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Do Non-Believers Belong in Worship Services?

Mar 01, 17
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Part 1 of 3

Over the past two weeks we’ve wondered out loud why so few pastors are willing to challenge churchgoers to live out the Great Commission.  We’ve discussed the many internal and external factors behind the near extinction of intensive, personalized discipleship in churches today.  We’ve taken a stab at who would be the first to walk out the door if they were asked to endure the level of life change and disruption involved in becoming a disciple maker, as Jesus commanded.  We’ve pointed out the direct, inherent conflict between the driving force in American culture today (obsession with personal identity) and the driving force behind discipleship (dying to self, “crucified with Christ”).   If, as some would argue, the words “Christian” and “Disciple” should be synonymous, we’re left to consider whether churchgoers unwilling to invest in discipleship warrant the label “Christian”.  If the pews would empty if a pastor tried to hold a congregation to the Great Commission standard, how many of them truly are “believers”?  Add to that number any non-believers only there because a friend invited them, plus any fence-sitters or seekers who responded to an ad or pangs of guilt.

If the presence of so many unbelieving and uncommitted to becoming disciples is causing pastors any hesitation to lay out the full costs of discipleship and launch discipleship programs, it begs the question – “should those folks even be in a worship service?”  That potential connection is concerning enough to make us take a step back and recognize an oxymoron concealed by the near universal acceptance of modern church growth models: “why are those who don’t worship God even in a worship service?”

To answer those questions, we have to go to the source – God’s word.

Church – The Biblical Definition

The Greek word ekklesia is translated as “church” in the New Testament and means “called-out ones.”  It’s comprised of the Greek words kaleo (to call) with the prefix ek (out).  However, the English word “church” does not come from ekklesia but from the word kuriakon, which means “dedicated (or belonging) to the Lord.”

Therefore, the root meaning of “church” does not refer to a building, but to people.  In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul speaks to those “called out” and “dedicated to the Lord” who make up the Church, saying “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.  Again in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul addresses the church in Corinth specifically as “…those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours;”

At its core, Church is an assembly of those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  They are all believers who have received salvation, filled with the Holy Spirit.  Universally it is the body of Christ, scattered abroad.  Locally, it can meet anywhere, even in homes, because church was never about a building, only believers.  Romans 16:5 says “… greet also the church that meets at their house.”  Paul calls the “church” those meeting in a house, not the house itself.

Jesus intended for His followers to BE the church, not passive participants in something called 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 believers are His “living stones”, His followers are His hands and feet that He uses to build His Church.

In several instances such as Colossians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:29-30 and Ephesians 1:22-23, the Church is defined as the body of Christ…“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”  His body, the Church, should be made up of those united with Christ as His physical manifestation on earth.  As His body, Jesus expects His Church to be holy and undefiled.  Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  Consistent with the numerous verses referring to “church” as a gathering of believers, those not already made righteous in God’s eyes through the blood of Jesus (i.e. those who don’t worship the Lord) were not intended to be openly invited into a holy worship service.

Further evidence that churches were initially made up of only believers was the first century church in the Book of Acts.  It was growing rapidly not because non-believers were showing up but because the converted were joining the assembly of believers.  Indeed, being part of that congregation could cost them their lives and was not worth the risk for non-believers.

What That Definition of Church Means…

22 “So you see that being able to “speak in tongues” is not a sign to God’s children concerning his power, but is a sign to the unsaved. However, prophecy (preaching the deep truths of God) is what the Christians need, and unbelievers aren’t yet ready for it. 23 Even so, if an unsaved person, or someone who doesn’t have these gifts, comes to church and hears you all talking in other languages, he is likely to think you are crazy. 24 But if you prophesy, preaching God’s Word, even though such preaching is mostly for believers, and an unsaved person or a new Christian comes in who does not understand about these things, all these sermons will convince him of the fact that he is a sinner, and his conscience will be pricked by everything he hears. 25 As he listens, his secret thoughts will be laid bare, and he will fall down on his knees and worship God, declaring that God is really there among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:22-25)

Churches Shouldn’t be Inviting and Advertising to Non-Believers…

Pastors understand those verses.  They know non-believers aren’t ready to hear “insider” messages intended for those “called out” and “devoted to the Lord”.  That’s why churches who ask members to invite their non-believing friends and advertise to anyone and everyone are more reluctant to preach as boldly about the costs of discipleship and Great Commission as they would if only believers were present.  That would be less troubling if churches at least offered separate tracks of one-on-one or triad discipleship for believers looking to go deeper.  However, most pastors cite Small Groups first when asked about their discipleship efforts (but Small Groups aren’t making many disciples) and few churches offer “collegiate or graduate level” alternatives.

What’s most concerning is that churches today have altered how they conduct weekend services and how they market to attract people to an event they weren’t biblically meant to attend in the first place.  They’re not ready to experience what Churches are supposed to offer.  They’re not ready for worship.  They’re not ready for discipleship.  They’re not ready to be fed “solid food”.  Their mere presence and attempts to accommodate them influences numerous aspects of church, both on Sundays and throughout the week.  Meanwhile, all of those ready to go deeper are held back a “grade” as time and resources are poured into engaging and retaining those who aren’t actually part of the body of Christ.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll discuss the affects that inviting and advertising to non-believers have had on the today’s Church:

  • Changed our modern day definition of “Church” away from its biblical roots, and redefined other words such as “outreach” and “ministry”, redirecting their emphasis toward institution-building versus disciple-sending
  • Increased the temptations and tendencies of today’s churches toward Compromise, Comfort, Complacency, Conformity and Confinement

However, Churches Should Welcome Non-Believers if They Wander in…

According to 1 Corinthians 14:22-25, even though preaching the deep truths of God is meant for believers, no one should be turned away.  However, churches should not divert from teaching those “deep truths”, nor from deep discipleship, just because non-believers are present.

Is It Too Late to Turn Back?

Maybe we’ve already made our bed.  Churches haven’t done of good job of discipling members for at least the past couple decades.  Christ intended for His followers to BE the church, but most feel unqualified and are under-committed to live out the Great Commission between Sundays.  Therefore, in this day and age, most of those best equipped to lead people toward Christ are on staff at churches.

As a result, many Christians would argue that if we stop attracting non-believers into churches (through invitations and advertising), many may never hear the gospel and turn to Christ.  In other words, ironically the argument many Christians make is that non-believers may never come to faith if we don’t continue with the current (unbiblical) model.  Even if they understand the biblical definition of Church, they aren’t in favor of reverting to that definition.  Their intentions for parting with scripture in this instance likely originate from a heart of compassion and concern for the “lost” but if that compassion and concern were stronger among more churchgoers, there would be plenty of well equipped workers going into the fields that Jesus said are “ripe for harvest”.  In that case, “seekers” wouldn’t have to step into a church to find what they’re looking for.

It’s Your Turn…

How do you suggest pastors deal with the challenge of staying true to scripture’s definition of “Church” yet still reaching those who don’t know Christ with the Gospel?

Why Discipleship is the Ultimate Church Growth Model

Feb 22, 17
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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?

External Factors Keeping Churches from Discipling

Feb 15, 17
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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 14Few 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?

What’s Keeping Churches from Discipling?

Feb 08, 17
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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 Worship, Compassion 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”

Maximizing Kingdom, Community & Church Impact

Feb 01, 17
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Gone fishing sign at weathered doors

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

A New Year’s Resolution for Your Church

Jan 25, 17
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Blog Post 85 - Discipling (iStock_000005549171_Small)

Several weeks ago, we provided a simple answer to a difficult question – “Are You a Disciple?  A Surefire Litmus Test”.  Disciples of Jesus Christ assume His attributes, and foremost among those is that of a humble servant.  In 2017, we all have a fresh opportunity to show we truly are Jesus’ disciples.  One of the most important ways we can serve the Lord and advance His Kingdom is by following His final marching orders – to “go and make disciples”.

That clarion call to incessant action stands in stark contrast to the passive event orientation that epitomizes most churches and Christians today.  Disciples see the Great Commission as a way of life, not as participation in a series of religious events:

  • Salvation – More than a one-time profession of faith, but life change exhibited by a radical transformation in Eyesight, Empathy and Engagement.
  • Church – Not a place we go on weekends, but acceptance of personal responsibility to be the embodiment of “church” and fulfill the Great Commission all week long.
  • Compassion – Rather than “checking the box” during the holidays, living Prayer/Care/Share lifestyles because countless people are still helpless and hopeless year-round.

Why Aren’t We Making Many Disciples?

Church members and attenders are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission.  Yet, we’ve seen previously how few in today’s congregations can be considered disciples, exhibiting the key attributes of Jesus.  Somehow church leaders aren’t providing an adequate level of depth necessary to build a sanctuary full of disciples.

What should they be doing differently in 2017?

As we’ve discussed many times, the fundamental flawed assumption behind the Church’s decline in growth, impact, influence and perception is the re-definition of “church” and its “customer”.  Biblically, “church” is a gathering of Individual believers, yet most churchgoers today treat church as a place or set of activities in which they participate each week.  Church leaders would love to build disciples, asking members to endure all that entails, but realize the future of their church depends on people coming back, knowing few today have the time and willingness to stomach the costs of discipleship. (Luke 9 and Luke 14)

Because members ARE the “church”, they should be treated as “insiders”, much more like employees of a company than its customers (“outsiders”).  When a company hires a new employee, training is the first priority.  Would a company consider a 30 minute presentation each week to be adequate training?  What if it added weekly group discussions with fellow employees for a few months each year?  Would the combination of those two be enough?  Of course not.  Companies know that proper training for employees entails 1-on-1 mentorship, intensive classes and on-the-job (OJT), in-the-field experience.

However, church leaders are careful not to challenge congregations to the point where they may leave, thereby treating them more like “customers” (outsiders) than “employees” (insiders).   Since discipleship is hard work, costly and risky, pastors don’t push it on them.  Pastors understand that 1-on-1 and group training classes led by professionals work best in business, but most consider those too demanding and risky to employ with members/attenders.  On-the-Job Training (OJT) is also poor at most churches because they know few members are committed to living out Jesus’ model for evangelism (i.e. regularly serving others as a door opener to sharing the gospel).

Instead, church leaders provide “lite”, easier versions of discipleship like Small Groups, and nudge them toward those options.  As a result, most members and attenders are improperly trained to be effective ambassadors for Christ.  

Disciples must be well-trained, but churches are not training members well.  And churches are feeling the effects – collateral damage from pews full of folks who are generally under-equipped to fulfill the Great Commission (i.e. to pursue the real “customer” – the lost in the community).

Small Groups Should Not be a Church’s Primary Discipleship Method

The discipleship process is:

  • Connection – Engendering trust through personal relationships, living in community with other Christians.
  • Conversion – This is just the starting point. It’s someone else in heaven, but it’s not a disciple.
  • Cultivation – Intensive training necessary to grow believers into disciples of Jesus Christ willing to undergo the requisite costs and undertake the Great Commission mandate.

Small Groups are good for Connection and possibly for Conversion, but aren’t intensive or personal enough to be the primary vehicle for Cultivation.  Yet if you ask 100 pastors today about their discipleship program, nearly all will begin with “Small Groups”.  Again, no effective organization would rely on occasional group gatherings led by untrained individuals as the primary means for delivering the intensive training required for “insiders” (“employees”).  Successful, healthy organizations know 1-on-1 and OJT training are required.

It’s no wonder the Church isn’t growing, in number or impact.  It’s not surprising that more members aren’t taking on more of the attributes of Christ.  As long as pastors don’t fully buy-in to “members ARE the church” they won’t dare challenge them to train at the same level of a corporate employee.

So Why Do Churches Push Small Groups So Hard?

Given all this, we have to ask that question.  Do pastors really believe Small Groups are the best method for discipleship, or is there another explanation?  As we’ve discussed the most common church growth model today is “Invite, Involve, Invest.  In that model, Small Groups are the predominant method for the “Involve” phase.  Small Groups do help bring people somewhat closer to the Lord, but they also build relationships and relationships are “sticky” – increasing the likelihood they’ll come back next Sunday.

Each church should examine its own heart – is it promoting Small Groups more to get people Involved (more loyal to the church) or more to turn them into disciples (more loyal to the Lord)?  Presumably, pastors understand that Small Groups, most done only a couple semesters per year and with a fraction of the members participating, should not be the main strategy for discipleship.  A church that’s more concerned with building disciples and not building an institution would certainly have additional, deeper methods of discipleship than just Small Groups.  Therefore, our contention is that a church leveraging Small Groups as its primary means for discipleship can’t be that concerned about discipleship.

All pastors say that building and sending disciples is key to their mission, but is that reflected in how they spend their time and in how willing they are to prod members in that direction?  In business, when goals and intentions often don’t line up with a company’s allocation of resources, that misalignment adversely impacts the bottom line.

Why 1-on-1 (or Triads) Work Best

Discipleship will scare off many of those who don’t view themselves as “insiders”.  Preparing for and leading a series of meetings with another person over a long period takes a lot of time, studying and effort.  And what’s the outcome of discipleship – possibly being called to bear the costs Jesus outlined – like leaving those you love and being homeless?  None of that is pretty when you present it as an “action plan” to the congregation!  Yet if pastors know 1-on-1 (or triads) is the best method for discipleship, then any hesitancy to promote it is further evidence of the tendency to cater rather than challenge, treating members as a “customer” and not as the personification of “church”.

1-on-1 and Triad discipleship are more effective than Small Groups because:

  • The process of becoming a disciple is personal
  • The best mentors in our lives were those who interacted with us personally, whether it was a teacher, a coach or some other role model
  • People won’t say in public environments that they would in private, intimate ones
  • One of Jesus’ favorite methods of discipleship was personal questions, allowing for self-discovery, not just telling them the answers but letting them figure it out for themselves
  • Sermons can only cast vision around what it means to be a disciple and encourage people to take the next step

How to Achieve this New Year’s Resolution in 2017

  • Pastor disciples leaders 1-on-1
  • Those leaders then disciple a couple people each 1-on-1 or in triads
  • Encourage all discipled members to disciple others (i.e. OJT)
  • Sunday School – Consider resuming this dying tradition, making sure it’s taught by disciples
  • Small Groups – Facilitated only by discipled leaders
  • Immersion Bible Study – One night a week (several hours)
  • Greater emphasis on private devotion – The fundamental blocking and tackling of Bible study, journaling and prayer
  • Lay out a discipleship track for members

This approach will quickly and exponentially grow a base of disciples who can make more disciples.  This is a significant part of the turnaround strategy for today’s churches.  It was Jesus’ model.  However, are we willing to chase members this far out of their comfort zones, knowing many will head out the back door to a church down the road that will cater to them?

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen churches where deep discipleship took hold to the point where it was truly part of the DNA of the church?  What other effects have you seen from churches reducing “insider” training to Small Groups led by “untrained” members?

Do We Treat Salvation Now as an Event Too?

Jan 18, 17
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A crowd level view of hands raised from the spectating crowd interspersed by colorful spotlights and a smokey atmosphere

The U.S. comprises around 5% of the world’s population but consumes roughly 33% of its goods and services.  To accommodate our consumer culture, pastors have devised 3 types of events to provide a more convenient, engaging church experience:

  1. Church as an Event – Once the weekend’s services are over, most members do little evangelism between Sundays (besides possibly inviting a friend to hear a sermon from the “professional” evangelist next weekend)
  2. Compassion as an Event – Once Christmas is over, most churches do only a couple small outreach events (until the next holiday season)
  3. Salvation as an Event – Once someone accepts Christ, churches offer limited discipleship and expect little life change

Yes, pastors have relented in the face of the harsh reality that “consumer Christians” are unwilling to accept and execute 3 core principles of our faith:

  1. the Biblical Definition of “Church” – i.e. it’s the believers, not a building; it’s people, not a place, charged with being the “church” personified all week long
  2. the Great Commission – i.e. hesitant to either “Go” or “Make Disciples”
  3. the Costs of Discipleship – i.e. like the rich young ruler, reluctant to leave everything behind if that’s what Jesus asks of them (Luke 9 and Luke 14)

Danger of Treating Salvation as an Event

Eternal life has never been sold as such a simple, non-committal transaction.  Pastors give the invitation – some every Sunday.  They ask new believers to repeat the sinner’s prayer and raise their hands if they prayed that prayer silently.  Then pastors encourage them to get involved in the church – small groups, volunteering, giving, and membership.  However, few churches follow up by offering intensive, personalized discipleship.  Rather than the radical conversion the disciples experienced, willing to give it all up for Christ, most churches hand-hold new believers hoping they’ll plug in to a few church activities.  Expectations are high for church engagement but low for life transformation.

The sinner’s prayer is an initiation into personal ministry.  It’s a call to bold, active evangelism.  By instead extending a passive invitation to get involved in church events and soft pedaling the Great Commission, churches turn the sinner’s prayer into an initiation pledge.  Repeating the words look like rights of passage into a “club”, where the commitment is to the church family and not to set the world on fire for Christ.  Rather than encouraging new converts to share their excitement with non-believers, leaders indoctrinate and assimilate them into the church body.  Rather than quickly discipling them and sending them out into the mission field, we tell them to Invite their friends, get them Involved in internal ministries, and Invest their income in the church.  After reciting the pledge, the new believer’s degree of life change, evangelism and discipleship are not monitored by church leaders, yet attendance, giving and volunteering are tracked meticulously.

Of course, we’re saved by what Jesus did for us alone, not in any way by what we do.  However, what we do (or don’t do) is evidence of our salvation (James 2:14-18)…

Evidence of Salvation

I had dinner with George Barna a couple years ago and he spoke of a study he conducted of those who answered altar calls at Billy Graham crusades.  He found that few were walking with the Lord, living transformed lives, just 3 years later.  Likewise, I wonder how sincere our professions of faith are in church if our lives are still consumed with work, family, and even church.  We may cuss less and act much nicer – clinging to the adage, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”.  However, I wonder whether the Lord is pleased with Christians who only actually talk about Him with their immediate family and church friends.  Did we ever fully recognize the true value of God’s grace and the consequences of sin if we aren’t stepping out of our comfort zones regularly to lead people toward Jesus?  I even wonder whether many in congregations who’ve said the “initiation pledge” and never miss a Sunday (yet don’t respond to the dire plight of the destitute and those destined for eternal damnation) are the goats Jesus says never fed, clothed, or gave Him a drink.

Are our lives truly transformed if we haven’t undergone a radical change in…

  1. Eyesight – Is our worldview consistent with the Lord’s?  Does our perspective mirror His?  In other words, have we adopted an eternal mindset, praying for God’s will to be done here on earth but realizing (and acting like) this is not our home?  Those looking forward to heaven will seek to build up treasures there and not expend their treasures on consumption here.
  2. Empathy – Do we sit idly by in the presence of poverty and injustice?  Two days after Martin Luther King Jr. day, I think about his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he contended that pastors were offering implicit approval of racial injustice by their inaction.  What percentage of Christians and churches today are actively involved in campaigns to protect the rights and dignity of others – such as human trafficking and various forms of discrimination?  Consumer Christians may write checks and speak out on social media about those issues, but are generally too busy to get their hands dirty – unless personally affected by them.
  3. Engagement – Are we active in sharing our faith with non-believers?  Are we Private, Pensive, Passive, or Powerful Christians?  If we do speak up, has our churches simply instructed us to “tell our stories”, knowing they haven’t adequately equipped us to do much more – like answer difficult theological questions.  Also, have we considered #WhereWouldJesusBe (#WWJB) right now, realizing we should still keep reaching out even after the holidays because people are just as lost and hopeless in January, February, etc.?

The rise of the “Nones” (claiming no religion) and “Dones” (done with church) coincides with Christianity’s diminished EYESIGHT, EMPATHY and ENGAGEMENT.  In other words, the Church in America is declining in Growth, Impact, Influence and Perception because today’s consumer brand of Christianity has turned CHURCH, COMPASSION and even SALVATION into an event – and society isn’t buying it.

Life Change from Discipleship

When discipleship is optional, so is life change.  Because discipleship is now optional, the Great Commission is considered optional as well.  Even today’s “lite” version of discipleship, Small Groups, is optional.  Yet what Jesus did with each of the 12 apostles and what Paul did with Timothy, was more intensive and personal than Small Group meetings.  But if you ask pastors about their discipleship program at their church, the vast majority will cite Small Groups as their primary delivery vehicle.  One-on-one and triad discipleship are far more effective yet far too great of a commitment to ask of most Christians today.  It’s hard enough to get the average churchgoer into a weekly Small Group events that run only a couple semesters per year.  Only a fraction participate.

Yes, we’re saved by God’s grace alone.  No works are required, but many are expected.  How could we change so little when we’ve gained so much?  Grace is not an excuse to live in the status quo.  In fact, it’s grace that should send us running into the mission field.  How could love not overflow out of us when so much love has been poured in?  How can we not share the gospel with those facing such painful and eternal separation from the Lord?  Do we really “get it” if we consider having Kingdom Eyesight, Empathy and Engagement optional?

It takes a profound experience with Christ to break a “consumer” mentality.  Coming to faith presumably involves just that sort of experience but the parable of the sower warns us that new believers run the risk of slipping back into their old ways unless the seeds are planted on fertile soil.  Salvation comes for most at an early stage in the discipleship process.  Those new plants require careful cultivation, and Small Group “events” simply won’t suffice.  If new believers were viewed by church leaders more like “employees” (i.e. to train and mobilize) than “customers” (i.e. to appease and retain), then pastors would be more intent on providing intensive training (i.e. discipleship) to equip them to pursue the real “customer” (i.e. non-believers).  In other words, discipleship provides Christians with the Eyesight, Empathy and Engagement necessary to change the world around them for Christ.

It’s Your Turn…

Demonstrate your Eyesight, Empathy and Engagement by participating in our new initiative – #MeetAnEternalNeed.  #MeetAnEternalNeed encourages Christians and churchgoers everywhere to follow Jesus’ model by performing intentional (not random) acts of kindness for a friend, neighbor, coworker or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.  Then…

  • Post pics and tell your stories on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MeetAnEternalNeed (and #WWJB, #WhereWouldJesusBe) to inspire others
  • Challenge 3 friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”

When Did Church Become an Event? (Part 2)

Jan 11, 17
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Silhouette of helping hand between two climber

Part 2 (of 2)

Once your church finds itself on the event hamster wheel, it’s extremely difficult to jump off.  An event mentality conditions pastors and churchgoers to grow accustomed to particular roles within and outside the “4 walls”.  As we outlined last week, those roles are misaligned with expectations the Bible lays out for church leaders and members.

Expectations of Church Leaders…

  • Self-Imposed – Feel responsible for keeping many balls in the air, serving as spiritual guide, counselor, peace-keeper, manager, administrator, fundraiser, and strategic planner.
  • By Members – Provide an entertaining worship service, engaging sermons that feed and lead people to Christ, support in times of crisis, vision to grow the church, and ample financial stewardship to supply them with requested programs and services.
  • By Jesus – Follow His model of equipping, empowering and mobilizing disciples to advance His Kingdom.

Expectations of Members…

  • Self-Imposed – Frequent attendance is sacrificial, serving at the church deserves a pat on the back, participating in an occasional outreach event checks the box, and sharing the gospel merits extra credit.  However, Jesus says that no credit is due to the servant who does only what he is told.
  • By Leaders – Simply Invite, Involve, and Invest.  Pastors ask the trick question “Are any of you ministers?”, knowing few will raise their hands.  Yet despite responding that “all of you are ministers”, most pastors don’t hold them to that Great Commission standard.
  • By Jesus – He expects all of His followers to live out both the Great Commandment and Great Commission; overflowing with love for the Lord that spills out in the form of evangelism, discipleship and compassion to those around them.

What Will it Take to Break the Event Mentality?

Reprogramming our hard-wired mindsets to align with Jesus’ expectations will require drastic measures rarely undertaken by churches today – intensive discipleship.

Unfortunately, given all of the resources necessary to keep the event wheel spinning, church leaders had to give up something.  What they chose to dispense with, not coincidentally, were the two Biblical mandates that most conflicted with the expectations churchgoers have of themselves in the event-centric model – discipleship and serving outside the church.  At the same time, pastors stepped up requests for members to do “church chores” to tackle the extra event-related workload.  Serving inside the church during service times also happens to fit within the low expectations church leaders have of members today – and members have of themselves.  Asking the congregation to invest outside of church service times in changing themselves (through discipleship) and changing the world (through local missions) given their busy schedules and low level of commitment to life change well exceeds those expectations.  To fill those gaps in more convenient ways, church have opted for a more easy, fun event formats for discipleship (i.e. small groups) and for local missions (e.g. holiday outreaches like bringing IN backpacks and shoe boxes during church services at Christmas versus going OUT before or after church).

These event-centric habits are deeply ingrained.  Event-centricity comes with pastor-centricity – but church leaders are not the definition of “church”, despite any appearances to the contrary.  Yet church growth consultants, books, articles, and celebrity pastors tout better leadership as the answer to all that ails today’s church.  Meanwhile, churches down the road continue to offer faster, no-commitment, challenge-free environments – further reinforcing the status quo.  All of this can only be overcome through a radical change of heart and mind where we acquiesce and accept the Lord’s expectations of us and dispose of our own.  Personal, rigorous discipleship will reveal that the responsibilities of churchgoers closely mirror those of pastors and should consequently flatten the church hierarchy – truly viewing members as ministers.  Yes, breaking the prevailing event mentality will most likely be bottom up, not top down.

What Should Church Look Like Instead?

When discipleship finally convinces Church leaders and members to reclaim the Biblical definition of church (i.e. believers) and its intended “customer” (i.e. non-believers), we will discover an alternative model for church, one that will break the event cycle.  Once we realize that church is not a place to visit or an event to attend, but is instead Us, then we’ll understand that church happens all year and all week long as we do life.  This perspective flips conventional church models INSIDE, OUT…


  • Weekend Services – Collective services continue on weekends; however:
    • Less planning and scripting, leaving more room for the Holy Spirit to intervene
    • Fewer resources poured into ensuring a great “customer” experience, freeing up churchgoers to spend more hours discipling and serving those inside and outside the church
    • Less concern about appealing to non-believers, recognizing that church is intended to be a gathering of Christ-followers for worship and edification; instead investing services in building and equipping disciples to serve as the “church” personified to reach non-believers outside of church services.
  • Discipleship – Initiate a church-wide process that runs year-round, all-week long:
    • Pastors – Disciples leaders 1-on-1
    • Leaders – Each then disciples a couple people 1-on-1 or in triads
    • Multiplication – Encourage all discipled members to disciple others
    • Sunday School – Consider resuming this dying tradition, making sure it’s taught by disciples
    • Small groups – Facilitated only by discipled leaders
    • Immersion Bible Study – One night a week (several hours)
    • Greater emphasis on private devotion – The fundamental blocking and tackling of Bible study, journaling and prayer
    • New Members/Attenders – Lay out a discipleship track for all to follow
  • Communication – Church leaders connect throughout the week with the congregation, not with announcements (intended to build loyalty to and engagement within the institution), but with reinforcing teachings (that build loyalty to and engagement with Christ and with those inside and outside the church).


Interestingly, churches that reduce their local missions efforts typically also cut back their discipleship programs – and vice versa.  That correlation stands to reason since members in those churches will have fewer (church-sponsored) opportunities to practice sharing their faith.  To use a business analogy, sales training is only necessary if you’re going to send the sales force into the field.

Here’s how to mobilize disciples to maximize impact:

  • Relational, Not Transactional – As churchgoers become disciples and realize they ARE the embodiment of “church”, they will quickly learn that their role is not transactional, simply to attend and extend invitations to weekend church events.  Instead, their role is relational, to invest in the lives of those who don’t know the Lord and personally bring them to Christ, not leaving that to the “professionals”.
  • Lead with CompassionFollowing Jesus’ instructions when sending out His disciples because people don’t care what you know until they know you care.
  • Not Seasonal – Families are still hungry and lost in January and February when the holidays are over, so the Christmas “season of giving” shouldn’t apply to churches.
  • Not Through Big Events – As we discussed last week, church events often do more harm than good by giving the impression that compassion was not genuine (because it wasn’t enduring).
  • Frequent – Ask lay leaders to take responsibility for organizing local missions efforts on a continual basis by turning Small Groups into Neighborhood Groups, forming Cause-Based Teams, doing Ministry Planting, and creating Semi-Autonomous Mission Groups.
  • Willing to Take on Tough Jobs – A ministry working with troubled youth couldn’t find any churches to provide mentors willing to invest the long, painstaking hours in those kids.  The churchgoers they finally found had one thing n common – they had been personally discipled by another individual.
  • “Shock and Awe” – Encourage acts of kindness that blow people’s doors off, going well beyond what they would expect; then surprisingly stay engaged with them over the long haul.
  • Bring the Community In – Use the church building Monday through Friday, not letting all that square footage go to waste, by offering support, coaching, classes and services that address local needs.
  • Consider #WhereWouldJesusBe (#WWJB) – Disciples recognize that service is key to evangelism because they’re studied the life of Jesus extensively.  Jesus did not retreat into the comfortable confines of church for months at a time, waiting for the next holiday season to organize a service event.  Jesus constantly healed and fed, demonstrating His love, before telling them who He is.

New Initiative from Meet The Need to Help

We don’t want your church to take a breather from evangelism, discipleship and community engagement after all the holiday events – so Meet The Need isn’t slowing down after Christmas either!  We’re working hard to equip your church to have a tremendous impact 7 days per week, 12 months per year.

First of all, on the heels of our highly successful “Ice Bucket” challenges – #CastAnEternalVote and #GiveAnEternalGift – Meet The Need is launching our next initiative to help your church make that difficult transition from event-centric to year-round evangelism, discipleship and community engagement…


#MeetAnEternalNeed encourages Christians and churchgoers everywhere to follow Jesus’ model by performing intentional (not random) acts of kindness for a friend, neighbor, coworker or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.  Then…

  • Post pics and tell your stories on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #MeetAnEternalNeed (and #WWJB, #WhereWouldJesusBe) to inspire others
  • Challenge 3 friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”

Meet The Need also provides the following to help your church break the event mentality:



Meet The Need provides a complete suite of software to back up our coaching.  Many church consultants identify issues but don’t provide an effective, Biblical means to get churches back on the path to health.  However, Meet The Need spent over a decade and millions of dollars developing systems to help churches equip and mobilize their members.  The consequences of churches failing to equip and mobilize are so serious that Meet The Need gives all of those systems away at no charge!  For more information, go to www.meettheneed.org.

It’s Your Turn…

Personally accept and share the #MeetAnEternalNeed challenge within your church!  Also, tell church leaders about Meet The Need and share our eBooks and other materials with them.

When Did Church Become an Event?

Jan 04, 17
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People Praying in a church

Part 1 (of 2)

No pastor sets out to make a church primarily about its weekend services.  Seminary students envision impacting a community mightily for Christ, something putting on a worship event every Sunday alone could never accomplish.  They understand that occasional outreaches or service events during the holiday season won’t transform a community either.  Church planters and new pastors realize that attaining such a lofty vision requires utilizing the other five or six days of the week.  They know that powerful, eternal impact must extend beyond solely pastors and staff; it will require empowering, equipping and mobilizing disciples.

Yet, when in the throes of running a church, it becomes a scary proposition to ask faithful attenders and members to endure the costs of discipleship Jesus laid out in Luke 9 and Luke 14.  Pastors find out the hard way that few are willing to undergo that degree of life change and therefore they request a lesser commitment.  In other words, instead of expecting congregations to accept their rightful role AS the church personified, pastors lower their expectations, hoping some will attend regularly and volunteer to help out with their weekly events commonly referred to today as “going TO church”.

How to Know if Your Church is Event-Centric

How will you know whether your church has adopted an event mentality?

  • Allocation of Resources – High degree of emphasis on weekend services in terms of pastor/staff time, budget and volunteer responsibilities
  • Tyranny of the Urgent – Church service planning and logistics commandeer the agenda of staff meetings
  • Hard Work – Putting on an event takes substantial effort, requiring extensive preparation and rehearsals throughout the week
  • Pressure to Perform – Staff and leaders issue a collective sigh of relief when the weekend is over (assuming it went well)
  • Hoping Lots of Folks Show Up – Church leadership is counting and concerned with attendance, whether it is rising or falling
  • Infrequent communication by leaders throughout the week
  • Church is rarely engaged in coordinated community service activities between Sundays
  • Local missions are largely restricted to service events, particularly during the holiday season
  • Little intensive, personal discipleship taking place (Note: Small groups meeting during the week are not evidence that your church does not have an event orientation.  Small groups are less about building disciples than building relationships, helping ensure people come back to the next event.)
  • Increased use of commercial promotional tactics, like mailers or email lists

What do events typically look like?  How prevalent and evident are the following at your church?:

  • Those already attending the event are encouraged to invite their friends
  • Many arrive early to get good parking spots and seats
  • Greeters are staged at every door
  • Arrivals are ushered to designated seating/rooms (i.e. kids) and general admission is offered
  • Engaging entertainment and speakers
  • Agendas are short and jam-packed, building up to a crescendo to maximize emotional response
  • Attenders come and go as they please, free to show up late or walk out early
  • Nearly everyone leaves soon after it’s over, saying a quick goodbye to a few folks, to go home or out to eat

What does it take to put on a successful event?  How much effort is your church putting into improving in the following areas?:

  • Planning – Increasing lay leader involvement yet still geared toward weekend logistics, budgeting and promotion
  • Marketing – Creating awareness and excitement through multi-channel advertising (email, mail, word of mouth) of appealing content (e.g. stronger marriages and relationships) and offerings (e.g. casual atmosphere, programs)
  • Volunteering – Continually recruiting volunteers to work various positions during weekend services
  • Attendance – Finding ways to increase engagement by loyal “fans” that leaders can count on to show up at every “event” and invite others
  • Signage – More attractive signs for welcoming, directing and designating rooms for first-time guests
  • Interesting Speakers – Sermons that reach a wider audience, hoping softer messages will bring more back than they scare away
  • Great Music – Better performers, acoustics and audio/visual

The Problems with Churches Becoming Event-Centric

Putting on a big show each weekend distracts pastors, staff, members and attenders from the proper, Biblical definition of “church” and from Jesus’ demands of His followers:

  • Sucks up tremendous resources, redirecting them internally and away from the community impact the pastor once envisioned
  • Makes the experience of church more about the pastors, staff and facilities than the members, who are intended to be the “ecclesia” (or “Church”)
  • Caters to members versus challenging them by appealing to their attraction to events and their limited time commitment to religious activities in this day and age
  • Does not provide enough room for the Holy Spirit to move, with careful choreography and scripting leaving little to the Lord’s discretion once the service starts
  • Infrequency and seasonality of local missions ignores the fact that families are still hungry and hurting Monday through Friday and in January, February, etc.
  • Jesus did church services all week long, giving impromptu sermons at every opportunity, rather than preparing for a big weekly event.  Jesus expects all of His followers, including pastors, staff and church members, to do likewise.

Letting your church be reduced largely to weekend events may actually grow your church in numbers, but not in health or effectiveness for the Kingdom.

When Did Church Become an Event?

Jesus discipled, healed and fed.  The apostles discipled, healed and helped the poor.  The early church discipled and continually reached out to the least and the lost.  Churches for 1900 years were the food bank and homeless shelter; they started the hospitals and schools; they were often the center of town.

What changed in recent decades?

  • Government and charities not affiliated with a church took over the lead role in compassion
  • America became a consumer-driven culture, leaving less time for non-revenue-producing activities and raising expectations on those receiving anyone’s valuable spare time
  • Consequently, churches came to recognize the need to provide a first-class experience in a less time-consuming format, reducing the commitment from ½ day of Sunday school, worship services and fellowship lunch to a one hour event
  • In other words, making church an event was a natural outgrowth of (in effect) treating members as “customers”, no longer seeing them as the embodiment of “church”
  • Pastors and staff became viewed as the “professionals” charged with evangelism, leaving congregations with the diminished role of inviting people to weekend events
  • Therefore, intensive discipleship became less necessary, evidenced by the conspicuous absence of one-on-one and triad discipleship in churches today
  • With paid staff and facilities increasingly seen as the definition of “church”, the congregation treated by church leaders as “customers”, and other organizations assuming the lead role in compassion, the lost in the community (which had previously been considered the church’s “customer”) are now effectively ignored – except for seasonal service events to “check the box”.

It’s Your Turn…

Where Would Jesus Be (WWJB) right now, between Sundays?  Would Jesus be preaching and serving or taking a breather after a busy Christmas season?  Would Jesus condone an event-centric mentality?  What would Jesus change about your church if He walked in its front door today?

Next week in Part 2, we’ll unpack an alternative model for church that breaks the event cycle.  Plus we’ll introduce a new initiative from Meet The Need that helps your church make that difficult transition.