Four Keys for Improving Your Assimilation Process

If you ask 100 church leaders to define assimilation, you’ll probably get 100 different answers. Some might say it’s all about creating relationships. Others might say it’s when a new member joins the church.

For us, the best way to define assimilation is with a metaphor. In the same way that an engine is composed of multiple parts all working together to move a vehicle in one direction, effective assimilation is a system that involves many different areas working together to move people from first-time visitors to fully engaged members. It’s a process that begins with a person’s first visit to the church (for any reason) and ends when that person becomes connected to the people, ministries, and programs that drive the mission.

We’ve identified four keys to help you improve and streamline your assimilation process.

  1. Evaluate your current process, it’s important

It is often the case in ministry that there is so much to do and too little time. Sometimes all you can do is barely keep your head afloat. It can seem daunting to imagine having the time to stop, strategize, and learn a new system. However, taking the time to think through your church assimilation process might be the single most effective choice you can make in your ministry. Having a systematic approach to your assimilation process is imperative to ensuring that no one is overlooked and that your church is not leaking people. It’s tough to know whether your assimilation process is providing enough opportunity for life change without taking a step back and evaluating your process.

  1. Identify the primary areas that need attention

After having evaluated your church’s current assimilation process, what are some of the areas that need immediate attention? What role do each of these play in ensuring your church’s growth keeps… well, growing?

Each church’s assimilation process will be unique.

However, after working with many of our church partners at Church Community Builder we have identified four primary areas or processes that often need attention: Hospitality, Information Gathering, Follow-Up, and Connection.

  1. Develop a strategy for improving your church’s assimilation process

Take time to intentionally invest in a plan that;s going to improve your church’s overall health and growth. A process is something that can be measured and monitored; the same should be true of your assimilation strategy. Here are some ways we’ve seen churches benefit from greater intentionality around assimilation:

  • They end up mapping out how a new visitor is integrated into their community. This helps them remember the new visitor experiences.
  • They develop a process that can be replicated and reproduced. These are critical to the success of your ministry, and should regularly be assessed and tweaked.
  • They’re able to measure what’s working and what isn’t. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  • They place a higher percentage of attenders into small groups. Active small group participants are more likely to be faithful givers, volunteers, and lay leaders.
  • They have greater success connecting people with volunteer opportunities that match their passions and abilities. Just filling slots leads to burnout; matching people to positions leads to breakthrough.
  • Their churches are producing active leaders instead of frozen chosen. They make it more comfortable for people to get involved that just sit and consume.
  • They discover ministry opportunities they didn’t know existed. God has given your members unique gifts and a purpose that he wants to fulfill through your church. That purpose might be something you hadn’t considered before. 
  1. Leverage technology to measure the results of your process.

Your church management system has the ability to make assimilation more efficient and effective. In addition to helping you distribute workloads, it can provide a place for recording and measuring the effectiveness of your process. The larger your church becomes, the more moving pieces there are, and the more you can your staff will need to depend on robust technology designed to accelerate the rate your people grow, connect, and engage with the long-term vision and development of your church.

A healthy church maximizes the assimilation process

There’s a quote that reads: “If you want something you’ve never had before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.” And there’s probably a list of things that you’d like to do to help your church reach more people and move those people along the pathway of discipleship. However, you can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Discipleship suffers without a good assimilation process that facilitates moving people into a deeper relationship with Christ, people struggle to connect, first-time visitors are discouraged as there is nothing in place for them to move forward and connect with the church and it’s vision, and your backdoor remains just as open as your frontdoor.

The end result: overall church health decays because there is no plan in place to help people keep growing.

Maybe your assimilation process needs a quick pulse check, maybe it needs some surgery, or even a complete overhaul, one thing we know for certain is that it is essential to building a thriving ministry.

The more powerful the assimilation process, the more powerful your church will be.

Here are some practical next steps you can take today:

  • Outline your church’s assimilation process. Document it.
  • Assess the effectiveness of your current process. How are you doing in the 4 primary areas we identified?
  • Put the necessary changes in motion

Learn more about improving your assimilation process – connect with an Auxano Navigator today.


> Read more from Church Community Builder.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Church Community Builder

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

5 Reasons Why Disciples Need Ministry Tools More Than Sermons

The discipleship results of your ministry are not defined by content of your preaching alone.  One significant factor that impacts disciple-making is tool-making.  Unfortunately, you might not recall any seminary classes or conference breakouts on making ministry tools.

Why not? The simplest explanation is that we rely too much on teaching. As a result, we as pastors, do not become good at training and spend little time on toolmaking. In fact the average pastor rarely pursues improved competency as a trainer. But pastors go to great lengths— attending workshops, digesting sermons, and reading books— to become better preachers. 

Think about it for a minute: Is your church better characterized as a teaching center or a training center? Do you consider yourself more of a bible-communicator or a people-developer? When is the last time you thought about finding or making ministry tools?

I know what you want to say— “It’s both Will, why would you separate it?” Of course your intent is both to communicate well and see a disciple form as a result.  But I want to separate the two so that you can double check your assumptions and expectations about how people change and grow. Does your teaching provide the pathway toward the modeling, practicing, and evaluating of new life skills? Are you really helping people develop new life competencies in the way of Jesus?  Or are you just preaching?

One proof that you are good at training is the presence of ministry tools. What tools have you given to people lately through one of your sermon series? When was the last time you brainstormed with your team about a new ministry tool to create? If you have small group leaders in the church, what ministry tools have you provided for them in the last year?

What’s the bottom line? If you are not adding ministry tools to the lives of your people, you are not close to maximizing a disciple-making culture. You are probably not equipping people that much.

Before explaining why, let’s define what we mean by a tool. One definition reads:

Tool: A handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task. The basic definition brings to mind a hammer or screwdriver that you hold in your hand. The definition may expand if a tool doesn’t have to be literally handheld. Another definition reads: a device or implement used to carry out a particular function.

The term “device” broadens the range for disciple-making purposes. For example, the model prayer of Jesus was a device to train the disciples how to pray. Jesus used questions, metaphors and parables as devices or tools of disciple-making that weren’t “handheld” per se.

So what are examples of ministry tools? Here are five:

  • A church does a sermon on praying and provides a prayer journal (ministry tool) as people walk out the door.
  • A pastor preaches on missional living and creates a table tent (ministry tool- a triangle-shaped brochure that stands in the middle of the dinner table)  for family conversations designed to encourage the application of being better neighbors for the sake of the gospel.
  • A team codifies a definition (ministry tool) of what kind of disciple their church is designed to produce and then creates a self-assessment (ministry tool) to use in small groups.
  • A pastor uses a 4-question, gospel fluency matrix (ministry tool) –drawable on a napkin–to help the congregation apply the gospel to the daily fluctuations of sinful emotions and actions.
  • A bible study leader passes out a business card (ministry tool) with a daily bible reading schedule and three applications questions to ask for every passage of scripture.

This is a short list that begins to illustrate the endless possibilities of ministry tools. Keep in mind that I didn’t even reference the internet or digital devices that really explode the possibilities ministry tool-making.

Now that we have defined and illustrated what a ministry tool or device is, let’s get to the heart of the post. Why do disciples need ministry tools more than sermons? Why should we not rely on preaching alone if we are to train people to follow Jesus?  Here are five compelling reasons:

#1 – A ministry tool signifies importance.  A tool highlights the greater importance of the idea thus setting it up for application and helping stand out among the competing messages in every area of life. When a tool is introduced in the flow of communication, the idea behind the tool will trump every other idea. The tool immediately indicates the value of repeatability as well.

#2 – A ministry tool activates learning. A tool utilizes a part of human brain that is activated by a concrete object to hold and use, or an audio device to return to like a question or repeatable story. Again this sets up an important step toward application. It engages visual and kinesthetic learners.

#3 – A ministry tool guides application. This is the main idea. The tool itself provides a “how to” that can be practiced, repeated and eventually mastered. It shows the way and validates when action has been taken or not.  The device clarifies a step of implementation. In a way, a tool gently brings accountability to the table–every time I see the tool, I know whether or not I have used it.

#4 – A ministry tool creates energy. A tool helps people feel excited about ideas. It helps people win. And by the way, may pastors can unintentionally create a sense of failure for their people.  As people listen to sermons year after year, they oftentimes feel like they aren’t growing like they should. A tool can reverse that dynamic. It’s focuses application, so they can do it. And that gives pastors the opportunity to celebrate their new skill development. Then, even more energy is created!

#5 – A ministry tool reproduces training. A tool makes every person a trainer not just the pastor or preacher. As a leader, it’s not important what you can do; it’s important what you can duplicate. If you make a tool, it can outlast you and be passed from disciple to disciple to disciple until Jesus returns again.

This last principle has changed by personal conviction that I must spend time to make tools. In fact my two most important books (tools themselves) are Church Unique an God Dreams each of which cover how to create a master tool for church leadership, the Vision Frame and the Horizon Storyline, respectively.

I would love to hear from you. What is your favorite ministry tool? What ministry tools have you created recently?

A final illustration of one of my favorites is a how-to PDF and video on creating a family tree. This tool comes from a short sermon series at Clear Creek Community Church, my home church. To help people gain perspective and apply the gospel to the brokenness of extended family dynamics, they encouraged everyone to practice writing out their family diagram.

> Read more from Will.


Would you like to learn more about the ministry tools? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

How to Live for Jesus in Three Key Environments

Ask, “What is discipleship?” in a group of church leaders, and if honest answers were forthcoming, the most frequently associated word would be “class” or “group.”

While classes and groups may supplement the discipleship process, attendance alone is insufficient. All-of-life discipleship – learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in the everyday stuff of life beyond classroom walls – requires more than completing a book study or participating in a discussion group.

Could it be that we are classifying discipleship in the church with a consumeristic point of view, in which people attend church as passive recipients of religious goods and services?

Solution – Live for Jesus in these three key environments

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt

What does it look like to live for Jesus in the everyday stuff of life?

Many Christians have unwittingly embraced the idea that “church” is a once-a-week event rather than a community of Spirit-empowered people; that “ministry” is what pastors do on Sundays rather than the 24/7 calling of all believers; and that “discipleship” is a program rather than the normal state of every follower of Jesus.

Drawing on his experience as a pastor and church planter, Jeff Vanderstelt wants us to see that there’s more—much more—to the Christian life than sitting in a pew once a week. God has called His people to something bigger: a view of the Christian life that encompasses the ordinary, the extraordinary, and everything in between.

Packed full of biblical teaching, compelling stories, and real-world advice, this book will remind you that Jesus is filling the world with His presence through the everyday lives of everyday people…

People just like you.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Disciples have a personality, but they are not themselves – at least, when Jesus is at work in and through them.

The disciples of Jesus were all very unique individuals, with peculiar characteristics. Many, if not most, would not be on our list of people whom Jesus would choose to carry forward His ministry and teachings in the first – and twenty-first – centuries.

Yet when those men put down their nets, left their life’s work behind and followed Jesus, something changed. They became saturated with Jesus. He filled them, and in turn, they filled the world by Him.

That same saturation that characterized Jesus’ first disciples is available to us today.

As we’ve grown in following Jesus daily and helped people increasingly submit to Jesus in everything, we’ve discovered that discipleship cannot happen simply by attending church gatherings or going to classes.

All-of-life discipleship – learning to follow, trust, and obey Jesus in the everyday stuff of life – requires submitting to and obeying God’s Word in three key environments: life on life, where our lives are visible and accessible to one another; life in community, where more than one person is developing another; and life on mission, where we experience making disciples and, while doing so, come to realize how much we need God’s power.

God wants to restore you to his original design. That is what discipleship is truly about – making you truly human, just as Jesus is the perfectly complete human.

His means of restoration is others in your life who are committed to bringing your brokenness out into the open and bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear on it. We have to get close. We have to be seen and known.

This is what we call life-on-life discipleship – life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another.

Jesus is not finished with me yet, and he has given me a community to participate in making me more like him.

If you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, and subsequently the ministry of the apostle Paul, you certainly would not come to the conclusion that one-on-one discipleship is best. Jesus discipled his followers while they experienced life together in community.

We fulfill the mission of making disciples most effectively when we are on mission in community. To grow toward being a disciple maker in all of life, you need on-the-job training, and that’s what life on mission is about.

Jesus taught the disciples the basics of making disciples while they were on the mission of making disciples. The best training for mission happens while on mission.

Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate 

A NEXT STEP

In your next large leadership gathering, ask your team to:

  1. List the faith-based activities, classes, or programs they are involved in.
  2. Evaluate on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) how each activity has helped them grow in their personal relationship with God during the last three months. Discuss how or why not.
  3. Now, ask each person to estimate how much time each week they have developed their personal relationship with God in addition to the group or classroom time.
  4. Ask them what could be different in the activities, if a specifically defined goal of each were to spiritually transform lives outside of meeting time.
  5. Finally, create at least one action step for each leader to move their participation closer toward discipleship.

Bonus: With your staff team, look at your church calendar for the next six months. Ask the question, “How will these activities grow our people as disciples of Jesus?” Go through the same set of five questions above, in terms of major activities on the church calendar.

 


Jesus is in the business of changing selfish people into selfless followers. Church leaders have the responsibility to create and nourish environments, patterns, and relationships that will help believers achieve that transformation.

Taken from SUMS Remix 37-1, published March 2016


This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

> Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

2 Steps to Balance Your Church’s Discipleship Deficit

The topic of discipleship is one of increasing importance among many believers, and rightfully so. This topic deserves our attention even more today as church leaders realize there is a “discipleship deficit.”

One of the triggers of this term seems to be the Reveal Study performed by Willow Creek and done across a number of different churches to collect more accurate data. It found that significant numbers of people were not making the complete journey to becoming robust disciples. This finding was mainly attributed to the fact that people faced situations or places along their journey where they found themselves stuck, and unable to progress forward to deeper Christian maturity. This understanding caused Willow Creek to rethink what it might look like to have a more robust discipleship strategy.

This appears to be a trend across the spectrum of churches. Believers were failing to engage in taking the next step of their spiritual journey, and with regards to the steps that they were actually taking, there was somewhat a sense of dissatisfaction. Converts were being made. Churches are securing “decisions.” But far too few are growing into mature disciples of Christ.

It is not enough, however, for us to merely recognize this discipleship deficit. We should be asking what we can do to change it. We as evangelicals are not making robust disciples, and this elephant is one that can no longer be avoided.

Part of the solution process seems to have already begun. Many conferences are now talking about disciple making; yet, these focused times of discussion need to lead to action. Another encouragement is that many churches are beginning to assess the process and direction of their discipleship efforts, but at the same time the words of Winston Churchill come to mind: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” And that’s what we need to do. Let’s look at the process of disciple making and consider how this could be best undertaken. How could an evangelical church today make effective disciples who grow to such a maturity in their faith that they too could make more disciples? I believe there are two great (perhaps obscure) references in Scripture that would help us consider the topic of discipleship.

The first reference is in the New Testament where the Bible speaks of the people of Berea. Luke notes that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians, and the reason he gives for this is that they searched the Scriptures to see what was true (Acts 17:11). My hope is that as we consider discipleship, we might be like the people of Berea who are truly grounded in the Word of God and let God’s Word shape our ideas, attitudes, and approaches. We need to search the Scriptures in order for us to correctly understand the many facets involved in discipleship.

When we conducted our Transformational Discipleship research, we noticed an interesting fact: the number one correlative factor to all other factors for discipleship was people being consistently engaged in the Word of God. The foundation for any discipleship strategy has to be the Bible and the implementation has to involve getting new believers studying Scripture personally and with others.

Yet while we hold this idea of Bereans in one hand, let’s quickly look at the other potentially obscure reference. The Old Testament speaks of the man of Issachar, and it says they discerned the times and knew what they should do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Discerning the times can and does mean a lot of things—and we actually do not get much from the context on what it means. I think it involves knowing the context, but most likely it would primarily involve knowing the situation of the people of Israel.

We have to understand the context in which God has placed us to know how discipleship works best. Yes, different strategies work best in different churches within different communities at different times. To end the discipleship deficit where you are, you need to know your people and then know what to do to help them grow as mature followers of Jesus. That might be small groups, special classes, one-on-one mentoring, or something else.

There’s much more about this in the Transformational Discipleship book, but as we continue to engage in this conversation around discipleship, may we be people of Berea standing on, searching through, and growing in the Word of God. May we also be people of Issachar who wisely think about best practices and strategies, discerning the times about how we might effectively disciple people in this day and in this age.

> Read more from Ed.


 Want to learn how to address the discipleship deficit in your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

Download PDF

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Discipleship Can Be Served, But Never Delivered

Discipleship matters.

The goal is not a crowd, but rather a core of committed Christ followers who are fleshing out the life of Christ at work, in their marriage, their parenting, their finances, their thinking, their politics, their…

… everything.

To borrow from Abraham Kuyper, there is not an inch of any sphere of my life that Christ does not say, “Mine!”

But what is the nature of discipleship?

There seem to be two schools of thought. The first holds that discipleship is all about ongoing investment. Whether classes or seminars, sermons or small groups, everything is designed to “feed” the Christ-follower. The language used to describe and promote this understanding of discipleship puts the entire emphasis on someone or something, doing discipleship to someone else. The one being discipled is seemingly passive. In other words, discipleship is something received.

The other school of thought is less about feeding and more about training. There is an old line that says, “Give me a fish, I eat for a day; teach me to fish, I eat for a lifetime.” So rather than providing an ongoing pipeline for biblical teaching (present though that may be) the overarching goal is to teach people how to become Bible students themselves.

So which is the true nature of discipleship?

The answer lies in the word itself.

The word “disciple” is from the Greek word “mathetes” and literally means “learner.”

Stop there. Re-read.

Learner.

This puts the action firmly into the lap of the one doing the learning. The point is that you, as a disciple, are to be actively learning. It is your responsibility to take up the mantle of self-development.

And yes, this suggests a teacher is involved.

And yes, we talk about someone going to college to receive an education.

And yes, Jesus seemed to fill the teaching/equipping role by inviting 12 men (and more than a few women) to do life with Him for three years.

And yes, they were called “disciples.”

But reflect on those early followers: Theirs was an invitation to learn, not to enter into a passive process of being fed. We certainly know that not all of the twelve went to school on Jesus. One in particular didn’t seem to learn much of anything. If discipleship was simply something done to you, Jesus failed epically with Judas.

(I wonder if Judas ever said he needed to follow another rabbi where he could be better “fed” and thus grow better spiritually than he was under Jesus.)

Growing in faith is something that can be served by others, but ultimately must be owned personally.

This is decisive. Too many followers of Christ view discipleship as something that is done to them and for them – akin to a personal enrichment program. Yet the writer of Hebrews made it abundantly clear that people who keep getting “fed” in this way are in arrested development. Once out of infancy, they should no longer need to be fed, but instead be feeding others (Hebrews 5:11-13).

But even more disquieting is how we have missed out on what it is we should focus on learning. The back-half of the Great Commission exhorts us to teach new believers to obey what Christ has commanded. This is the essence of the content of discipleship.

And what has Christ commanded?

To live our lives in mission to the least and the lost.

In other words, what we are to be learning is increased love toward others and increased faith for the task of serving them. We are not to be in search for a feeding station that creates a culture of dependency and endless demand for head-knowledge, but instead for a learning environment where an active life of faith is stretched and encouraged.

I know, knowledge is needed. Doctrine matters. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. But that transformation only happens when what is in the mind translates into obedience to serving the widow and orphan, and reaching out to the hell-bound and skeptic.

So discipleship is enhanced through practical teaching, learning the personal disciplines of prayer and Bible study, engaging in ministry, engaging in relationships that bring challenge and opportunity, and welcoming circumstances that demand the essence of commitment and obedience.

In other words, faith is stretched by being in the game where you are admonished by teachers/leaders, investing in connecting with God through prayer and the Scriptures, putting yourself on the front lines of the cause of Christ, mixing it up with other Christians who sharpen you as iron against iron, and being led by God into unique situations that challenge you at the deepest of spiritual levels.

That’s not passive, but active.

It’s something that can be served, but never delivered.

It takes a church, but only goes so far as the person is willing to be,

… a true learner.


Want to know more about developing discipleship at your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator today.


> Read more from James.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Intentionally Train Disciples to Do What Jesus Did

How do I develop a discipleship process while acknowledging the organic nature of making disciples?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing in The Cost of Discipleship, states, “On two separate occasions Peter received the call ‘Follow me.’ It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to His disciple. A whole life lies between these two calls.”

Could it be possible that those two simple, yet profound words hold the key for pastors who are desperately seeking solutions to overcome the dismal state of discipleship in their churches?

The call to Peter – and to other disciples – is one of single-minded obedience. Jesus was asking them – and us – to rely on Christ’s word – the Word of God Himself.

Solution – Intentionally train disciples to do what Jesus did.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Conversion and Discipleship by Bill Hull

Discipleship occurs when someone answers the call to learn from Jesus how to live his or her life—as though Jesus were living it. The end result is that the disciple becomes the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus did.

How the church understands salvation and the gospel is the key to recovering a biblical theology of discipleship. Our doctrines of grace and salvation, in some cases, actually prevent us from creating an expectation that we are to be disciples of Jesus. A person can profess to be a Christian and yet still live under the impression that they don’t need to actually follow Jesus. Being a follower is seen as an optional add-on, not a requirement. It is a choice, not a demand. Being a Christian today has no connection with the biblical idea that we are formed into the image of Christ.

In this groundbreaking new book, pastor and author Bill Hull shows why our existing models of evangelism and discipleship fail to actually produce followers of Jesus. He looks at the importance of recovering a robust view of the gospel and taking seriously the connection between conversion—answering the call to follow Jesus—and discipleship—living like the one we claim to follow.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

In Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20, which we refer to as the Great Commission, the primary action is not on going, but making disciples. Whatever making a disciple means, Jesus Himself did it. Whatever a disciple is, the twelve were.

It stands to reason, then, that understanding and practicing the principles that Jesus lived and taught His disciples is a sound starting place to making disciples. 

Develop a plan that follows the lead of Jesus and intentionally train willing disciples to become the kind of people who will naturally do what Jesus did and react the way Jesus did.

Four phases mark Jesus’ discipleship ministry. I think of these as four key invitations.

Come and See – An invitation to explore (John 1:38-39). This was a period when Jesus introduced a group of disciples to his nature and ministry.

Come and Follow Me – An invitation to learn (Mark 1:16-20). In this period, the chosen disciples and other followers left their professions to travel with Jesus.

Come and Be With Me – An invitation to serve (Matthew 9:37-38). During this period, Jesus kept his twelve called disciples with him and concentrated on training them so they could go out and preach.

Remain in Me – An invitation to multiply (John 15:7-8). Jesus introduces the new relationship he will have with his disciples and how they will relate to him as they take over the mission of making disciple. He wants them to know they will have a helper, the Holy Spirit. They will not be left alone; they will have special power to fulfill his instructions.

Bill Hull, Conversion & Discipleship

A NEXT STEP

Conduct a study with your team of each of the four phases of Jesus’ discipleship ministry, beginning with the Scriptures listed above. List each of the four phases on a separate flip chart sheet, including the Scripture reference.

Work through each phase, brainstorming what it would take for your church to launch a disciplemaking emphasis that is built on these four phases. As a part of these discussions, include each of these areas:

  • Preaching – Pastors can often make a bigger difference, faster, than any other person. Develop individual sermons or a series that will encourage the congregation to be aware of, and more importantly, obey, the Great Commission.
  • Small Groups – The best way to reach the most people in the most meaningful way is through the small group. Done correctly, small group involvement makes disciples, identifies leaders, and gives people the relationships and accountability they need.
  • Leadership Development – Through small groups, leaders are identified and can be placed into a leadership development process.

Using your discovery, prayerfully develop 2-4 next steps toward a renewed emphasis on training disciples to do what Jesus did.

 


Consider this: Jesus only had three years to set a plan in motion that would rescue the world – both His existing world and all the people yet to come. Three years is not a very long time – it’s less than one term of a U.S. president, one-half the term of a U.S. Senator, and just a year longer than one term of a U.S. Congressman.

But Jesus didn’t come to establish a political system to rule over a world. He established a disciplemaking process that changed eternity.

We must be His disciples and make disciples.

Taken from SUMS Remix 36-3, published March 2016


This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

> Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

5 Dangers of Unaligned Small Groups

The first time I encountered this issue was in a church consultation nearly twenty years ago. I asked the pastor to tell me what was being taught in the church’s small groups. He seemed to be nonplused in his response: “I have no idea.”  I was taken aback.

I tried a different approach. “Tell me,” I said, “how the church decides what will be taught in the small groups.” Again, I was unprepared for his response: “The church leaders have no input into what small groups teach,” he said. “We let every class decide on its own. We don’t want to be like dictators telling them what they have to do. They decide according to what’s best in their own eyes.”

So, I continued, “I guess you let anybody teach or preach anything from the pulpit on Sunday mornings?”

“Of course not,” he said with some indignation. “We are very strict about the Sunday morning preaching. If I’m not teaching, then we have someone who is closely aligned to where we are going and what we believe.”

He did not get my attempt to connect the approach of the small groups with that of the Sunday morning teaching and preaching. How can you be so concerned about one and so nonchalant about the other?

Over the years I have been surprised to find out how many church leaders have a laissez faire attitude about what is being taught in small groups and Sunday school classes. Allow me to share five dangers of this unaligned, “anything goes” approach.

  1. Because preaching is held to a higher standard, the perception becomes that the small group teaching is just not that important. The reality is that most small groups or Sunday school classes spend more time in their groups than the time they take to listen to a sermon.
  2. The vision of the church could be distracted or derailed. When the preaching and small group teaching are not aligned, the small groups can become alternative little churches with their own vision and priorities. Unfortunately, I have seen this reality a number of times.
  3. It opens the door for heretical teaching. I know of one church that gave no thought to the content of the teaching in the small groups. They would soon discover that one group was studying a book that denied the deity of Christ.
  4. It takes away from the unity of the church. The preaching is headed in one direction. The small group teaching is headed in another direction, or multiple directions. There is no unity in what the church is learning or how the members are growing spiritually.
  5. It does not allow for strategic teaching. Indeed, the contrary may be true. The teaching in the small groups can negate the strategic intent of the preaching plan of the pastor.

Leaders in churches need not be autocratic in their desire to get small group teaching aligned with the ministry of the church. It can and should be a mutually agreed upon goal to move people toward greater maturity in Christ with clear and known material.

Indeed many churches are now moving to a uniform curriculum across all ages in all small groups and Sunday school classes. I see this development as a healthy trend. The leaders are making a statement that what is taught in every group is vitally important for the spiritual health of the members and for the church as a whole.

How does your church decide what is taught in its small groups or Sunday school classes? How would you evaluate its effectiveness?

Read more from Thom here.


Would you like to learn more about small groups and/or a disciplemaking process? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Bishop Q — 11/10/15 12:26 am

Excellent insights. I have experienced the heretical teachings in small groups debacle. It nearly split the church!

pastorwillrice — 12/30/14 8:21 am

Great piece Thom! I have found it really challenging in the mainline church to try and move to a uniform curriculum. There is much resistance to changing the culture and it as seen as "telling us what to do." I think it is possible, it is just a long process of negotiation and an attempt to get people to see the value. I have seen new church starts have a great advantage here. If they begin with unity in their small group teaching, it can become part of their DNA.

Ralph Graves — 12/23/14 1:41 pm

Having planted 8 years ago, I've kind of shy'ed away from small groups. I might add to these 5 reasons a 6th reason. "Cliques" will form quickly in the body. And that's another headache altogether. God Bless.

Ro'i Steiner — 08/14/13 12:16 pm

You didn't define what "unaligned" is. Small groups can be totally aligned , and need to be, with their church doctrinally and still talk about and emphasize anything they choose. Having a group that meets to talk about business , lets say, can be aligned with the church doctrinally but not discuss the last sermon. Would you say that a group like this is "unaligned" ?

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

6 Moments to Engage Families in Small Groups

It happened again.

You just made the same small group announcement.
Sure, it happened on a different Sunday, during a different series. However, you just made that same hope-full announcement and received that same life-less response.
All across today’s church, leaders are saying more, yet somehow congregations are hearing less.

Every prop and trick lay used, relegated to a back-of-the-stage pile of ineffective effort. The funny videos made lots of people laugh, but no one dropped their carefully curated “perfect life” façade to live in heart-level relationships. The moving testimony video made plenty of people cry, but no one took that first, fear-fueled step into schedule-wrecking community.

Our best, most creative emphasis and announcement efforts bounce harmlessly off the Teflon-strong force field of the family calendar. For most in today’s church, a crisis-level lack of family engagement in groups boils down to this: the felt-need of life in community has yet to surpass the real-pain of an over scheduled life.

All of the church-speak generic “life together” reasons for “living in community”through “life groups” ring hollow as cul-de-sac gatherings, travel team parent bonding, and friends (with boating benefits) deftly imitate true and Gospel-centered relational connection.

After all, who needs yet another night away with yet another group of people?

We make the announcements but fail to articulate the value of community, especially with other people experiencing life-change. We promote the seasonal sign-ups, but neglect the most natural entry-points during life-stages.

Consider the many, fear-inducing moments of change and seasons of adjustment that every family experiences. Most are perfect opportunities to leverage the wisdom and comfort of community as a real and natural need to be a part of a group.

Here are six life-stage opportunities to expand engagement in small group life:

Newlywed / Engaged Couples. The first friends as a couple are typically life-long. Leverage premarital counseling and intensive wedding preparation seasons to focus young lovers on building depth of community into their marriage, not simply crafting Pinterest-worthy moments into a ceremony.

Expecting Parents. Parents-to-be, especially when it is their first child, are usually scared to death and more open to asking questions and being influenced by parents who have “been there, done that.” Working together, the preschool minister and groups leader have a natural opportunity to encourage and resource parents into group life.

Baby Dedication. More than preparing for a Sunday moment, this is a natural time to gather families in a small-group environment as a prerequisite to participation. Gather new parents to discuss a book or parenting bible study for 4-6 weeks before the Sunday morning ceremony. Church leaders can reinforce gathering in a home as more important than standing on a stage, and see those groups continue for years.

Kindergarten / Grade School. The tear-filled eyes of parents driving away from the campus after dropping their “couldn’t possibly be this old already” child at school are indications of shared emotions. They are also likely indications of an openness to prioritize time with other parents wiping their eyes as well. Giving parents a place to do more than cope or commiserate, groups in this life stage encourage connection and iron sharpening. Start the conversation by introducing parents to the children’s ministry while at the same time introducing them to other parents just as scared and hopeful as they are.

Middle / High School. Puberty, dating and social media… enough said. Parents with children entering middle school or high school need help, and quickly. As your next group of youth age-up into the student ministry, do more than just meet with parents and talk at them. Make it a goal to get those parents talking to each other and finding common ground together. Convene a round table on important topics, and spin off discussion groups that can grow into meaningful small groups or bible study classes.

College / Empty Nest. The last 18+ years have been spent focused on successfully getting their children out of the nest, and prayerfully staying out. Now these suddenly purposeless parents struggle to reconnect and establish the new normal once their baby birds finally fly off. Graduation Sundays offer a great chance to celebrate each student, but also a great connection with the parents wondering “what’s next.” What if leaders offered one or two strategic gatherings over the summer to prepare parents for this new normal, all the while pointing to a Fall season of group life?

Families in your church are physically, emotionally, and spiritually right where you have led them to be… in groups and not.

Now is the time to stop thinking about small groups in ways that work on a ministry calendar or for a pastoral preference.

Now is the time to start engaging families during the seasons and moments in life that actually matter to them.

Now is the time to truly engage people in meaningful Gospel-centered community, not just make that same small group announcement.


Learn more about engaging people in a Gospel-centered community: Connect with an Auxano Navigator.


More from Bryan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

What Gets in Our Way When It Comes to the Church’s Mission to Make Disciples?

What gets in our way when it comes to the church’s mission to make disciples? Let’s look at the things we do at church and they way we spend our time as pastors:

  1. Preparing a sermon or teaching message in a given week without spending time in disciple-making relationships.
  2. Spending time meeting with staff and church leaders in a given week in lieu of spending time in personal disciple-making relationships.
  3. Designing a worship experience in a given week without a prior design of a clear disciple-making strategy.
  4. Managing a weekly money gathering process from people without having a clear disciple-making vision that will be used to steward the money.
  5. Recruiting people to volunteer in ministry environments without any knowledge of their involvement in disciple-making relationships.
  6. Providing for the care needs of others in the church without a system for care to take place in the context of disciple-making relationships.
  7. Creating any content (worship guides, newsletters, social media, curriculum) without a prior definition of disciple-making outcomes.
  8. Training any small group or Bible study leaders without a prior training in the church’s disciple-making strategy and outcomes.
  9. Developing and launching programs that do not fit into a clear and cohesive disciple-making strategy.
  10. Putting out fires with or for people who could care less whether they have or you have any disciple-making relationships in life. 

What would you add? What do you think pastors do that does not make disciples?  Help me write the next 10!

> Read more from Will.


Would you like to learn more about the obstacles to discipleship in your church – and how to avoid them? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Rhonda — 10/03/16 9:39 am

This is a great, thought provoking post. My only addition is this: as I lay leader, I am also responsible for making sure that all my actions are centered in intentional disciple-making activities. If there is no disciple-making involved, I am wasting time and energy - both mine and that of the other members involved in the activities/ministries I am leading.

Myron Williams — 10/03/16 9:24 am

making discipleship a program other staff are responsible for designing and implementing

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Three Practices to Help Reframe the Heart of a Disciplemaker

When asked, there are many reasons church leaders give for lack of effectiveness in making disciples. Here are a few common responses:

“We have uncommitted volunteers”

“We reach many distracted families”

“We suffer from ineffective curriculum”

“We find ourselves with unavailable leadership”

“We are experiencing diminishing giving”

“We need to get beyond our under-performing staff”

“We are stuck through over-complex processes”

While the above may be resonant, they are likely not the actual reason your church continues to struggle to make disciples. From observation of hundreds of churches over the past few years, disciples are not made for one singular, and strikingly simple, reason:  actual, biblical discipleship takes much more time than expected and produces very little immediate return on investment.

Herein lies the problem. Rather than thinking long-term process, and setting expectations five to ten years down the road, we lead through short-term programming. We lead by constantly changing the discipleship curriculum, schedule or structure every few months. We lead with the expectation that discipleship requires only a season, rather than years of nurture and growth.

The approach and practice of making disciples is more like running a tree farm than tending a backyard vegetable garden.

Vegetable gardens, while taking some time – maybe a few summer growing months – yield a rather immediate harvest and tangible results. Within weeks, seeds germinate, vines grow and blooms emerge. Soon after, windowsills and countertops are overflowing with vegetables and fruit, ready for eating, canning and freezing.  And as the cool mornings of fall consistently make their annual appearance, plants are removed, soil is turned and beds are prepared for a new, fresh season of production.

Tree farming requires a completely different process and outlook. Saplings take root – not with an expectation of months-long nurturing – but years of grooming, tending and shaping. The average 8-foot Christmas Tree takes seven to twelve years to mature and be ready to stand proudly as the centerpiece of holiday celebrations. Running a tree farm requires a commitment to think long-term and necessitates a patient discipline for measuring results in observable quality, through the health of the plant, rather than numeric quantity.

When we treat discipleship as a seasonal activity, expecting immediate results we produce undernourished and unprepared followers of Christ. We then blame volunteers, travel baseball, or ineffective systems for our own misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship.

Here are three practices for 2017 to help reframe the heart of the disciplemaker through the mind of a tree-farmer.

  1. Mark time in seasons of a life, not seasons of the year… because discipleship takes more than two or three semesters of study. What would we develop in a young married husband if we pictured a healthy tenth anniversary? How would an incoming sixth grade girl be biblically prepared for the upcoming challenges of high school? What are the spiritual habits of a senior adult that develop a next generation of Christ-likeness?
  2.  Measure health of each individual, not the number of individuals who appear healthy… because not all growth is spiritual growth. What are the marks of a growing disciple in your context? What are the daily habits and practices of growing followers that produce and reproduce dependence on Christ? What small indicators can be identified that build to big steps of growth
  3. Celebrate annual multiplication of a few, not seasonal addition of the many…because what is celebrated gets replicated. How might you point beyond collective programs toward individual development? What rites of passage in your culture would mark significant progress in spiritual growth? What consistent language can you develop to encourage participation from every church member?

Want to learn more about developing disciplemakers? Connect with an Auxano Navigator.


> Read more from Bryan

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 
Where may I purchase the Church Unique kit?
 
— Linda Winkelman
 

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