The Big 5 Questions: Their Answers Will Revitalize Your Church – Part 11

It might seem like an odd question, but “where” matters in discipleship efforts. As most of us understand, the “where” of Jesus discipling tended to be everywhere. He taught on hillsides, near pools, on boats, and in farmer’s fields. Every moment of every day presented teachable life moments. And every such moment quickly became a life laboratory where God’s truth could be observed and engaged.

We’ve been considering our third of these critical five questions for strengthening your church–How will we teach them how to follow Jesus? And, as we’ll see in a moment, “where” can be just as critical a question as the “what” of our teaching.

We have already discussed the first two of five critical questions for the enhanced and ongoing health of your church. Our first question—How do we engage new people?—helped us see the critical need to develop specific strategic steps for connecting with people throughout our community. There simply can be no new day at your church without some new life!

Our second question occupied us for several blogs—How will we treat them when they walk through our doors? As we said, it would be tragic to work hard to connect with someone only to drop the ball when they visited our church. Effective hospitality and assimilation strategies are some of the most critical elements of a church health plan.

So how will we teach them to follow Jesus? Or, more accurately for today’s discussion, WHERE are we going to do this?

A few decades or so ago, the where seemed fairly straightforward. We collected people of all ages into classrooms for an hour each week and engaged the “cradle-to-grave” strategy of Sunday school. In some places, more than 80% of a congregation faithfully filed into these rooms each week, giving disciple-makers a great opportunity to help us in our journeys of faith.

But times and priorities changed and Sunday school became too difficult for a new generation, especially when the subsequent worship service began to take more focus. Now, local church discipling efforts are a hodgepodge of small groups and weekly classes and mentoring relationships that vary with either the intentional strategies of individual churches or the recommendations of the latest popular books.

If you’re looking for this blog to tell you “how to do this right” you’ll be a bit disappointed. It seems impossible to say that one way is THE way any longer. Instead, consider your own local flock and answer the following questions:

1. How will my people learn most effectively? Do they learn from discussion, need one-on-one time, or prefer to study on their own? Choose a plan that seems to fit the most learning styles. Small groups may be ideal for another group, but yours might do better with podcasts. Don’t adopt someone’s strategy simply because it “worked” for them. Know your people! Many congregations today, especially those that are a bit older, will do better with the Sunday school plan they have than moving to something else. Others, particularly those dominated by recently unchurched people, won’t get people to spend their entire Sunday morning on a church campus. And, most find that people engage discussion more easily in the middle of their week instead of on a Sunday morning.

2. Where can I provide those types of opportunities? Once you have a sense of the type of settings you can use, the where can be a critical decision. Is the church campus the best spot? Might it be easier to engage real life if we do it in the places of real life? For most, this is a trial and error journey. Just don’t try something for a few days and give up. It may take several months before a certain approach finds its best rhythm.

3. What schedules need to be considered? Here’s a big issue. Most communities don’t guard Sundays and Wednesdays for church activities anymore. Folks are busy and the more times you try to impact their schedules the less they will participate. Flexible scheduling is critical. If your discipleship efforts are always on Thursday night, how will you disciple the guy who works second shift or the woman who’s getting her Master’s degree and attends classes that night?

4. How will I encourage participation? Anytime you make a new effort, it will take time for that effort to “find its legs.” As we’ve already stated, people have filled their lives with activities. Frankly, their not going to opt for discipling settings until you convince them that such settings matter. Sadly, many people want a religion that requires little from them. How will you help your people grow in their hunger for deeper connection?  If someone wants to grow in Christ, he’ll find a way to get involved. If he doesn’t, you could let him set the meeting time and place and he still won’t attend. And most of us have learned that criticizing people with “you shoulds” seldom encourages them.

In modern times, it seems that most of our discipleship plans are really crowd management plans. We want to fill our churches with hundreds of people, so any plan we have must accommodate the desired crowd. But Jesus showed us that discipleship really isn’t a crowd activity. He–the best Discipler ever–gathered a dozen or so and began to teach them…and that group went out and changed the world!

So, build a plan that targets making real disciples, rather than one that tries to get everyone in a class. In disciple-making, depth is the only way to achieve width. You’ll find that as you help people find the path for living a Christ-honoring life each day, others will follow…them.

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