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?
Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.
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