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Grow Your Church Deeper: Essentials for Making Disciples By Ken Stewart for Elexio


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I am your neighbor. I am the one that you see on the weekends mowing the grass. Sometimes we cross paths at the park on a Sunday afternoon. Occasionally we wave to each other as we back out of our driveways.

Would I consider visiting your church? My life has been shaped and re-shaped through a variety of experiences. I don’t have a particular religious viewpoint other than to live a good life, respect my fellow human beings and maintain a general sense of morality.

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However

I am finding that I want more out of life. I want a life of purpose, and the only place where I can see finding that is through some kind of community service, or possibly the church. I casually peruse my community’s options, but I find that none really resonates with me and my young family. Then I come across a neighborhood church, and I begin to wonder if it’s time to decide what I believe. My kids are soon going to be asking me the whats and whys of life, and I can’t say that I have much of a foundation from which to answer their questions. But then again...

What is today’s church really like? 4


Why does your church exist? Ultimately, your church exists for one reason: to help people know Jesus. How is that message translated through the eyes of the visitor? What does he or she experience at your church? Of course, when people do know Jesus, all kinds of wonderful things occur because of it: gatherings of believers, praying together and seeing answers, hearing God’s Word explained, having good meals and fun together, and many more activities we associate with the church. But how does a new person become a part of the church? How do they get from asking themselves a few simple questions to becoming an active part of the membership? How do they get deeply connected?

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Churches need a process to guide them to that goal. Without a process that gets them there, the people are left to wander around in hopes that they’ll find some connection someplace. Unfortunately that often leads to their wandering right out the back door. Many churches, if not most, would say that they exist to make disciples—followers of Jesus Christ. That’s their goal, their purpose. They would also say that their activities and programs exist to help that process along. So then, here’s a reasonable question: Is your church getting numbers of visitors? Are they sticking around and ultimately becoming active members who are growing spiritually?

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Can you get there from here? It’s been said that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. It’s worth asking: what are you getting from the way your church “does church?” If your goal is to grow mature disciples, then the disciples you produce (or don’t) are the measure of your success (or failure). One test of how effective your disciple-making efforts are is to ask: Are your people maturing as disciples? Are you “turning out” more and stronger Christians?

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If not, perhaps that’s not your church’s actual goal, despite what the vision statement may say. We can probably all think of churches whose stated purpose may be to make mature believers, but their most evident priority is building a following for the pastor. If growing disciples is your church’s goal, but it isn’t happening as you would like, perhaps the processes are not helping. Some of your church’s processes might actually be hindering your people from moving toward the goal of being active disciples. Producing foundationally strong Christians doesn’t happen on its own. Churches have to be intentional about it and make it a priority.

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One body, many systems Your church is a body, a living organism. It’s also an organization, and organizations, like bodies, have systems to help them function. Every church needs effective systems to help them: Communicate within and beyond the church body Develop leaders train new ones, establish existing ones Form healthy relationships among members, staff, volunteers and the community Handle resources people, money and property The right systems can really help a church move toward its goal of making disciples.

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Hindrances to disciple making Ineffective systems like the following can hinder disciple making. Too many programs. The church lacks focus People kept too busy with activities Too inward-focused. Forgets about the community and the world. Consumed with more and more trivial details Inadequate communication (unclear, infrequent, mixed messages) Muddled vision (saying you exist for one purpose, but putting most of your efforts into a different purpose. E.g., saying you exist to take the gospel to the world, but keeping your people so busy serving one another they don’t have time or energy for relationships with unbelievers) Ineffective recruitment/training/nurture/rewarding of volunteers Lack of bridges/pathways/transitions that guide members along a path to maturity

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Let’s agree that every church exists to produce more and stronger Christians. Yet churches struggle with getting new folks to stay. Many churches lack a way to shepherd people through a process that invites them through the front door and guides them all the way through to ministry service. Churches need effective processes and systems to get that accomplished. No doubt you want people to visit your church, to get connected, to grow spiritually and to actively participate in the life of your church. This book will help you to be more effective in making each of those things happen.

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Every church needs ways to accomplish these three things:

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CONNECT

GROW

ENGAGE

Invite people to experience your church

Help people form relationships that nurture their growth

Help people participate meaningfully in the life


No ministry is an island There are stand-alone software solutions and training resources that can help churches with each of these important aspects of ministry. And they can be of some help, but the problem with stand-alone programs is that they, well, stand alone. They’re not of much help in transitioning people from one phase of involvement to the next. A mistake churches often make is focusing solely on each individual step and failing to create links between them . They fail to see helping people forge a meaningful connection with the church as a process or journey. Connecting and growing and engaging are like isolated islands, or at best an island chain, with no bridges between them. In many churches, ministry programs such as meet-the-pastor sessions, classes or Bible studies are isolated events that may be valiant attempts to connect, but they fail to intentionally transition the participants into a next step.

{A mistake churches often make is focusing solely on each individual step and failing to create links between them.} 13


CONNECT invite people to experience your church

The key to getting people connected is effective communication.

What do the following things communicate?

Your church’s personality

The style of your worship

Your physical campus—including lobby, signage, worship space, classrooms, nursery, restrooms

(preaching, teaching and music)

Your approach to guests

A reflection of your average demographic

These things all communicate something. Do they communicate the right things, and do it well?

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Rarely would a church acknowledge that it’s unfriendly and unwelcoming. Most would say that they intentionally welcome newcomers. They may point to greeters at the doors, a handshake in the worship service and a letter from the pastor as evidence that they try to welcome guests and invite them further into the church. There’s a difference between inviting and being inviting. If your website, or your church itself, is uninviting in appearance or atmosphere, invitations won’t be effective in drawing people into your fellowship.

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Communicating on purpose Sometimes, wonderful communication happens spontaneously, and it establishes a connection between people. But most often, a church needs to be intentional in what it communicates and how it does it. Otherwise they might be like the church that sent some of its members into the community to find out what kind of reputation the church had. They were shocked to learn that the church had no reputation at all. The most common response they got from people was, “I’ve never heard of that church.” I suppose we could say that this church was communicating that they don’t exist!

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Communication tools churches can use:

Website (engaging, easy to use, informative, fresh and up to date)

Social media

E-mail or text

Mass media (including radio, podcasts, television)

Telephone

Letter or post card

Personal contact

Print and web advertising

All can be effective if they’re managed wisely.

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Managing church communications wisely means:

Choosing the medium—Website? E-mail? Social media? Letter? Crafting the message—Who will write/design it? Scheduling the delivery—How far in advance should you get the message out? How often? To whom? Providing the means for people to respond when necessary—Online signup? Paid registration? Return mail?

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Your church website—your virtual front door More and more, people form their first impression of a church by visiting the church’s website. According to a research report released in May 2012, in the past thirty days:

21.5 million adults in the U.S. have visited the website of their own place of worship 10.4 million adults regularly attend worship, but visited the website of a place of worship other than their own 1.6 million adults do not attend worship services regularly, but visited the website of a place of worship (http://www.greymatterresearch. com/index_files/Online_Church.htm) This much is indisputable: they’ll only come through the doors if they know about you and can find your building.

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What do you want to connect people to? “The church” is a good response, but let’s get more specific. People need to be guided into healthy relationships. Connecting with newcomers is most effective when it is an integral part of the church’s culture and not just an assignment given to one group of people. Are there groups (e.g., small groups/ classes/teams) that are expectantly waiting to receive new people? Or will new people need to squeeze into already-established groupings and hope to be welcomed? Hint: they won’t do it. If a newcomer hasn’t connected meaningfully within three months, they’ll move on. If the Welcome Committee does a great job but the rest of the church’s ministries aren’t set up to draw new people in, the new folks will have a hard time becoming part of the church.

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The church must be very intentional about connecting, even assigning a staff member to oversee it and keep it alive and growing, because the natural tendency of any group is to turn inward unless openness and welcome are an integral part of its identity. When connecting—forming new relationships—is part of the church’s culture, the church continually makes room for new people. This goes beyond the friendliness of the members, though that’s important. The welcoming church takes the initiative to reach out. It’s hospitable and open. In numerous ways it communicates to new people, “Come on in! Be a part of what God’s doing here!”

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Systems can help you connect Technology can help you connect, provided you use it to facilitate human interaction, not replace it. For example, don’t use visitor data to spit out an automated form letter and let that be the only meaningful connection. Use that information to help you make a human connection. This is more important now than ever, since our high-tech lifestyle has substituted for human contact in so many areas (e.g., online shopping and banking, automated answering systems). Does your church have a system for managing its communication? Whatever system you use, remember that ultimately all your efforts at getting people connected happen for one reason: to help them know Jesus.

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{Technology can help you connect, provided you use it to facilitate human interaction, not replace it}


GROW Help people form relationships that nurture their growth

The key to helping people grow is forming healthy relationships.

Your church probably provides numerous opportunities for people to grow spiritually. Worship services, Bible studies, small groups, prayer events, classes, socials, ministry teams—all are offered in the hope that participants will be built up in their faith and strengthen their relationship with the church. It is the perpetual temptation of churches to “program” these activities and then rely on the program, forgetting that spiritual growth is a spiritual, and individual, process. Even more, it’s the reason the church exists. Heavy reliance on programs also can lead to what the software geeks call “scope creep,” where the project expands beyond the original goals. A church must continually revisit and recommit to its goal of making disciples. Otherwise the church can become about adding programs rather than building disciples. 23


Essentials for growing spiritually What are the essential elements of personal spiritual growth?

Learning and applying the Bible

Sharing the Gospel

Having regular fellowship with other believers

Giving

Communicating with God through worship and prayer A wise observation has been attributed to Albert Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.� True spiritual growth takes place in the spiritual realm.

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But practically speaking, these are markers that we can use to gauge someone’s spiritual maturity. Now, showing up for church activities doesn’t guarantee spiritual growth, but spiritual maturity is difficult to attain and sustain without active participation in the life of a local church. For that reason, a healthy church will shepherd its people through events and activities that will help them to mature in one or more of the growth essentials. The church has a responsibility to equip people in each of these areas. That requires that the church find a way to track and quantify their people’s engagement. Ultimately all your efforts at helping people grow happen for one reason: to help them know Jesus.

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ENGAGE Help people participate meaningfully in the life

The key to meaningful engagement is helping people to participate in the life of your church.

The number one factor keeping the formerly unchurched active in the church is ministry involvement, according to research conducted by Thom Rainer. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said being active in ministry kept them engaged in their church. What does it take to get people actively engaged in ministry in your church, whether they lead, help with or attend the ministry?

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Obviously they need to CONNECT and to GROW. Getting them ENGAGED requires: Communicating details about the ministry/event (in that person’s preferred style)

Recruiting leaders and assistants Training volunteers

Scheduling and room assignments

Tracking attendance

Recording participants’ information

Keeping records of event details (e.g., who led it, where it was held, what it cost, how many attended)

Handling funds Processing registration Assigning

resources

When your people deeply engage with the church, they experience blessings that only come from being part of that spiritual community. They enjoy the challenges and rewards of relationships. They get stretched by serving. They grow in their capacity to love others. And they may even discover their life’s purpose. The right system can help your people to engage—to actively participate in the life of your church. Remember, all your efforts at helping people engage with your church happen for one reason: to help them know Jesus.

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“But few things are needed—or only one . . .” Luke 10:42 The men and women and teens and children who come through your doors next Sunday will come from many different backgrounds. They’ll come with different experiences and expectations, different desires and hopes and fears.

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Yet they will have these few things in common. They will naturally desire to connect. So invite them to experience all that your church offers. They will need to grow. So help them to form relationships that nurture their growth in Christ. They will require effort to engage. So help them to participate meaningfully in the life of your church. Do these well, and you will fulfill the mission of your church—to help them know Jesus.

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Note about the author: Ken Stewart feels privileged to have spent 31 years in pastoral ministry in Dallas, Texas and in his home state of Pennsylvania. He trained for the ministry at Lancaster Bible College & Graduate School, Dallas Theological Seminary, and life. Ken married Barbie (yes, really) in 1980, and they have three grown children. He loves words and music, so he works as a freelance writer and editor, and he plays guitar on the worship team at his church. If he goes too long without playing the guitar, his fingers get twitchy. He’s an avid guitar accumulator. Just ask his wife.


Grow Your Church Deeper: Essentials for Making Disciples