Stan Granberg, PhD, Kairos Executive Director
There’s a lot of interest and activity surrounding discipleship today, and that is good! As I hear and read a lot of this discipleship talk, it often seems to be in the context of maturing those who are already believers—often lifelong believers. We need to continually remind ourselves that the discipleship journey includes life from unbelief to mature discipleship.
When we follow Jesus’ ministry we see a fairly seamless process as he meets people where they are and moves them from unbelief to active believer. Look at the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-42. When Jesus encounters her at the well she’s not a Messiah believer. Jesus begins by establishing relationship. Then the two engage in a series of back forth questions and statements. Ultimately, Jesus gets to the heart of her life,
Jesus: “Go call your husband” Woman: “I don’t have a husband”
“You’re right, you have 5” “I see you’re a prophet”
“Believe me woman” “I know that the Messiah is coming”
“I am he” “Come, see. Could this be the Messiah?”
By the end of this story the woman is confessing her commitment of belief to her towns people, who by this time are ready to go and see for themselves. I believe this is a classic story demonstrating how Jesus met this woman on her terms, then deliberately led her to conclude that he was the Messiah of promise and worthy of discipleship.
Here’s the question you need to answer: Do the activities your church provides give people a clear, well-defined pathway to faith in Jesus then growth towards active discipleship? Here’s a simple, effective five-step system that you can use to create a discipleship funnel to help your church create disciples while it grows in numbers and health.
Step 1: Encounter. If we believe that God is searching for and gathering people to himself, how do we meet these people? You must learn to turn encounters into meeting events. Your church needs specific meeting activities where you get to encounter people. Good meeting points often include one off events such as neighborhood parties, Vacation Bible Schools, and holiday activities. What truly characterizes a meeting point is you have to collect contact information, at minimum first and last names and their phone number or email. If you don’t get these, you can’t follow up. Not only do you leave people stranded, but all that energy you expend doesn’t do you any good. Your goal for encounter is to get to know people, listen for their spiritual story, and provide them opportunity for a next step. What are your most effective encounter activities that help you meet new people?
Step 2: Engage. Engagement is where people have opportunity to hear the gospel, ask questions, consider the gospel’s implications for their lives, and see how they fit with you, God's people. Good engagement activities are short-term, well-defined studies such as the Alpha course, Story of Redemption, or Let’s Start Talking. What I think makes these some of the best engagement activities is because they occur in small groups where there are multiple seekers. These small groups allow discussion and question asking; people get to think and process together so they gain a multi-dimensional look at the gospel. The believers in these engagement groups act as guides and gospel illuminators; they’re not teachers. The goal of engagement activity is to provide seekers the opportunity to make a valid decision about the lordship of Jesus in their lives. What activity do you repeatedly use so people can engage the gospel?
Step 3: Commitment. People need to have the opportunity to make a specific commitment to Jesus. Even more than that, they need people who care for them to ask them if they are ready to give themselves to Jesus. Good commitment activities include events like baptism days, special preaching series, and weekend retreats or summer camps. It's always important to give people the opportunity to respond to God's big ask in their lives. The goal of commitment is for people to make their confession of faith in Jesus and give themselves over to him in baptism. When and how do you ask people to make their commitment to Jesus?
Step 4: Essentials. When people are new Christians they need specific information, ideas, and guided experiences that help them integrate their new belief into practical life. In Kenya we had a year of specific teaching that oriented new believers to the Bible and we guided them through the basic practices of Christian life. Specifically prepared Bible classes and small groups for new believers provide good opportunities for new Christians to grow in an environment designed for their needs. The goal of the essentials period is to give new Christians the essential insights into Christian faith and life so their newly acquired faith can grow. What activities do you provide at your church where new Christians can be oriented to both scripture and their new life in Jesus?
Step 5: Experience. Again, in Kenya, we found it took several years of experience and growth for faith to become firmly rooted in people's lives. There was often a trial during this time where their faith would be tested. Sometimes they would make it, sometimes not, sometimes they would succumb then later return. Our role was to help them consider the possibilities and consequences of their decisions. Good preaching series, ongoing small groups, solid Bible classes and accountability groups are all good activities that allow experienced Christian living to form. How do you support your people through the trials of life that test their faith?
If you think of these five steps as a funnel, you want to always be putting new people into the wide end of the funnel where they can move down through these five sequential steps. The structure of such a process gives everything you do intentional purpose that creates movement. Without such structure, most churches find their activity becomes a hodgepodge of ever repeating events that simply maintains what they have. We find ourselves very active but without much movement or results.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you obey God’s great commission and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
If they’re unchurched why are we talking about how far they'll drive to church at all?
That’s a fair question, so let’s talk about those who are becoming believers or who are new believers. When people cross that mental barrier of resistance and decide to explore faith they’re eventually going to attend a church worship gathering.
So how far will they go?
I’ve worked with church planters for the past twelve years, so I have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but I also have some research evidence that gives us a strong clue of how far people will go.
When I was teaching at Cascade College in Portland, OR in 2002, one of my students mapped the directories of people attending nine Churches of Christ congregations in the Portland Metro area. This is what he found:
Remember, these were highly committed Christians and highly committed to their specific, home church. When it came to people who are becoming Christians, the distances shrink dramatically.
People becoming Christians will typically live within 2.5 miles from where they will attend a church.
Remember, people who are becoming Christians are trying out faith. They want to see if faith makes sense in their life, if it fits their lifestyle. They don’t have strong attachments to any particular faith brand. “Becoming believers” will typically go to a church that:
To the person becoming a believer, one church is about the same as another, thus the 2.5 mile radius reflects the distance new people tend to travel to church.
The distance can go out to 5 miles when there are nearby connection points, such as neighbors who attend that church or a small group that meets nearby. These near-neighbor connections provide a conduit to the more distant worship gathering.
Beyond the 5-mile zone there has to be a strong, specific reason for people to travel that distance to church: brand loyalty, a specific worship experience or preacher, a family special need being met, etc.
If your church wants to reach new people, here are some ideas for reaching those who live near where you meet.
Hope these ideas help you think and act more carefully to those people who live close to your meeting place.
Preaching to the context of unbelief has not been normal. Try to find a book on the topic. Google: Preaching to Unbelief. You won't find much. Yet in our country where the Nones (those religiously unaffiliated) are the fastest growing segment of religious identification if we don't learn how to preach to unbelief we will lose our voice in society.
I was thoroughly schooled to preach to belief: 1) begin with the propositional truth of the biblical text, 2) describe and explain that truth to the audience, 3) illustrate that truth in action. That was the bones of the sermon. Deeper than this sermon structure is the sermon purpose. In preaching to belief the purpose is to confirm the already existing belief of the audience. We want our people to leave the worship experience confident in their belief and affirmed that they are right. But what happens today when people do not believe our presuppositions about God, Jesus, or the Bible? How do we connect with them in a way that recognizes their unbelief and provides room for us to engage one another around the question of belief? This is where preaching to unbelief enters.
Here are 4 keys to help you explore the idea of preaching to unbelief:
Almost every church I visit and talk with today is beginning to realize that if they're going to survive long into the future they have to become millenial oriented. Adjusting to a millenial viewpoint is not a simple matter of changing worship times, or seating, or adding a new song or two to the music repertoire. Millenials think about the world in fundamentally different ways. In this season of high school graduations here are some characteristics of this year's graduating class:
When you enter a home, greet the family, 'Peace.' If your greeting is received, then it's a good place to stay. But if it's not received, take it back and get out. Don't impose yourself. Luke 10:5-6 (The Message).
The Person of Peace concept has become a significant strategy for entering into new communities with the gospel. It's particularly prevalent in US church planting and international CPM (Church Planting Movements) strategies. Sometimes the Person of Peace concept is presented like its the miracle bullet for evangelizing. Other times it is presented as a demand to make someone into your person of peace.
Here's some things we've learned about the Person of Peace strategy from ten years of mission work in Kenya and ten years working with Kairos Church Planting.
1. We meet Persons of Peace as we go on mission. Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out 70 disciples, 2 by 2 with a mission: proclaim "the kingdom of God is near!" These disciples were on a mission. They were going. As they went into these villages and towns they would meet people. Some of these people would turn out to be persons of peace. We need to be on our mission if we are to expect people of peace.
2. Persons of Peace are gifts from God. Jesus didn't say "think about someone you know . . ." His command was go, do your work, and as you do it some people you encounter will accept the message. I see people of peace as gifts from God. They encourage us. They connect with us. They resource us. But they don't really do these things because of the close relationship they have with us (though often the relationship does become close). They support us because they connect with the message! They are God's gifts of provision so the mission can be accomplished. We should pray for these gifts of God because we need them so the mission can happen.
3. Persons of Peace drive the mission forward. The idea that the person of peace is someone who likes you and whom you like is quite attractive. But I've worked with some persons of peace with whom I didn't really resonate. We could work together. We respected one another. But we weren't really friends. In spite of this, these persons of peace really opened up relationship networks for the gospel in their communities. Despite the fact we were not really friends these people propelled the mission of the gospel forward.
This week a church planter and I were coaching on networking strategies. How do you go about entering into a new community and finding those Persons of Peace?
Here's some ideas we came up with:
1. Ask people who know your community to help you understand it. These are people like realtors, school principals (particularly elementary schools), and police officers. Tell them who you are, what you are doing (this is your confession of faith as a planter), and how they can help you. If they agree they've begun to show signs of a person of peace because they are helping the mission.
2. Invite people to work alongside you in service events for your community. There are many good organizations, non-profits, and already existing activities in a community that always need help. You can become a resource for them (i.e., you're their person of peace). As you invite people into the activities of these already existing groups you also let them know you are doing this because you are starting a new church and you believe a church is a helping contributor to the community. When you do this you are building an identity and giving the people you invite the opportunity to connect with that identity. So, when someone asks, "Why are you here helping?" you want them to be able to say, "I was invited by Joe who is planting a new church here."
3. Organize special events that gather people, then let them know what you're doing as a church planter and invite them to next steps. The key, again, is to not hide anything. Be up front with who you are (a church planter, a Christian, a Jesus follower) and what you are doing (starting a new church). Take the mystery out of the picture. Give clear invitations to learn more. This provides people the opportunity to grow into becoming Persons of Peace.
My experience has been that most of the Persons of Peace with whom I have worked didn't come fully engaged. They learned about me and about my mission over time and with exposure. God gradually formed them into Persons of Peace.
I pray you keep your eyes open for those budding Persons of Peace in your community, your life, and your ministry. Receive them with joy. They are God's gifts to you for His glory.