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.”
Before you get started with Rooted, read What’s Wrong with Rooted.
For more information on Rooted: experiencerooted.com
Considering Rooted for your church? Then let’s talk. Click here to schedule a meeting. (No Charge! I just want to help you).
By Allen White
Recently a friend passed along an article titled Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups by Brian Jones, founding pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, Royersford, PA. The article was published in the Christian Standard in 2011, so I’m a little late to the party here. Maybe the issues Brian raises have already been hashed over. But, just in case, you also missed the party too, let’s dig in.
The premise of the piece is that small groups don’t produce holistic disciples and never have. Pastors apparently have been sold a bill of goods by experts that has resulted in “Well-intentioned Christians, armed with the latest insights in organizational theory, let their pragmatic and utilitarian hearts delude them into thinking they could organize, measure, and control the mystical working of the Holy Spirit in community in order to consistently reproduce disciples in other contexts.” While I am unsure how much a person could actually control the Holy Spirit, the author raises a good point. While pastors wish to guarantee that the church’s efforts, ministries, and groups are bearing fruit, the metrics are tricky. I suppose the reverse of quantifying the impact of groups is not to measure anything or to eliminate groups completely so there is nothing to measure. Brian Jones offers an alternative.
He writes, “Every small group I’ve ever been in that helped me grow as a disciple started by what appeared to be an accident. I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t interested in joining a small group in the least. And in many respects, I didn’t even feel a need to grow spiritually.” His ideal was back when he was 18 years old and a few friends came together spontaneously and started hanging out with one another. Now, I will be honest, I am all in favor of this. According to the article the group “grew to 10 to 12 friends. We laughed together, prayed together, studied the Bible together, ate together, evangelized together, and served the poor together. Even though we had no leader, no real set meeting time, no agenda, and no plan or focus, it was through these friends that I made incredible strides toward becoming a holistic disciple of Jesus…And it all happened by accident.”
1. How well do “accidental” non-groups make holistic disciples of Jesus in most churches?
My dream is for groups of believers to gather together and do the exact things Brian describes in his article. If every Christian would spontaneously get together with other believers to encourage each other, apply God’s Word, serve together, pray together, and win others to Christ, it would be a big win. In fact, groups would no longer need to be organized. We wouldn’t need to call them “small groups.” Instead, we could call this “Normal.” I would love it.
The problem is most Christians in America are very distracted. As Francis Chan says regarding the Parable of the Soils, “Most Christians in America are not good soil. They are thorny ground.” The cares of this world have taken over. When do they slow down enough to read God’s Word, pray, meet with other believers, or even think about God? Most don’t unless they are in a weekend service.
But, can our efforts to motivate and organize believers into doing something intentional about their spiritual growth also go too far? The author makes a valid point, “I wasn’t participating in some superficial churchwide small group sign-up initiative the senior pastor dreamed up to jack up small group attendance because he heard church analysts say you should always maintain a certain ratio of worship attendees to small group participants.” If pastors were to offer their members the choice of joining a group of strangers or meeting with a group of friends, I believe most people would prefer to meet with their friends, just like Brian Jones prefers.
I have written on group formation many times before. The question I have asked for a long time is Why Reconnect People Who are Already Connected? Everyone has friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, and others who are open to spiritual things. As I wrote in the first line of my book, “Everyone is already in a group.” If given the opportunity, they would actually do something intentional about their spiritual growth. On their own, they probably would not.
I am all in favor of the “organic” nature of the group Brian Jones enjoyed. I’m not so sure about his label of “accidental.” If we surveyed Brian’s congregation or anyone else’s, I wonder how many people have been or currently are a part of an accidental group that is helping them become a holistic disciple of Jesus. I haven’t studied this, but my educated guess is most churches would only have a handful at most.
2. Aren’t all Christians disciples?
In the article Brian writes, “When I attended my very first church growth conference in 1992, a nationally known small group ‘expert’ stood up and said, ‘The way we say it at our church is, If you can read, you can lead. If a Christian can read questions in our study guide, he can lead a small group at our church.’
“‘That’s easy,’ Brian thought. ‘Too easy, in fact. And ridiculous.'”
But, here’s the thing, by his own admission, Brian’s accidental, organic group had “no leader.” So would his motto be, “No leader is better than a reader”? He goes on to explain, “Small groups don’t create disciples; disciples create disciples. And modern-day small groups are led, for the most part, by people who have attended the church, had a conversion experience, led a reasonably moral life, and can read the study guide questions, but are not disciples themselves.” I guess the question I must ask here is: What is a disciple anyway?
This is perhaps a bigger question than we can answer here, but if every believer has chosen to follow Jesus and has the Holy Spirit working in them, are they not disciples? Or is a being a “disciple” a certain mindset? Granted every believer’s faith is in a different place. While some people are able to trust God for great things, others maybe don’t even think to pray about their needs. While some are ambitious is showing God’s love to others in their communities, others are busy and distracted raising their families and working their jobs, which are not necessarily unspiritual endeavors. Is discipleship a destination or a continuum? If it’s a continuum, then wouldn’t it be far to say all believers are disciples, but are in very different places in their growth toward Christlikeness? Or, is there an elite class of believers who are serious disciples who leave the rest of us in the dust?
The author’s beef is: “The common argument against small groups is flawed. The problem with small groups isn’t that they pool the group’s collective ignorance; it’s that they pool the group’s collective disobedience. And it’s not the small group leader’s fault. It’s the fault of the people who installed the leader and convinced him he could lead their group to a place where they themselves have not gone.” Brian makes a good point. None of us can lead others beyond what we have truly lived and experienced. But, they can lead people who have less experience than they do.
This is why I gave up on signing people up for groups, advertising groups, or sending people to groups years ago. If on a spiritual scale of zero to 10, (Zero being a non-believer, and 10 being a saint), a spiritual “three” who decides to lead a group gets into big trouble if sixes, sevens, and eights signs up for that group. But, if the same spiritual “three” invited his or her friends to the group, more than likely the group would be made up of other threes, twos, ones, zeros, and negative twos. A spiritual “three” can lead this group. In fact, as John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.” If new leaders gather those they have influence over, then the group is off on the right foot.
3. Forming more well rounded groups.
The last issue I will take up here is what the group does. If as Brian Jones says, “Christians…sit in circles and talk to one another inside a building…read and comment on the Bible…rant about how they long to ‘get out there’ and do something that matters…people go home unchallenged and unchanged.” He goes on to say, “In my humble opinion, the Americanized small group is a remnant of an impotent religious institution that can’t transition effectively into a post-Christian, postmodern world.” He certainly makes some good points here.
In my experience, groups will accomplish what is expected of them. If groups are formed around hobbies for fellowship, they will hang out and do their hobbies. If groups are formed around Bible studies, they will do Bible studies. Where the church leadership directs groups is where they will go. So, why not direct them differently?
There are some great holistic approaches to discipleship that involve experiences and outreach projects and not just academic exercises. For instance, Rooted created by Mariners Church, Irvine, CA and their partner, Mavuno Church, Nairobi, Kenya, developed a group experience through community, study, focused prayer, breaking strongholds, and serving others. (And, I’m probably oversimplifying this.) This group approach through experiential learning over the last 6 years at Mariners has resulted in 90% of their Rooted Groups becoming on-going Life Groups. Of the Rooted graduates, 82% have increased their giving, and 70% have increased their serving. For more information on Rooted, go here.
The direction given to groups will make a big difference in the outcomes of the groups. While some folks may be unmotivated or possibly will join a group out of obligation, look at how we’ve grown over the years. The most profound growth came through painful circumstances with other believers to support us. Now, marketing that growth plan would be very difficult. But, a church can prepare their members by helping them to experience biblical community before their next problem comes.
I am always in favor of books and articles that make me think. Just check out my review of Joseph Myers’ The Search to Belong. I think it’s good to question the status quo rather than reading the same small group books over and over with a different cover and a different author. But, Brian Jones is throwing the baby out with the bath water, except he’s not. Apparently euthanasia didn’t work for the groups at Christ’s Church of the Valley. If you browse over to the church’s website (props to PlainJoe Studios — nice site), you will find a dozen or more small groups listed in the church’s groupfinder. Huh? I suppose the euthanasia didn’t take.