I do a fair amount of reading, thinking and studying about church leadership as well as the state and effectiveness of the church in the U.S. Most people who study these things would agree that the church Jesus promised to build is not in good shape. It’s not His fault but ours as His leaders.
We have lots of churches closing their doors, lots of people leaving, pastors deciding to do something else or being asked to do something else, lots of younger post high school students leaving the church they grew up in never to return. Yes, there are some bright spots and some wonderful stories about growing and effective churches that are making disciples and reaching the unchurched; but for the most part the picture in the U.S. is not an encouraging one. It doesn’t need to continue that way.
From what I’ve read, the fastest growing (not just people in seats, but quality disciples who are impacting their neighborhoods) Christian churches in the world are in places like India, China and Iran—not here in the US; however they could be if we changed the way we think about and do things. I’ve been a Christian for 60 years, in leadership for 52 and involved in 20 different churches during those 60 years. I have observed a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot which I try to apply in my own life as well as with those leaders I coach and develop.
I want to share a few ideas on how to turn an audience into an army and move people from being consumers to being contributors.
Develop leaders, disciple the people you have, reach the people you don’t have
Simply put, these are the three main things every Christian church should be focused on doing day in and day out, week after week. Each church needs a plan and a pathway to discover, develop and deploy leaders who can then help with the task of discipling the people who are there and reaching the people who aren’t there. It’s as clear as can be in Matthew 28:18-20. His mandate to us has not changed in over 2000 years.
Create church membership (covenant) with teeth and follow-up
I agree that you perhaps cannot support the idea of “Church Membership” from scripture. Acts 2:42-47 though would give us a clear indication that people in the first church had a strong sense of mutual and agreed-upon commitments. Ask people, and pray for them, to step up and step out becoming fully committed to what Jesus has asked us to be and do. I believe that it’s a good idea to strongly encourage people in your church to make commitments; sign on the dotted line as it were. Like any commitment, there needs to be periodic follow-up with people to encourage them to stick with their commitments. Unfortunately we tend to lower the bar when we should be raising the bar.
Be clear on how your church defines and describes a disciple and establish disciple-making as the center piece of what you do
I have lost track of the number of pastors I’ve talked with who declare they’re all about making disciples but have no clearly defined and clearly articulated definition of what that is or means. You can’t expect people in your church to grow as disciples if it’s not clear what a disciple is and does. Here is something I’ve used for years in defining a disciple. Use this to stimulate your thinking and develop your own definition. Then consistently teach, coach and model it and see what the Lord does.
A disciple is someone who:
- Has experienced conversion to the Kingdom of God
- Is deepening in communion with the Son of God
- Is growing in community with the people of God
- Is living out commitment to the purpose of God
There needs to be an intentional and understood pathway for people to become Jesus’ disciples.
Preach, teach and model obedience-based discipleship not knowledge-based discipleship. Focus on the application of truth not the mere accumulation of truth
Jesus made it clear in John 13:17 that being a disciple is not a matter of what you know, but what you do with what you know. We need to focus on obeying more not just knowing more.
Here are some thoughts from Randy Pope, Perimeter church in Atlanta. I couldn’t agree more.
“To aim at a Bible passage as one preaches, periodically making application to one’s personal life will leave the believing community convinced they have been taught by God’s man. But to aim at one’s personal life while preaching, bringing God’s truth to bear upon its need will leave the believing community convinced they have been taught by God’s Spirit. Life-changing preaching does not talk to people about the Bible. Instead it talks to people about themselves. The basic principle in preaching is to give as much biblical information as the people need to understand the passage, and no more. Then move on to your application. I am discouraged to see how often intellectual stimulation is more desired than spiritual vitalization.”
Create Community groups that really work.
Keep it simple with a weekend service and community groups through which you accomplish most everything else: Leadership development, genuine community, intimacy with Jesus, giving, serving and meaningful outreach to not-yet Christians.
I like to think that a community group has three distinct purposes:
IN~ Focusing on genuine, true, honest and vulnerable relationships among your group members
UP~ Focusing on Jesus and growing in love and intimacy with him through the practice of a handful of spiritual disciplines, habits of the heart.
OUT~ Focusing on developing relationships with the unchurched where group members live, work, study and play
As a leader, prayerfully look over these five ideas and pick one or two to focus so you can help people to move from passively sitting in the audience to joining the army; to stop consuming but contributing to what the Savior wants us all to do.
“God can do anything you know—far more than you could ever imagine, or guess or request in your wildest dreams.” Ephesians 3:20 The Message.