The following is part 1 in a five-part series, Finding Your Disciple-Making Sweet Spot, by Scott Sullivan, Georgia Baptist Discipleship catalyst.
Ask the right questions.
The question I have received most often since joining the Georgia Baptist Mission Board is: “What can I do to attract and retain members effectively at my church?”
It’s not really the correct question, but I get it. The more biblical question might be: “How can we effectively create disciple-makers that will generate global gospel impact?”
I’ll attempt to answer this question in a series of articles that I pray will encourage and inspire. Because, if we fail at anything, it cannot be in the area of making disciple-makers!
There are several things you should know as we journey through this topic. First, I like rhythm. I’m like a cow following the trail to his trough. The well-worn path keeps me from the ditches and brings me home when my mind wanders. Ironically, I am one of the lead change agents everywhere I go, so my life is complicated and awesome.
Second, I have served in the trenches as a local church leader for 30 years. I’ve been there and understand that the struggle is real.
Third, my doctoral work was in the area of disciple-making strategies. So, I have studied, written, spoken, implemented, and am still learning daily.
Fourth, the principles that I am about to share are a collection of “wins” that are working in local churches across the nation.
Finally, only implement the principles that apply to your ministry context, then do whatever it takes to be great. Your long-term effectiveness is not about mirroring the fast-growing church down the street, but it is linked to your ability to be great at who you are in your context.
Introducing the Five Elements
Many growing and healthy churches have found that five distinct but interrelated elements stand out while seeking their disciple-making sweet spot:
- a new member pathway sharing expectations and branding language
- a biblical and guest-friendly worship experience that exalts Christ
- a small group or Sunday school class structure that is focused on God’s Word, relationally connected, and multiplies intentionally
- a service team platform giving Christ followers an opportunity to serve that is based on their spiritual giftedness not merely on the need in the church at the moment; and
- a leadership development system that is modeled by the pastor and staff.
First element: a new member class and pathway
Notice, I did not begin with an engaging worship experience, which I personally think is important. A radio host friend taught me a memorable lesson many years ago. His advice was this: “Be ready before you ask people to come.” That’s what you are doing in setting up a discovery or new member class.
The new member class can become a powerful tool to clearly explain the Gospel and what you believe as well as helping guests connect, serve, and grow. If you are a church that is shifting a long-time existing church to a new strategy and culture, you will want to invite all members to gradually filter into this class as well. Do not assume that they understand who you are with a new vision and language or that they have had an authentic salvation experience just because they have been a church member for many years.
Focused new member or discovery classes will also give the pastor and leaders an opportunity to get to know potential new members before they join. For example, are they coming from a like-minded church or a different denomination? Don’t we all have that one guy who joined and we said, “I sure wish I had known he believed that before we granted him/her full membership into our church.” Ouch!
In this class, you can begin branding the language that will drive your church culture. For example, will you call new individuals “guests” who you prepared for in advance or “visitors” you did not expect were coming? Does your church have Sunday school classes, small groups, or life groups, and do they meet on Sundays or during the week? Do you have any other way to effectively explain the pathway to spiritual maturity for guests?
Here’s the bottom line, every church has a culture! Either you establish the culture you want, or an outside culture will establish itself in your church. If you leave this up to chance, you will find yourself playing catchup the rest of your ministry.
I have written a four-session new member class lesson plan, and I’ll be glad to share a digital copy of that with you to help you develop ideas. The session titles:
Knowing Christ: Clarifying the Gospel and what we believe
The Body of Christ: How best to connect in a group and biblical church membership
Serving Christ: Understanding your spiritual giftedness and service opportunities
Sharing Christ: Responsibilities, communication, and facilities tour
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org in the Discipleship ministry area of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Scott Sullivan serves as Discipleship catalyst for the Church Strengthening team of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Previously, he was equipping pastor at First Baptist Church in Haughton, Louisiana while serving 30 years in the local church also as a student pastor and discipleship consultant. A contributing author of “Impact: Student Leadership Devotional” and “Together We Equip,” Sullivan earned his Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is also an adjunct professor. His ERUPT discipleship strategy has been implemented in numerous churches with successful results. An outdoorsman, Sullivan and his wife, Elizabeth, have four children: Erika, Austin, Caleb, and Noah.