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Do We Have Evangelism Backward?

Christians may understand the urgency of evangelism and their role in leading people to Jesus, yet not know what the Bible says about how to share their faith.  In other words, many get the “why” and “who”, but not the “how”.  Few churches are preparing members well to present the Gospel and respond to typical questions.  Instead, most offer churchgoers a get out of evangelism (and discipleship) free card, simply instructing them to tell their story and invite people to next Sunday’s service.  Entrusting pastors with our responsibility to make the case for Christ is not biblical.  However, it accomplishes several goals of contemporary church growth models taught by many seminaries, consultants, and authors:

  • Foster dependence – leadership is the subject of countless pastoral articles and books
  • Breed loyalty – centralize around a place, leaders, and “sticky” relationships
  • Avoid inconvenience – of those with limited bandwidth for more commitments
  • Ensure comfort – realize most have little appetite for risking careers or friendships
  • Justify giving – pay for the right to pass difficult tasks on to “professionals”

The lack of evangelism training makes it even more intimidating to speak up in what is already a challenging environment to “come out” as a Christian.  Ironically, it’s the unwillingness to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and live out His model of evangelism (Prayer/Care/Share) that led to the prevailing perception of Christians as intolerant.  Yet we make matters worse, causing people to wonder whether our faith is credible, as we become increasingly reluctant to talk about it.  Only assuming personal responsibility for the Great Commission, Jesus’ final marching orders before His ascension, can end the vicious cycle of churches not equipping for evangelism as the climate becomes more hostile to evangelism.

Current Process

Scripture lays out a process flow for evangelism in the ministries of Jesus and His disciples.  Rather than adopt that model, which would severely alter the lives of American Christians, churches condone and promote a set of less disruptive alternatives:

  • Act nice – hope people notice and ask why you’re different
  • Be holy – defer to God’s authoritygetting out of His way since He knows best
  • Tell your story – no one can argue with what you believe you’ve experienced
  • Extend Invitations – hand out cards or give directions to meet at your church

Asking members to invite friends and family has become the “go-to”, default growth strategy – in lieu of evangelism.  In fact, national advertising campaigns have been built around referring non-believers to churches – and charging referral fees for those “leads”!  Even the phrase “each one, reach one” often boils down to distribution of church flyers.  If the invitee rejects repeated offers, then the dutiful believer is off the hook – reassured they’ve done all they could to win that person to Christ.

However, inviting someone to a church service isn’t the right first step – or the entirety of God’s expectations – for evangelism.  Regardless of whether there may have been a period in American history that approach “worked”, that time has passed.  It was never an appropriate “entry point” and is certainly less effective now in our current cultural context:

  • Promotes addition – rather than the Lord’s math of disciple multiplication
  • Perpetuates myths – defines church as a place and members as “customers”
  • Ignores mistrust – loss of faith in institutions means fewer will accept invitations
  • Undermines worship – seeker focus decreases depth and authenticity of services
  • Underutilizes capacity – members could access many people that pastors can’t

Mobilizing the entire congregation into the mission field of families, neighborhoods, and workplaces would spur far greater Kingdom impact.  Church planters begin externally focused to build networks, but many shift inward to manage the resulting growth.  Likewise, entrepreneurs start with an all-hands-on-deck mentality until expansion creates internal bottlenecks.  The difference is that entrepreneurs have sales and marketing staff, whereas when pastors shift focus inward, they tend to divert the “power in the pews” that direction as well – leveraging giftings for “church chores” and relegating evangelism to invitations.

Biblical Process

Instead of reflexively inviting those who don’t worship Jesus to a worship service, churches and Christians should follow the evangelistic model practiced by Jesus and the New Testament church:

  • Prayer – because evangelism is our task but the outcome is God’s responsibility
  • Care – because Jesus had the perfect words but almost always opened doors to evangelism through compassion
  • Share – because Jesus demonstrated His love but then told people who He was/is

We can’t outpreach Jesus or produce any results without Him, so we should walk in His footsteps.  Churches did so for 1900+ years, serving as the food bank and homeless shelter, but have largely outsourced local missions to parachurch ministries.  In addition, few provide church-wide, intensive discipleship and evangelism training; therefore, not enough churchgoers understand Jesus’ Prayer/Care/Share model or live out His commands.

Some churches have not only made invitations the basis of their evangelistic “ask” of members, but also built invitation-based evangelism into their DNA – in the form of advertising.  In our Post-Christian culture, church advertising isn’t the right first step and is far more effective in “stealing sheep” (from other churches) than attracting non-believers.  The effort and cost of ads, facilities, programs, and other amenities that grow one church at the expense of less “attractive” ones, leave little room for Care and increase hesitancy to push “consumers” too hard to Share.  Invite/Involve/Invest was never a good growth plan for churches or the Kingdom – yet it remains the prevailing strategy today.

Prayer/Care/Share is not only the biblical process for evangelism for churches, but also for individual believers.  An invitation to a worship service is the last step, not the first, in the following (proposed) sequence:

  1. Seek the Lord – to understand who to reach and prepare their hearts to receive
  2. Build friendships – people don’t care what you know until they know you care
  3. Speak openly – if they don’t see your need for Jesus, they won’t see theirs
  4. Serve generously – get your hands dirty showing kindness as opportunities arise
  5. Engage intentionally – involve in local missions projects to see God’s love in action
  6. Share boldly – learn how to convey the Gospel in ways that resonate with them
  7. Refer wisely – point them to verses and books that will educate and encourage
  8. Inquire lovingly – see if they are ready to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior
  9. Disciple personally – take time each week to meet, discuss, and answer questions
  10. Introduce socially – have them over to get to know other Christian friends
  11. Invite, finally – ask new believers to attend a small group or worship service

Imagine the impact on our nation’s spiritual and moral foundation if every Christian implemented Steps 1-10 rather than abdicating personal evangelism by skipping directly to Step 11.

Transition Process

Churches that frequently ask members to invite friends but don’t provide evangelism training do so for a reason.  Churches that market through advertising but commit few resources to poverty alleviation do so for that same reason.  They have strategically positioned the institution, not people, as the definition of “church” – and members, not the “lost” in the community, as the definition of its “customer”.  It’s no coincidence the words “outreach” and “ministry” have also been redefined in today’s vernacular – “outreach” now means church advertising, not personal evangelism, and “ministry” now refers to church volunteering, not serving the poor in Jesus’ name.

Convincing churches to revert to the biblical definitions of all those terms will not be easy, nor will selling “cultural Christians” on the idea of reclaiming ownership of the Great Commission.  On top of that, it’s hard to envision overcoming the resistance that has built up against churches, Christians, and evangelism in our society as a result of failing to live out Prayer/Care/Share ever since the Invite/Invest/Involve revolution decades ago.  The only answer lies in recommitment to discipleship that fuels unreserved obedience to the words of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Only the Lord can spark such dramatic repentance and revival.  Picture a body of Christ distinctly countercultural but not counter-culture – loving and caring yet not conforming or compromising.  No amount of inviting or advertising could be as attractional to non-believers as churches and Christians who look nothing like the divisive, judgmental, and intolerant world in which we live.

It’s Your Turn

Do you have suggestions for how to decentralize “church”, equipping and mobilizing more believers to carry out their biblical mission within their circles of influence?

Read more…

Why Discipleship is the Ultimate Church Growth Model

Not all church growth is healthy growth.  Unhealthy growth attracts people from other churches by catering more to them and expecting less of them.  Healthy, exponential growth involves sending those who’ve experienced genuine life change out into the community to demonstrate and share the love of Jesus Christ with those hopeless and hurting.  The growth potential from discipleship is about leverage and empowerment, fueled by the Holy Spirit.  There is so much latent potential sitting idle in America’s church pews.  The job now is to disrupt their comfort and complacency in order to mobilize that manpower.

Intensive discipleship gives churchgoers the courage to seek the lost, the compassion to serve them, and the knowledge to speak words that bring them life.  It transforms your church into a fully trained and equipped army of ministers.  When a pastor asks the proverbial trick question “Raise your hand if you’re a minister”, for the first time all hands can go up with confidence.  Disciples know that their responsibilities amount to being the church personified, not simply inviting people to an event next Sunday.

However, the growth that comes from challenging members to live out the Great Commission, given all of the time and effort that entails, also comes with ups and downs.  Healthy growth is a roller coaster.  You may “preach it down” at first, but you’re in good company – that’s what Jesus did.  At possibly the height of His popularity during His time on earth, Jesus preached His most challenging sermon – and many left His side.  Myopic scale wasn’t the goal for Jesus.  He was looking to build a rebel band of Spirit-filled followers fully committed to changing the world.  And they did.

Like people, churches often need to lose some weight to get healthy.  If someone is looking to get in better shape, that typically means dropping a few pounds.  Maybe to become healthy, churches have to lose some church “consumers”.  However, they won’t leave (or repent) until they experience the “sticker shock” over the price they’ll have to pay to BE the church.  Presenting congregations with the Great Commission price tag is scary in this day and age with so many church buildings and aspiring pastors yet fewer frequent attenders, particularly when some of those leaving may be key contributors.  But the trajectory of a thriving church is typically and necessarily down before it follows the “hockey stick” back up.  Those remaining will create a firm foundation for rapid growth, while also breathing life back into the church’s culture.

Unfortunately, many pastors aren’t willing to take the risk of enduring the short, downward slope and therefore miss the rapid ascension in growth and health up the “hockey stick”.  Many therefore lose their passion and burn out, never recapturing the excitement they once felt back when their church first started.

Who you’ll lose…

It takes faith to boldly preach the whole truth of the gospel – including sin, repentance and the costs of discipleship.  On the surface, it would seem few want to hear that sermon.  Many in the congregation may not come back for a second dose of that medicine.  It also takes courage to ask churchgoers to muster the level of compassion and sacrifice demanded in the Bible of those who choose to follow Jesus Christ.  Many will find another church more willing to spoon feed them.  Others won’t step back into another church again and risk being confronted with such unreasonable expectations.

But let’s look more closely at who is most likely to leave your church when you begin to challenge them to become disciples:

  • those obsessed with their own personal identity (who we discussed last week):
    • want to associate themselves with Christians as part of their (self-conceived) identity or (public) social standing, as often occurs in smaller towns where church attendance is expected
    • more interested in religion than a relationship (with Jesus)
    • pursuing God for what He can do for them to improve their situation in life
  • long-time complacent members and attenders who aren’t ready for changes or challenges
  • “consumers” who complain when some aspect of church is no longer to their liking
  • those in it for “cheap grace”, belief without confession, surrender, discipleship or material life change
  • luke-warm fence-sitters undecided for years whether to stop dipping their toes in the water
  • people intent on being “fed”, unwilling to serve or give sacrificially
  • those who when they do serve, do it to “check the box” and feel better about themselves

Do you want a church full of those?  Jesus and His disciples didn’t try to appease them either.  They confronted sin and never tempered or qualified the gospel message regardless of whether listeners were ready to accept it or not.  Of course, keep in mind that Jesus and His disciples had already “primed the pump” by performing awe-inspiring miracles and jaw-dropping acts of kindness prior to sharing the gospel – a model most churches rarely imitate today.  Maybe that’s why churches have had to resort to softer, more palatable messages to attract and retain – because ears are not as ready to hear nor hearts to accept words not preceded by action. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

What you’ll gain…

Pressing forward in the face of the risk that your attendance will shrink if members are challenged to BE the church between Sundays and relentlessly pursue the real “customer” (the lost in the community) is not optional – it’s Biblical.  Pastors should have the faith to follow the Lord’s leading, whatever the outcome.

While there’s risk, there’s also tremendous upside.  The congregants who do stick around will be those who are:

  • hungry for truth
  • eager to grow deeper in their relationship with the Lord
  • possibly poor in material wealth but are rich in faith
  • disciples, or willing to become one
  • ready to make an impact within their circles of influence
  • committed to growing the Kingdom
  • all in!

Imagine what your church could do with pews full of those folks!  Twelve disciples changed the course of history.  However, the only way to weed out the “who you’ll lose”, leaving you only with the “what you’ll gain”, is to spell out what it REALLY means to live out the Great Commission.  And you haven’t yet rooted out the “who you’ll lose” at your church – because they’re still there!  Without trimming the excess and training the remaining “insiders” to be unabashed Christ followers bent on pursuing the lost in the community, your church will never morph into a beacon of light in your otherwise darkening city.

What about infrequent attenders, visitors and non-believers?

I know what many of you are thinking.  What about these folks?  Launching straight into the costs and effort involved in discipleship next Sunday would send most window shoppers and CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only) running for the doors, right?  There are several schools of thought on that topic in the church today:

  1. Most Common – The prevailing theory is that “seekers” need to be brought along slowly – from Connection, to Conversion, to Cultivation. While nearly all churches try to attract seekers and work toward Connection and Conversion, few offer Cultivation beyond Small Groups, which aren’t building many disciples.
  2. Most Concerning – Too many churches short-change those wandering into a church who are looking for truth, instead providing thinly-veiled counseling.  Rather than hearing a saving gospel and credible plan for life change from their meager existence, they get relationship and parenting advice.  Rather than getting answers to their tough questions and hard evidence to quell their doubts, they get promises of a better life and hope to help get them through difficult situations (the theme of most Christian songs today).  In their reluctant to call seekers to repentance, pastors miss the opportunity to offer genuine forgiveness and amazing grace.  It’s interesting that Jesus’ first message at the inception of His ministry, when there were no Christians on earth, began with a call to repentance.
  3. Most Controversial – Should non-believers even be invited to worship services?  Or should disciples be the “church” between Sundays, leading non-believers to faith, at which time they should join the body of believers in collective worship?  We’ll start with that most controversial question first next week and see how attempts to attract and engage non-believers are impacting today’s churches.

It’s your turn…

Have you watched a pastor do what Jesus did and “preach it (church/followers) down” to a smaller number of committed disciples, only to see that church explode in growth?

View online at: http://meettheneed.org/blog/2017/02/why-discipleship-is-the-ultimate-church-growth-model/#sthash.GsqfdmG4.VBwsxWMt.dpbs ;

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External Factors Keeping Churches From Discipling

In addition to the internal impediments to discipleship we discussed last week, there are cultural norms making it difficult for churches in America to build disciples.  Even if pastors were fully committed to implementing personalized, intensive discipleship programs, they would encounter three significant attitudinal roadblocks pervading the psyche of most Americans today:

1.  Do What’s Best for Me…

Baby Boomers were dubbed the “Me Generation” in the 1980s and 1990s as conspicuous consumption, career ambition and narcissism precipitated an explosion of self-help books and me-first TV shows like Seinfeld.  Today, Millennials are commonly referred to as “Generation Me” for their obsession with their own personal identity.  Advertisers, Hollywood, media and the music industry drive home the idea that each of us should individually:

  • Define my own identity
  • Define my own morality
  • Define my own gender
  • Define what I do with my own body
  • Define my own take on religion (or god)
  • Seek my own happiness and fulfillment as the top priority

No one is permitted to question any of these self-conceived definitions of who I (or anyone else) is.  Everyone is permitted to live in a (self) bubble free from the imposition of values, ideals or standards by others outside of that bubble.  In fact, much of the controversy surrounding politics today involves the perceived (and often real) attempts to draw gender, racial or moral lines based on ideological or religious beliefs and force them on those who have already defined those for themselves.  Those questioning or attempting any infringement on anyone else’s self-image is viewed by Generation Me as a bigot and vilified in the media.  In the name of respect, compassion and understanding, you are required to respect my “I” to a fault.  In contrast, those taking a stand for their personal identity (however they want to define it) against any assailants are passionately supported by onlookers and praised by the media.

The rise of selfies, self expression on social media, becoming an alternative self via video games and virtual reality, makeover shows creating instant self transformations, etc. are all clear indications of America’s self-infatuation.  Self-actualization, realizing your true self, or reinventing that self brings a sense of happiness and liberation – but it’s fleeting.

It’s also, for all practical and Biblical purposes, the opposite of how we were meant to live.  In Romans 8, Paul refers to self-obsession as living in the flesh: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”  That’s our true identity and intended purpose – to empty ourselves and be filled with the Holy Spirit to accomplish His plan, not ours.

In a culture inundated with Self-itis, pastors find it very difficult to implement intensive discipleship programs.  Discipleship runs directly counter to self-absorption in every respect.  Discipleship teaches:

Because identity in Christ versus identity in myself is so hard for the Me Generation and Generation Me to swallow, church leaders resort to “lighter” versions of discipleship like Small Groups that provide a palatable format for those still consumed with self.  Small Group members are free to tell their personal stories, receive sympathy and prayer, and hear supportive messages to help them deal with the challenges they face.  However, Small Groups aren’t building many disciples and few churchgoers today are willing to endure the costs of discipleship outlined in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  Few love Jesus unconditionally, pray unceasingly, share their faith unapologetically, or serve those in need unreservedly.  In other words, unlike disciples, they don’t look a whole lot like Jesus.

2.  Do What’s Best for My Family…

Scott is a dutiful husband and a devoted father.  Although Scott’s not the kind to wear his faith on his sleeve, he tries to live an exemplary life hoping others will notice, opening the door to invite them to church.  By setting a good example, caring for his family and serving at the church, Scott feels he’s doing everything he’s supposed to as a Christian.  His church doesn’t ask or expect more of him and frankly, Scott has little time for much else anyway. 

However, what if God expects more – much more? 

It’s hard to argue with Scott or others like him.  How can there be anything wrong with working hard all week to provide for his family, then spending every Saturday at soccer games and cheerleading practice with his kids, and volunteering at his church every Sunday?  Churches reinforce Scott’s perspective by continually emphasizing taking care of our families and serving at the church.  Entire sermon series are devoted to marriage, child-rearing and relationships – often tying back into opportunities like leading a Small Group or working as a greeter or usher. 

But what about the Great Commission?  What about evangelism, the poor and the lost in the community?  That’s who Jesus, His disciples and the early church spent nearly all of their time pursuing.  What if your children follow suit and only take care of their own families?  Then what if your children’s children do the same when they grow up?  Who will ever look out for the hungry, hurting and hopeless?  And what about life transformation?  That’s what Jesus’ disciples experienced.  Where are our broken hearts for those who die without knowing the Lord?  How can we restrict our time and attention to our family and church while those in our workplaces and neighborhoods have contracted a fatal illness for which we have the cure?

Yes, churches have bred generations of Passive, Pensive and Private Christians.  Scott’s story resembles far too many churchgoers in America today, but how many pastors are willing to tell members to be less devoted to their families and more committed to making a dramatic impact in their world for Christ (i.e. Powerful Christians)?

3.  Do What’s Best for My Church…

Ironically, the success some pastors have had in the recent past in building personal brands, marketing their church and trying to increase loyalty among churchgoers, has backfired.  Invite-Involve-Invest, the prevailing church growth model over the past couple decades, not only hasn’t grown the Church in size, impact, influence or perception – it’s also trained members to abdicate their personal ministry responsibilities (handing them over to their church) and substitute performing religious obligations (for their church).

Jesus intends for His followers to BE the church, not passive (or active) participants in church.  1 Peter 2:4-5 says “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood,…”  Jesus is the Cornerstone and we are His “living stones”, His hands and feet that He uses to build His Church.  However, modern day church growth models have adjusted to fit the Me Generation and Generation Me, asking much less than Jesus does of His followers.

Rather than challenging churchgoers with all that discipleship entails (outlined earlier), pastors have lowered expectations, knowing few are willing to fully die to self, be crucified with Christ, and define their identity in Christ alone.  Instead, by implicitly defining church as an institution rather than as the congregation, church leaders kill two birds with one stone, both meeting self-absorbed Americans where they are and focusing them on supporting the organization itself.  In other words, rather than building disciples, which asks people to identify themselves as the church personified and therefore risks driving away those who want to retain their own identity, pastors appeal to them with services, programs and requests to build up the organization, which requires teams of faithful workers.

In some ways, churches have begun to imitate the Me Generation and Generation Me.  Each church differentiates and many rebrand, working hard at creating its own unique identity.  However, churches should adopt the core principles of discipleship they should espouse, dying to self and identifying themselves solely within the context of the larger body of Christ.  Instead, churches are increasingly establishing their independent identities and breaking away from denominations, affiliations and partnerships.  Many hand out “I love my church” bumper stickers, advertise in ways that would only entice Christians from other churches, and advocate their unique views of how worship and life should be conducted.  Yet both believers and churches were meant to be collectively depending on Christ alone, not asserting their independence.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you see a correlation between the increase in the level of self-interest among Americans and America’s churches and the rise of the “Nones” and “Dones” during the Me Generation and Generation Me?

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Jesus selected an odd cast of characters to be His disciples.  If you were asked to pick a team of 12 people to change the course of history, I’m guessing you wouldn’t head straight to the local marina or IRS office looking for candidates.  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did.  In fact, the Old Testament, New Testament and the annals of church history are riddled with stories of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.  God gets all the glory when those least capable achieve the seemingly impossible.  Maybe those who truly understand they are powerless without the Holy Spirit are most qualified to receive the Holy Spirit’s power.  Maybe those who’ve heard “no” most often are those most willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks of them.

Yes, disciples are those who are transformed from ordinary to extraordinary – and leave an indelible mark on the world around them.  Life transformation through discipleship is so powerful and important that Jesus invested heavily in a small band of average Joe’s – knowing a few fully committed followers is all it would take to spark a wildfire that would circle the globe.  So when only 1% of church leaders today say American churches are discipling well, is it any wonder why the Church is declining in growth, impact, influence and perception?  As we discussed last week, when asked about discipleship, most pastors are quick to cite “Small Groups” – yet a church where Small Groups are the primary discipleship vehicle isn’t very serious about discipleship.

Maximizing Kingdom, Community and Church Impact in America hinges largely on resuming intensive, personal discipleship within and outside of our nation’s churches…

Discipleship Expands the Kingdom…

…As You Follow God’s Growth Plan

Only disciples can make disciples.  It “takes one to make one”.  Disciples look like Jesus.  They act like Jesus.  Jesus was loving, selfless and compassionate.  As a result, He attracted a large following.  So did His disciples.  Nothing has changed.  Disciples are still the key to expanding the Lord’s Kingdom.  God’s math remains the same – a few followers on fire for Him have an exponential impact as they disciple a few others, who in turn each disciple a few others, and so on.

…As You Invest in Disciple-Building, Not Institution-Building

If disciples are the means by which Jesus intends for people to come to Him, then the most critical function of the church should be to make disciples.  Seek to grow disciples and you’ll build a church; seek to grow a church and you’ll build an institution.  Our contention in this blog series that churchgoers are too often treated like “customers” doesn’t mean churches should pay less attention to them.  In fact it’s the opposite.  Churches should focus even more on members and attenders but spend that time quite differently, shifting from attracting and retaining to discipling and deploying.  Rather than measuring “nickels and noses”, pastors should measure life change and the resulting ripple effect on those around them. 

….As You Turn Your Church Inside Out

Those in the pews are the definition and embodiment of “church”.  They are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission.  Therefore, they are “insiders” who should be trained much like a company trains its employees.  The company’s revenues decline if the customer service and sales staff isn’t adequately prepared to “care” and “share”.  Likewise, churches aren’t maximizing returns for the Kingdom if they’re not effectively training disciples to be Jesus’ workforce – His hands and feet.

Discipleship Changes Your Community…

…As You Confess

Are our hearts broken for the helpless and hopeless around us?  A pastor once told me, “I’d love to have a church full of Nehemiahs who weep for the lost and poor in our community.”  That should be our response too, but is it?   As we become more like Jesus, our hearts meld with His and compassion begins to outweigh comfort.  Churchgoers will lack the impetus to radically shift their priorities if leaders are reluctant to challenge and train them to truly become disciples of Jesus Christ.

…As You Commit

There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local community missions.  Why would a church teach people how to share their faith if it doesn’t send them out to do so?  Conversely, if a church is going to put people in position to “share”, it needs to prepare them to be effective evangelists.  As you’d expect, churches that pull away from discipleship typically pull away from local missions as well.  If churches aren’t highly focused on the one, they won’t be focused on the other.  Churches who don’t feel at liberty to impose the commitment and costs of discipleship on the congregation are likely equally hesitant to request they step out of their comfort zones to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – opening the door to sharing the gospel through loving acts of service.

…As You Coalesce

Signing up for an occasional service event or mailing out a check is not the full extent of a disciple’s responsibility to impact the world around them.  Discipleship provides the inspiration and motivation to do more, but uniting around a common cause can provide the direction.  There are pressing social issues all around us.  How can your church respond?  In the absence of an outside cause around which to unite, many churches make themselves the “cause”.  How frequently do you hear requests from the pulpit for volunteers to serve inside the church versus to volunteer for community activities to reach those outside the “4 walls”?

Discipleship Grows Your Church…

…As You Abandon Conventional Wisdom

Bucking current trends entails convincing Christians that church is not a place, it’s them.  As the Church, reaching the lost and poor with the Gospel is in their job descriptions, not just the pastor’s.  The starting point for revival in America and at your church will be when churchgoers undergo a discipleship-driven transformation in their thinking about their role and responsibilities between Sundays.  Expectations must flip from evaluating what they’re getting out of church to what they’re putting into becoming church personified.   As members “grow” then “go” through discipleship, your church releases more powerful advocates for Christ into their circles of influence, vastly increasing your church’s leverage.

…As You Pursue Church Health, not Size 

The healthy way to go wider (i.e. grow) is to go deeper.  Unhealthy churches go wider by allowing members to wade in the shallow end.  The waters are calm and no dangers lurk beneath the surface.  Churchgoers dip their toes in the water, knowing they’ll never drown or become “lunch”.  They’ll never be compelled to head into the deeper waters of real life change and discipleship.  Yet that’s where Jesus demands we swim.  Healthy churches are ones that pursue “organic”, not “acquisitive”, growth.  “Acquisitive” attracts Christians from other churches – offering facilities, sermons, music and programs that others can’t match.  Acquisitive growth without discipleship leads to internal turmoil you’d expect of churchgoers who aren’t fully committed disciples – squabbles, splits and consumerism.  However, “Organic” growth actually increases the size of the “pie” by making disciples who lead others to Christ – adding a face who didn’t simply come from another church.

….As You Take Big Risks

The Organic model involves great risk in today’s acquisitive world, but has a much higher upside.  Yet disciple-building has always been a high-risk venture.  At the height of His popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable.  He preached His most controversial, challenging sermon.  In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd of followers to drink His blood and eat His flesh.  Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, difficult message members had ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would come back the next Sunday.  Imagine that same pastor pulling all the members aside and laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow?  That’s exactly what Jesus did.  He preached it down to a select few.  But through those remaining, sold-out disciples the early church grew at an astronomical clip.

It’s Your Turn…

People retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they discuss with others, 80% of what they personally experience and 95% of what they teach others.  In other words, the best way to fully absorb what it means to be a disciple is to live it out.

Meet The Need is about mobilizing disciples at your church into action…year-round!:

  • Software – Go to www.meettheneed.org to get your church started using all of our FREE tools
  • Coaching – Visit our website and blog for posts and eBooks with tips and best practices
  • Campaigns – Learn more about how to encourage others to live prayer, care, share lifestyles at #MeetAnEternalNeed
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Internal Factors Keeping Churches from Discipling

Part 1 – Internal Factors

As we showed last week, discipleship expands the Kingdom, changes your community and grows your church.  So why do only 1% of church leaders surveyed believe American churches are discipling well.  Why wouldn’t more pastors emphasize discipleship and implement a discipleship track that goes well beyond sermons and small groups (which aren’t making many disciples)?  Why don’t many churches utilize more intensive and effective discipleship methods?

It’s not for a lack of understanding that discipleship is important.  Most pastors list discipleship as a priority.  Few deny its Kingdom-building potential.  The story of Jesus’ ministry cannot be told without reference to how fervently He invested in, empowered and released disciples into service.  For all those reasons, discipleship is addressed in sermons at least on occasion at nearly every church.

4 Discipleship “Pump Fakes”

However, today pastors seem more willing to preach discipleship principles than the corresponding actions and expectations that true discipleship entails.  Too many pay lip service to discipleship and fall short on execution, anticipating few churchgoers will go beyond dipping their toes in the discipleship waters.  In other words, in football terms during this Super Bowl week, in one of 4 ways pastors “pump fake” the congregation and hand off rather than throwing the ball downfield:

  1. Preaching without Principles – Not revealing the full costs of discipleship outlined in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  This isn’t restricted to prosperity or “name it and claim it” churches, but applies to any church that fails to disclose that following Jesus may mean losing everything.  Jesus’ high standards for His followers stand in stark contrast to the life improvement plan touted in churches that not only tolerate but cater to “consumer” Christians.
  2. Preaching without Programs – Fearless presentation of what challenges may await those who take a full-fledged leap of faith, but not offering a discipleship plank off which to leap.  No company would rely solely on a weekly lecture and an optional weekly forum led by untrained employees as the full extent of its training program.  Likewise, it is unreasonable for churches to think sermons and small groups should suffice as adequate discipleship training for those intended to be the personification of “church”.
  3. Preaching without Practicing – Sharing a hard message with a soft landing.  So often Biblical truths passionately introduced throughout the first 25 minutes don’t seem to match the action items laid out in the last 5 minutes.  You’ve seen it before – right message, wrong conclusions.  A demanding sermon that seems to push the limits of life transformation (e.g. discipleship, evangelism and community impact), but ends with the same old Invite/Involve/Invest institution-building requests (e.g. invite friends, sign up for “church chores”, join a small group, give to the church).
  4. Preaching without Progress – Even with appropriate principles, programs and practices, real progress in disciple-making requires some form of accountability and tracking, either personal or corporate.  A discipleship-driven church seeks to know whether its congregation is living out the Great Commission.  It lays out a discipleship path and measures degree of life change as people move down that road.  It may even abandon internally-focused “nickels and noses” metrics, replacing them with externally-oriented metrics like lives touched and impacted by its members.

Preaching with Power involves not only unveiling the costs of discipleship, but instituting an intensive 1-on-1 or triad discipleship program, deploying disciples into personal ministry inside AND outside the church, and expecting life transformation in line with what Jesus asked of His disciples.

Discipleship Works…so Why Not?

There are powerful INTERNAL forces (next week we’ll discuss EXTERNAL factors) at work within the current psyche of church leaders that deter all but a few from implementing full-scale, Biblical discipleship:

  1. Graduation – Churches provide different levels of Biblical “education”: Elementary School (“milk” Paul spoke of in Hebrews 5:13); High School (beginning to eat “solid” food); College (in-depth Bible study); and Grad School (deep personalized discipleship).  Few churches provide all four levels.  Yet I’ve never come across a church who admits that and refers members to another church once they’ve exhausted all the depth it can supply.  A church who simply doesn’t have enough senior, mature leaders to start a “college” or “grad school” level discipleship program should either commit to fix that problem, or congratulate and bid farewell to those ready to earn their “bachelors” or “masters”.  Instead, nearly every church tries to hang on to every person.  That’s a disservice to those churchgoers and the Kingdom.  Some may argue that those senior, mature leaders should stick around to disciple others, but their skills are likely underutilized by elementary and high school level churches where serious discipleship isn’t a priority.  Regardless, truly transformed disciples probably won’t be content for long in a church that subscribes to conventional growth models – eventually leaving for a church with a higher “ceiling”.
  2. Centralization – Some pastors even get upset when members step away from church responsibilities to engage in community or world-changing external ministry.  Leaders whose aim is to transform and release (build disciples) versus attract and retain (build an organization) would be excited for them.  Serving on a finance committee or as a greeter builds that church, but serving in an external ministry that equips and unites many churches may do more to build the Kingdom.  However, as pastors and staff have gradually come to be viewed as the “professionals” and “church” as a place to go to on weekends, the need for member engagement and loyalty has increased.  A centralized concept of “church” is far more labor intensive and expensive to maintain than a decentralized church model.  Discipleship decentralizes as members increasingly function as the embodiment of “church” between Sundays and more actively seek ministry opportunities outside the “4 walls”.  A cycle of institutional dependency revolving around a single organization slowly gives way to a wider view of one’s personal responsibility to impact the community for Christ.  In that respect, discipleship threatens a church’s viability by releasing its most valued resources.  In fact, some churches have even asked me whether all external service opportunities that conflict with their internal volunteering needs can be eliminated from Meet The Need’s database.
  3. Expectation – The tables have turned.  The “balance of power” today has tipped in favor of members.  The law of supply and demand has given churchgoers the upper hand.  A large number of churches, each carrying fixed expenses that have to be covered, are going after a shrinking “pool” of frequent attenders, each of whom donates less on average.  The landscape is also filled with more “Walmart” churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop” churches who are unable to provide the same weekend “experience” for adults and children.  Meanwhile, seminaries are producing significant numbers of aspiring new pastors every year.  The math will only get worse – fewer people and funds to spread over the remaining base of church facilities and pastors.  As a result, churches too often choose the path of least resistance to cling to members.  As we discussed, they’ve reduced WorshipCompassion and even Salvation to events.  Expectations have flipped – emphasis previously was on leaders expecting members to “perform” (e.g. life change; community impact) but now members expect pastors to perform (e.g. entertaining worship; availability for counseling and family events).  Pastors are more hesitant to regularly make high commitment (and high Kingdom “payoff”) requests for discipleship, local missions, and evangelism – instead offering lower commitment alternatives (with lower Kingdom “payoff”) like serving on the usher, greeter or parking team.

It’s Your Turn…

Stop pump faking and throw the pass downfield.  Get beyond words and put in place a life-changing discipleship program at your church that transforms people into the image of Christ.

Then, utilize Meet The Need’s software to point your members to opportunities to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – letting loving acts of service open the door to presenting the Gospel message.

Finally, encourage your members to live Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles by introducing our new initiative #MeetAnEternalNeed.  #MeetAnEternalNeed is a challenge to Christians and churchgoers everywhere to be intentional about:

  • Bringing help and hope (found in Christ alone) to a friend, neighbor, coworker or complete stranger
  • Posting a pic and telling their story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MeetAnEternalNeed (and #WWJB, #WhereWouldJesusBe) to inspire others
  • Specifically challenging 3 friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”
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