One common measure of a church’s success that almost every pastor points to is whether or not they are growing. It’s understandable. The Bible is really clear that we are to go and make disciples of all nations. So it stands to reason that if our church isn’t growing numerically, we must not be doing a great job in fulfilling the great commission.
But too often, by focusing on numerical growth, we miss a key word in the call: disciples. By focusing on reaching the people who are not currently a part of our community, are we missing out on deeply investing in the people we already have? The work of making disciples takes singular focus, and simply getting someone to come to church on a regular basis is no assurance that they are growing in their obedience to the challenging truths of the Gospel.
The process of disciple making is arduous and counter to our nature. It is not an easy process, where we simply need to set up the right circumstances and let nature take it course. Sleep is that way — retreat to a quite place, turn down the lights, and get comfortable, and nature takes over. Dying to yourself is costly, painful, and difficult.
Soren Kierkegaard points out that the call of Christ is not to admire him. “He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life that Christ is looking for.” Admirers keep a safe distance, but followers strive to be like what they admire.
Too often our church strategies are focused on making people feel comfortable. We know that the best advertising slogan for the Church is not “Follow Christ; it will cost you everything.” So instead we promote a tame, comfortable Christianity. A singular focus on growth attracts people who want to be entertained. We cannot focus more on the production of church than the reproduction of disciples.
If we are serious about making disciples, we need to have a primary focus of investing in people. When you invest in the people you have, they thrive and grow and produce fruit. People who would never come to your service because of the light show during worship will come to see life change and transformation. Transformation is exciting. It’s contagious. It entices other people to experience transformation for themselves. And the only way to create a church culture that produces this real life change is to invest in the people who make up that culture.
Churches that are serious about making disciple do three things well.
- Build meaningful relationships. Jesus taught the masses, but he poured into His disciples, equipping them to go and pour into others. There is no sermon that can take the place of an actual friendship. We all want to be belong, but belonging happens in the context of relationship. In an effort to attract new people, we may create great programs and events. For discipleship to happen you don’t need great programs, but you do need relationships. The first step to creating a discipleship culture in your church is to build an environment where relationships flourish.
An important step in the journey of discipleship is coming to grips with who God says you are, despite who you believe yourself to be. Within the context of relationship, you can speak words of life over people and make that step easier.
- Ask good questions. If someone is going to make their spiritual journey their own, they need to grapple with hard questions. Simply being able to recite the answers you had them memorize is not the same thing as discipleship. This may work for a while, but what happens when the hardship of life challenges their view? The most deeply held convictions are always personal. Two reasons churches struggle with this are the time required for faith to become personal and the fear that they may draw the ‘wrong’ conclusion. As a parent, I want my children to develop their own deeply held faith, and that is more important to me than them agreeing with every single theological point I hold.
- Being transparent is more important than being perfect. None of us has it all figured out. Each of us is in the process of growing towards Christ. If we create a culture that hides our weaknesses, it stifles growth. In a system where everyone has to be perfect, people either hide or lie. Those are the two safest strategies. Hide from people really knowing you, or don’t be honest about your weaknesses. The best way to combat this is for the leaders of your community to be honest about their mistakes. Make yourself vulnerable by inviting them into your spiritual journey. People will only be real with people they know and can trust.
So forget about all of the bells and whistles and attractions. Build a culture where meaningful relationships emerge, it is safe to ask hard questions, and people are honest about their journeys.
Really investing in and growing your people is only possible when you take the time to develop an equipping framework and process in your church. To learn more about this, check out our free eBook The Ephesians 4 Church: A Framework to Equip and Empower People at www.churchcommunitybuilder.com/blog/resources/the-ephesians-4-church/