Jesus. The self is sacrificed to produce genuine transformation.
The church can turn up the temperature on discipleship in
their groups through the curriculum and leadership training offered. Again,
this is not an invitation to teach groups to parse Greek verbs. Curriculum
should be a balance of personal time with God, a group discussion of the Bible,
assignments to turn words into action, and accountability to check progress.
Curriculum is not just a course of study, but an action plan for integrating the teaching of the Bible into daily life. This is not merely an ascent to a belief statement, but how believers live and breathe in their daily lives. Study formats like Rooted, The Neighboring Life by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, Emotionally-Healthy Discipleship by Pete Scazzero, D-Lifeby Dr. Bill Wilks and Dr. John Herring, or D-Groups by Robby Gallaty help to turn up the temperature of discipleship. Even a format like the Discovery Bible Study Method which uses the same nine questions for every passage of Scripture helps group members to apply God’s Word and live it out. The expectation here is the power of God resident in every believer (Ephesians 1:18-20) accompanied by studying the Bible and interacting with other believers will produce transformed lives.
A few years ago, I was working with a small group director
who had moved from another country to the United States. In his country of
origin, there was a high expectation of believers learning, doing, and sharing
what they’ve learned from the very beginning of their relationship with God. He
was a little beside himself when he came to the U.S. and discovered many
believers learned biblical truth without much intention of practicing what they
learned or sharing it with others. When he challenged people in his church to
high commitment approaches to discipleship, he found resistance. I asked him if
he had ever heard the analogy of the frog and the kettle. He had not.
I explained this common story about placing frogs in hot water caused them to jump out. Yet, by placing frogs in cold water, then gradually turning up the temperature, the frogs remained in the hot water because the change was gradual. I told him he was putting his disciples in hot water. That’s why they were resisting. (If you’re shaking your head at this point about the reverse implications of this analogy, I apologize. I’ll switch gears before this turns into martyrdom, which is no joking matter).
For average American church members, the move from the worship service to a group is a pretty big step. If the benefit of a group is unproven, they need an opportunity to try out this environment in a short-term, low commitment way. An alignment series or church-wide campaign fits the bill. If they’ve had a positive experience, then the group may agree to continue into a follow up series. Once these two studies have been completed, then it’s more likely that the group will continue on.
Group leaders are given a leadership pathway to develop as disciples and as group leaders. Group members should also be given a pathway. This could be based on the results of the group’s health assessment. The right curriculum can also lead the group into new experiences and even into taking risks as a group. These risks could include things like the three-hour prayer experience in Rooted, the neighborhood map in The Neighboring Life, or the genogram in Emotionally-Healthy Spirituality. The goal of these exercises is to learn to trust God in deeper ways, to hear God, and to learn about oneself.
Curriculum for the sake of curriculum is worthless. Checking off a list of studies doesn’t guarantee growth. But, using curriculum as a vehicle to produce growth and lasting change is worthwhile. What is your curriculum producing? What are your groups producing? Using an assessment to evaluate the progress your people, your groups, and your church is making.
The third phase from Scripture is “Go and Make.” While these phases don’t need to occur in sequential order, the goal is to make disciples who make disciples. After all, that’s how a church knows it’s making disciples. If the people in the church are not making disciples, then they are not disciples. The appropriate term for them would be “the crowd.” In the Gospels, Jesus spent 73 percent of His time with His disciples. He didn’t devote vast amounts of time to serving the crowd. Boy, has the modern American church turned that on its head.
“Go and Make” implies that church members are thinking about others more than about themselves and their own needs. They are become self-feeders. The focus is on servant leadership at various levels. While most people in the church will not have the title of leader, they do have influence over people around them. The goal is to multiply their lives and their abilities. Jesus spent three and a half years investing in 12 disciples, who after His departure, developed others and took the message of the Gospel throughout their known world, establishing churches, and making disciples. If you’re a Christian reading this, it’s because of these 12 who Jesus poured His Life into. Who are your 12?
This is the place where pastors equip the church to do the
work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). In the last 30 years, the church has
catered to people in order to serve a Christian consumer culture. A growing gap
has emerged between staff and volunteers, or clergy and laity, as it was once
known. People are asked to volunteer to serve the church and the efforts of the
church staff. But, the volunteers are the church!
Members should be challenged to pursue and develop their gifts. Resources like Networkby Bruce Bugbee and Leadershift by Don Cousins and Bruce Bugbee create the philosophical foundation for gifts-based ministry that is truly satisfying to church members and effective in reaching the neighborhood. After all, ministry is not something pastors do to people. Ministry is the purpose of the church body, not the leaders of the institution. People need to serve in meaningful ways in order to grow spiritually. Meaningless volunteer roles cannot meet this purpose.
Since a church of any size cannot assess and recognize the gifts of every church member, groups play an essential role in helping people discover, develop, and use their gifts. This is more than another assessment. There is an expectation for people to take responsibility for understanding and implementing their gifts to fulfill the mission of the church. There is also a responsibility for the church to release, not just ministry responsibilities, but also the authority to carry them out.
One more step lies beyond identifying and using gifts – members developing other members. Every person in every role in the church, including members, pastors, and church staff, must multiply what they are doing in the lives of others. This is one of the primary purposes of groups – leadership development. The church must embrace Hero-making as articulated by Dave Ferguson and Dr. Warren Bird. The pastor is not the hero in the church. The staff are not the heroes. The members are not the heroes. But, they are all called to make heroes. They are all called to invest in others and help them flourish in ministry. They are called to work themselves out of a job, so a new ministry, a new group, or a new church can be launched to serve others and repeat the process.
These three phases may not be the only phases. They don’t
necessarily need to be taken in exact order (or else some churches will camp on
phase two until Jesus returns and never get to phase three). The point is
everyone must be challenged to take a next step at every phase. Those only
attending worship must be challenged to join a group. Everyone in a group must
be challenged to take what they learn to heart and mature in their faith as
evidenced by their actions and attitudes. Those who are maturing must reach out
to their neighborhoods and share their hope. Those who are serving must develop
others to serve.
Attractional services and advertising built some great churches over the last 30 years. The next 30 years will be much different than the last 30 years. This statement is not meant to discount what happened over the last 30 years, but it’s time to gear up for what is next. In working with churches across North America, I’ve visited many formerly great churches. At one point in time, the church was the shining beacon in the community. Maybe they were the first church to offer contemporary worship music and relevant messages. People came in droves, until every other church in town followed the model. Now those churches are dwindling. They are formerly great.
There is a shift that must take place in order to engage people in the 21st century. These concluding thoughts reveal part of the thinking needed for the church to flourish in an increasingly minority Christian culture.
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?
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
Is this the year to get serious about groups and disciple making?
Have the small group fads come up short?
Have your people actually changed?
You may be seeing a lot of people connected into groups. You also may be seeing people who don’t have the time or interest to join a group. Your people study the Bible and hear solid preaching, but what do their lives have to show for it?
Over the last 28 years of ministry, and the seven years of Bible college and seminary before that, I have studied how people grow spiritually. It won’t surprise you that life change doesn’t come from more book learnin’. Life change comes from the challenge of obeying God and surrendering ourselves as outlined in God’s Word, the Bible.
Life change does not come from knowledge-based learning along, especially for adults. Life change does not come from assimilating into groups so they can play patty cake. Are you ready to see your members’ lives transformed?
If you are serious about seeing your people grow in 2019, then I want to invite you into a coaching experience. My approach is not the only approach. But, I have figured out some things that will help you take the guesswork out of spiritual growth.
Two different types of groups are starting in 2019: Coaching Groups for Small Group Ministry and Coaching Groups for Disciple Makers. The coaching for Small Group Ministry will walk you through setting God-sized goals, building your coaching structure, connecting people into groups that last, recruiting great leaders, and training according to your leaders’ needs. The coaching for Disciple Makers takes a new/old approach to discipling the whole person (and not just their heads!).
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.