Let me go ahead and get this out of the way: I’m not a theologian, and I don’t pretend to be one. Not even sure I ever want to be one either!
What I am is a guy who's life was radically altered by the gospel at the age of 31. I am also a guy who is very thankful that the church where I made my "decision" had the right things happening behind the scenes to make sure I did not fall through the cracks, that I stayed on course towards a deeper relationship with Christ and other believers. In the church world, this is called Discipleship. I didn't much care what it was called as a new believer. All I knew was that there was a thoughtful and intentional approach to help me do life in community, share my faith in the midst of trusted friendships, and watch other people make life-changing decisions after engaging Jesus the Christ in real time.
Disciple making, the multiplying of Christ-followers, comes at a high cost for churches. It’s not efficient. It’s not prescribed. And, because it involves people, it's messy! Church is much easier when it's just about programs and fundraising. That allows us to celebrate rather meaningless things like how many first-time visitors we had this week and where we are with the general fund. I'm not saying those things don't matter. However, they are only a small fraction of the story.
The efficient thing is for churches to continue to do what is familiar, comfortable, and minimizes risk. Deploy programs, crank up some loud music (with sweet lighting effects), preach a good message that doesn't offend an unchurched dude like me and ask people to volunteer in children's ministry, greeting team or the parking lot! Guess what? None of that worked for me.
My faith journey began in what you might call a very "non-seeker friendly" church where the gospel was preached fearlessly and the music came from a choir. You see, the "environment" wasn't what was important for me. What was important was that the Holy Spirit was ready to work me over and the church where that happened cared deeply about making sure their were people and processes around me to help me navigate through those challenging "baby Christian" days, see who Christ was in a very authentic way and plug into service opportunities that met me where I was, not where the church wanted me to be.
You see, if a church wants to be relevant, truly engage others, and facilitate lasting life change, it must choose to do so at whatever the cost...financial or personal. It must equip the people God places around the ministry to come alongside those who are on the faith journey, no matter what phase they are in. It must also provide ways for those people to express their faith in ways that align with who God made them to be. That requires us to take the time to really know who they are.
To be successful at this, a church must develop processes which guide the equipped and provide a solid framework for them to operate in. It then must identify systems which support those processes and identify who is moving forward, who is stuck and who is slipping. None of this is easy and none of this is inexpensive. If you choose not to invest the necessary time, energy and money, don't be confused when your church community eventually stops growing and making an impact!
In what ways have you developed people, processes and systems to ensure you are leading your church into the uncertain waters of making disciples?