If I am going to be completely transparent with you, I will admit to falling into this trap myself. Early in my ministry I would regularly challenge my members to invite their friends to church. Although I wouldn’t have admitted this at the time, our invitation was more about us than about them. We weren’t all that concerned about their personal needs, and as soon as they began attending we would encourage them to repeat this process with their friends. When those friends arrived, we extended to them the same charge to get their friends to church.
People would stick around for a few months, but many would eventually leave. Our church became a revolving door, with new people exiting the back faster than guests were walking through the entrance. Having talked with other pastors about this, I now know that I wasn’t the only pastor stuck in that rut of measuring growth through church attendance. Every pastor fights the urge to count nickels and noses.
What if we shifted the focus from running out and grabbing as many people from outside of the community to bringing them in and spending more time discipling the people whom God has already entrusted to us? What if we decided to invest in those already attending week after week?
Immanuel Baptist Church in Morgan City, Louisiana—the first church I pastored—had a small congregation, about sixty-five people. These faithful few were passionate about the things of God and desired to grow in their faith. I chose a handful of men to invest in while my wife, Kandi, selected a few women with whom to do the same. It didn’t take long for a discipleship initiative to spread through the congregation. Before leaving that church to pastor Brainerd Baptist Church three years later, God had grown the church numerically, but even more importantly, he had driven the roots of those relatively few members deep below the surface of a superficial Christianity. The seeds that were planted almost a decade ago are still being harvested today.
Believers who were at one time uncomfortable sharing their faith with lost friends before entering a discipling relationship were transformed into people living, breathing, and sharing the gospel. Their workplaces turned into a mission field for reaching the lost. Marriages were restored. Lives were changed. During the first year of ministry, we saw more people make decisions for Christ than were attending when I arrived. People regularly commented, “I feel like we are living the book of Acts.” I felt the same way. By adopting a new scorecard for effectiveness in our church, the members followed suit.
Was it that we implemented something new? No. We rediscovered something old, as old as the church itself: discipleship. This rediscovery of discipleship has changed my own life as well. I often wonder how different my life would have been if certain men hadn’t taken time to disciple me. But why stop with me? Let’s take it a step further: How different would your life be today if you had an opportunity to be engaged in a Christlike, biblical discipleship relationship? How different would the lives around you be if you were the one to take seriously Jesus’ command to make disciples?
K.I.S.S. Your Program Goodbye
A few years ago, our staff implemented a painful (though necessary) revision of our current programs. We applied something called the K.I.S.S. paradigm. Everyone on staff was encouraged to examine their ministries through the lens of our mission statement—Deliver, Disciple, Deploy—and to determine what things they needed to Keep, Increase, Start, or Stop (K.I.S.S.). Every ministry in our church was brought to the table. Nothing was off limits.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This kind of evaluation is very difficult because it removes what you want and reveals what God wants. Far too often we allow our egos to hinder spiritual growth in ourselves and those around us, when God wants us to toss aside our preconceptions, lay down what mankind sees as important, and embrace the mission to which he has called us.
In the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, British prisoners of war in Burma during World War II are building a bridge for their Japanese captors. They devote enormous amounts of time constructing a bridge that serves as more than a channel for passage; it becomes something beautiful and wonderful for them. At the end of the film, there is a challenging moment when another group of Allied commandos force the captives to consider blowing up the bridge to keep Japanese trains from using it. It’s a very difficult decision for the men because of the extraordinary effort they have expended in building the bridge. The men have become so focused on the intricacies of their effort that they have forgotten the larger mission of winning the war.
I share this because as you read this book, some of you may need to think seriously about eliminating some good programs in your church if you want to do what is best. Train yourself and your people not to be impressed with success in the church that does not accomplish the goal set forth by Christ: making disciples. Don’t be impressed with momentary feats. Look for the fruit that lasts forever.
- How many marriages were restored last year?
- How many people are striving for holiness?
- How many men and women are holding each other accountable?
- How many addicts are experiencing victories over drugs, pornography, or alcohol?
- How many groups are reproducing themselves exponentially?
- How many fellow men and women are you investing in now?
In my first book, Growing Up, I wrote to those who wanted to be a disciple, those who longed to share in the heart of God. In it I introduced a system for spiritual growth that has been used in our own discipleship groups with great success. But in that book I was only able to scratch the surface of the what, why, and how of a discipleship group. In this book we will focus on the principal components of an effective D-Group, and I will show you how to implement that in your church.
So let’s get started. The first step we must take is to repent. We must repent for being disobedient in the mission of the church—making disciples.