The Red Herring of the Future Church Conversation

The Red Herring of the Future Church Conversation

The last few months there’s been a proliferation of articles and podcasts focused on what the “future of the North American church” will be. This is a natural thing, I suppose. As leaders start thinking and planning for a life on the other side of a global pandemic (or at least that was the hope), we all start to take stock of what we’ve learned, where there are gaps and what we should do differently as we move into the future.

I mean, we even produced an ebook a little while ago called, 10 Church Predictions for the Next 10 Years.

But what’s emerged out of these more recent “think pieces” is a number of tactics for how the church can alter its’ course and reach people as we move into the future. It’s not my intention to point fingers, name names or start any kind of online bickering. But you don’t have get online for very long before these things start to pop up. You can find them.

Here’s what’s concerning:

These tactics don’t seem to wrestle with the fundamental issue at work in the North American church. They seem to propose that we use the same kind of operating system, but just do it slightly differently (and more digitally). But I’d argue that until we alter aspects of the operating system, the shift in tactics won’t really matter, because we’ll have the same problem on our hands…we just might have more of that same problem!

Specifically, I’m speaking to the widespread discipleship crisis we are facing.

If we can at least acknowledge there might be a problem, I think our next step is to do what Jesus said to do: Follow the fruit. And I think we’re largely seeing two kinds of fruit:

  • There’s rotten fruit.
    Take two minutes online and you’ll find your favorite social media platform on fire, littered with comments from “Christians” whose lives don’t seem to much resemble the character of Christ. We look every bit like people who have not been brought from death to life.
  • There’s seedless fruit.
    There are Christians whose lives are genuinely being transformed. Their lives are full of the fruit of the Spirit and man oh man, it would be a good thing if there were 100 more of them running around. But they aren’t reproducing more disciples. We need those people to go and make more disciples in their every day comings and goings!

It can feel sexy to talk about the “future of the church,” but at least to me, this feels a bit like a red herring…a distraction, to a certain degree. We need to really stare this problem in the face and own it. There’s a famous saying that goes something like this: “The best predictor of the future is the past.” What our past is showing is that even with new tactics, we’re only going to spread the crisis if we don’t address the fundamental operating system problems.

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it’s getting. For us, broadly speaking, it means that our operating system as the church is perfectly set up to get rotten fruit and seedless fruit. (Which doesn’t mean we never get healthy fruit with orchard potential. We do! But the question is this: What are we most likely to get?)

I was once in a room with a small group of leader and we were having a discussion with Dallas Willard, just a few years before he passed away. He is one of the Christian thinkers and writers that’s had more influence on me than almost anyone. In that discussion, he said this: “Every church needs to be able to answer two questions: 1) What’s our plan for making disciples? 2) Does our plan work.”

Some churches have a plan. Some have imported someone else’s plan. But very few have a plan that’s working. (For more on this, we wrote an article on the 6 different discipleship strategies that churches use and the fatal flaw for each.)

Now it’s not like this is the first time in church history this has happened. Of course not! There is always hope, and it’s the responsibility of each generation to hold onto the gospel, and the fruit of the gospel, with fresh vigor and conviction. Last week, I was able to share about our Disciple Making Innovation Lab at the Exponential Ventures Future Church Initiative. What was so encouraging about this time was seeing how many of those pioneers were thinking through this operating system problem and addressing the discipleship crisis. So yes, there is hope!

I believe have an opportunity to really take stock of where things are at and make a wise, biblical, Spirit-led course correct. But this this isn’t something that can happen en masse. It needs to happen leader by leader, church by church.

Are you wanting to move discipleship forward in your ministry?

Check out our Disciple-Making Innovation Lab.

Or You can Schedule a Call Directly.

The Future of Discipleship

The Future of Discipleship

About once a quarter, Catapult invites five thought leaders (and practitioners) to share their insights around the same five questions, all geared around a certain topic. The topic this quarter? The Future of Discipleship.

In almost every way we can measure, and every way we can see, it feels like the Western Church is at an inflection point. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than what we’re seeing in the discipleship crisis that has been bubbling up and has now reached a boil. (If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, we released an infographic that has insights from a pastor’s survey we did with 3800+ respondents on the topic of discipleship. You can read it here.) There’s a lot of difficult, hard things to swallow. But it’s also not hopeless and there are things to be optimistic about. 

We loved getting to read and think through the responses from this 5-on-5 on discipleship and hope and pray it stirs your heart, mind and imagination for the future.

 

The 5-on-5 Voices

Rich Villodas

David Bailey

Mandy Smith

Bobby Harrington

Rob Wegner

Q1: What do you think the last decade has revealed about the state of discipleship in the North American church?

Rich Villodas

 

I think the last decade has revealed a few things about the goals and fruit of our discipleship strategies. First, it’s revealed the formational compartmentalization that too often shapes our approach. By formational compartmentalization, I’m referring to the segmented ways we separate core discipleship areas like addressing racism, justice, and the interior life from the gospel. Second, it’s revealed the gaps in catechesis. The lack of discernment related to politics, the inability to hold space with those we disagree with, and the measuring of our maturity through activity has shown how shallow our discipleship approaches have been.

Mandy Smith

 

We’ve come to the end of ourselves—our discipleship programs have fallen flat, our discipleship institutions are crumbling. But what feels like a crisis can become an opportunity—to remember that the One we follow has not gone anywhere. He’s just waiting for us to stop working so hard, hoping we’ll get over our self-sufficiency and remember our need for him again.

Bobby Harrington

 

At Discipleship.org we completed a national study that was an exhaustive look at disciple making in churches throughout the USA.  We found that less than 5% of churches have a disciple making culture.  Furthermore, there is massive confusion about what it means to be a disciple and to make disciples.  We will not move forward until senior leaders get very clear on what it is to be a disciple, what it is to make disciples, and the best methods.

David Bailey

 

I can’t speak for Mexico or Canada, but I definitely see within the church in the U.S. — whether it is a conservative, progressive, or liberal expression of Christianity — that the practice of reconciliation is considered optional. Engaging across difference and conflict is not recognized as a part of discipleship, and when that happens, the ends justify the means. This practice forms us into a type of Christianity inconsistent with the Scriptures. The consistent mindless consumption of media—again, no matter whether the source is secular liberal media or secular conservative media—is too often the primary form of discipleship for many American Christians. When Christians spend more time in consuming media than being formed in Scripture and spiritual practices, they begin to discern the Scriptures through their lens of the media they consume instead of discerning the media through the lens of the Scriptures.

Rob Wegner

 

We have a crisis in the church in America; Dallas Willard calls it the Great Omission.  The last command Jesus gave the church before He ascended was the mission to “make disciples.” Yet, whether it’s the landmark Reveal study released by Willow Creek, the sobering stats from Barna on the unchanged lifestyles of the people attending churches, or that growing splinter in our own minds, the evidence points the same direction: making disciples who can make disciples has been the Great Omission in much of the Western Church.  The Covid-19 Pandemic revealed the fragility of the current structures and systems in our churches, which are primarily built around public gatherings and teaching, not the long term relational ground work of real discipleship.

Q2: If the average adult Christian was one of the following (spiritual infant, child, young adult, adult or elder)…what would they be and why?

Rich Villodas

 

The elder would be someone marked by patience, self-control, and fewer, but more discerning words. The elder is someone who listens deeply, and offers wisdom out of much contemplative reflection. The elder doesn’t live for the validation of others, because she knows who she is in God. In this way, the elder need not be someone advanced in age, but someone who has regularly faced her false self, and lives from the center of God’s gracious love.

Mandy Smith

 

I’m hesitant to make generalizations because it depends on where you look. If you look at those Western Christians who are seen as representative, they might look mature because they’ve done all the right things. At the same time, on the margins, in the places where we may not usually look to find the “average” Christian, I see people who are spiritual giants. And the irony is that these ones who are most grown up in their faith seem so to me because they’ve never forgotten how to be children—not childish but open to input, willing to follow, receptive to every longing of the Spirit, courageous and joyful.

Bobby Harrington

 

We use a paradigm where we add grand-parent after adult, meaning someone who makes disciples, who makes other disciples, as a grand-parent has grand-children.  The average North American Christian is either an infant, or a child because that is how we have raised them and  allowed them to become stunted.  I estimate that only 15 to 20% would be qualified as adults, parents and grand-parents. 

David Bailey

 

I would say puberty. Puberty is the awkward stage when a child begins the process of becoming an adult, while still not yet having left all the childish things. If you’ve spent any time with middle schoolers, you understand the challenge of not knowing if the maturing adult is going to show up or the child. I think we are seeing in our day a combination of some childishness and some maturing. The practice of engaging in biblically rooted reconciliation is one of the most significant pathways to maturity. Biblically rooted reconciliation focuses on transformation from the inside-out instead of resolving conflict from the outside in. The common practice for fallen humans is to say, “the problem is with those people,” but maturing Christians say, “Those people may have a problem, but let me self-examine first and see what God wants to change in me before I try to change something in them.” I’ve found this to be true when I practice this in my marriage and anytime I put this into practice. 

Rob Wegner

 

Child stage or young adult, at best.  In the Kingdom and in nature, mature things have the capacity to reproduce.  The ultimate outcome of the creation narrative, and God’s first command to humanity, was, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 NLT). Later God entered the creation through his Son to recreate this world and restore shalom. That plan for restoration would once again be contingent on the ability to reproduce and multiply. The same command he gave humanity in the garden he gives now to the church in the Great Commission: “Multiply and fill the earth!” In the creation narrative it was, “Make babies! Fill the earth!” In the new creation narrative, it is, “Make disciples! Fill the earth!” When you consider the statistics,  that virtually no adult Christians actually make new disciples via personal evangelism and discipleship, then it’s clear that the average adult Christian has not reached the adult or elder stage.  They are missing the greatest joys of the faith.

Q3: What practical coaching would you give pastors looking to create a culture of increasing spiritual maturity?

Rich Villodas

 

My first point would be to create a regular, unhurried environment of teaching and community, where key leaders are developed first in their character formation. Second, I would—especially in this pandemic—provide spaces to guide people in prayer. I’ve discovered over the past year that many, if not most people, don’t know how to pray. Pastors must model prayer for their people, much like Jesus did with his disciples.

Mandy Smith

 

Set aside the Western mindset of expecting to ever feel finished, or to be able to measure all the outcomes, personally and in our work. If God is mysterious and humans are messy then one of the best cultures for spiritual maturity is one that has capacity for mess and mystery. It means being able to lament what is broken, rejoice for the healing we can’t see, and trust that God does some of His best work when we feel deeply confused and uncomfortable. There are people (often marginalized people) who already have capacity for this mess and mystery so invite them to help shape the culture.

Bobby Harrington

 

The first thing that I would do is press a pastor on the theological necessity of disciple making.  I would try to get them to see that behind everything in the New Testament is God’s desire that people would form their lives around Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit – and that is the focus of disciple making.  I would want them to see that it is the core mission of the church and then I would seek to win them over to replicate Jesus’ method of disciple making.

David Bailey

 

In any great movie, conflict is essential—for character development and for the satisfaction of resolution at the end of the movie. Over the last 40+ years, much of the predominant church growth strategies have been predicated on marketing to consumer preference of targeted demographics which has consequently often minimized diversity. When communities do have diversity of experiences and perspectives, the opportunity for conflict increases. If a pastor sees conflict as something to be avoided, then the objective is to deflect conflict. If the pastor sees conflict as an opportunity for character development and Kingdom resolution, then learning how to engage in effective cross-cultural conflict resolution skills is essential practice for your community’s spiritual maturity.

Rob Wegner

 

Begin with yourself.  Find your twelve and begin to reorder your life to meet regularly, do life together, and practice a basic set of spiritual habits that are focused on developing the Spirit’s outcomes: Character and Calling.  Together identify where each of you has been sent as a missionary to make new disciples.  Debrief on that mission each week.  Ask each other, “What is Jesus saying to you?   What are you doing about it?  How can we help you?  Who will you share this with?”    As you build your twelve, invite them with a high challenge and maintain high accountability.   Build expectation that they will be changed and that they will do what you are doing for them…make disciples.   

Q4: What’s the most significant leadership lesson you’ve learned about discipleship in the last 5 years?

Rich Villodas

 

I’ve learned that my biggest task as a leader is to be a non-anxious presence. This is not easy by any means. The last 5 years have brought many polarizing issues to the surface in compounding ways—political hostility, racial injustice, economic disparities, and a global health crisis to name a few. I’ve learned that my most important task is to remain close to myself, while remaining close to others in times of high anxiety.

Mandy Smith

 

That while it makes me (as a perfectionist and introvert) incredibly uncomfortable, the most powerful lessons people in my congregation say they have learned from me are from the ways they’ve watched me follow the Lord. I’m choosing to get used to that discomfort because it also means freedom for me to discover that my job is not to be the perfect one people follow but simply to model what it looks like follow Him, inviting people behind the scenes of my joy and longing, my hope and wrestling. It’s hard to do it well but I have to trust that there’s a way that our leadership doesn’t have to be divorced from our personal relationship with God.

Bobby Harrington

 

We must train those who are leaders in the church that their job is not just to make disciples, but to make disciple makers.  If everyone in the leadership position in the church would see that their primary role as a leader is to make other disciple makers, we can start to make progress on the church becoming a disciple making movement.  The other leadership lesson I have learned is that if we want to sustain a disciple making movement, we have to have a theology of what it means to be a disciple and how it necessitates disciple making.

David Bailey

 

My friend Jason Caine taught me that “Proximity brings empathy and empathy brings unity.” This pithy statement articulates the significance of Jesus’ ministry of incarnation. If God thought it was important to get into proximity with humanity for unity and transformation, then I need to do the same. We can’t “phone in” transformation. We can’t ideate transformation. We have to get into proximity with those we hope God uses us to bring transformation. Why? Because empathy is key to transformation. Hebrews 4 and 7 teaches us that Jesus’ prays differently because of being in proximity with humanity. My prayer life is different now that I understand the power of proximity. 

Rob Wegner

 

The need for two different types of discipleship pathways.   Two forms of disciple-making are required in post-Christian, postmodern America.  Churches that discover both forms of mobilization will have the “best of both worlds,” revival in the church, and spiritual awakening among the lost.   They can operate synergistically, like a flywheel.  

Disciple-Making Movements (DMM): a rapid, immediately viral, multiplicative, indigenous movement, creating new disciples from lostness four generations deep on multiple strands. The direction of mobilization is from the harvest toward the church. The focus is regeneration of the lost into disciple-makers.  

Movement of Disciple-Making (MDM): a slower, eventually viral, multiplicative, indigenous movement, creating new disciples from believers in the church four generations deep on multiple strands. The direction of mobilization is from the church toward the harvest. The focus is catalyzation of believers into disciple-makers. 

Churches can actually engage both at the same time, but will likely major in MDM, and begin a “skunk works” DMM effort. These can run in tandem and even help amplify each other.  We dig deeper into this in The Starfish and The Spirit, with examples of both pathways. 

Q5: Let’s talk about the future of discipleship in the western Church. Where do you have the most trepidation and where are you most optimistic? 

Rich Villodas

 

I have most trepidation around the issue of Christian Nationalism. This is an issue that is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is a rival god with the deceptive trappings of evangelical language. I’m most optimistic about the emerging generation. I think the emerging generation is passionate about holding together aspects of discipleship that are often segmented—like justice and the interior life. This is cause for hope and optimism.

Mandy Smith

 

My trepidation and optimism come from the same thing—this current crisis we’re watching in the church as denominations split, congregations shrink, individuals walk away from Jesus. This is a wonderful moment of truth revealing that what we’ve been doing doesn’t work. Will we  just walk away or will it be a moment of redemption, even of revival? To me the difference lies in our hearts—will we continue in this desperate habit of fixing, controlling, understanding, which ultimately makes us independent from God?  Or will we finally have a moment to confess that we cannot do this on our own? That turning in our hearts will, itself, be our salvation. I’ve watched it become a moment of revival in myself and others as we discover that our despair holds an opportunity for dependence.

Bobby Harrington

 

My biggest trepidation is the difficulty of transitioning to the new operating system needed for disciple making in contra distinction with the established ways we have been raising Christians. Most optimistic: Ten years ago very few people bought the idea that disciple making was the core mission of the church, and now most people are gravitating to the idea, at least disciple making should be a big focus. 

David Bailey

 

I love reading history and the Bible (especially the Old Testament) because it helps me see how the story of humanity is the same throughout history, just the names of the characters change. When I see the pattern of Israel going in and out of idolatry over and over again, I see that they had a hard time not putting faith in the things they could make and control (idols). Over and over again God told them not to put the faith of their salvation in other nations because it would cause them to compromise. When we look at the history of the church in America, there has and currently is a lot of faith in our man-made systems and especially faith for salvation in our government to the point where there is a significant amount of compromising going on. My trepidation and optimism are on the same coin. I believe God has and is sending many prophetic voices telling us to “Wake up! Repent! Find your hope in King Jesus and the Kingdom of God!” My hope is that we would respond like Hezakiah responded to Micah and repent. My fear is that we will be like the other kings who didn’t.

Rob Wegner

 

My greatest trepidation is for those church leaders who are waiting for the time when “things will get back to normal.”  They will have missed the greatest opportunity in a century to reboot their church culture around disciple-making.   I am most optimistic about the growing remnant of church leaders, who hungry and humble in this time of upheaval.  They are beginning again in prayer, fasting,  and seeking to return to Jesus’ way of disciple-making.  We need Jesus methods, not just His message.

BONUS: If a pastor or Christian leader has never personally been discipled before, what should they do?

Rich Villodas

 

Do what I’ve done for many years; identify as many people that I want to learn from. More than anything, I look for people whose character I want to emulate. I email, DM, and call until someone is willing to take me on. I ask them to meet with me once per month or more if their schedule is open. I come with lots of questions—personal and vocational. I take lots of notes and ask if we can do it again. When that season is up, I look for someone else.

Mandy Smith

 

Don’t despair because ultimately, we are discipled by Jesus so no circumstance or lack of mentors can keep us from following him. But it is important to have friends on the journey to help us listen to Jesus. For me, regular spiritual direction is essential. My friends, Sandie and Owen Brock, have helped me through many difficult seasons. They do amazing work and will do one-time calls so no commitment necessary and will meet virtually so distance is not an issue.   http://antiphio.com

Also Catholic monasteries often have trained spiritual directors so look for one in your city. I’ve met monthly with a Benedictine nun for the past 4 years and found it deeply transformative.

Bobby Harrington

 

Get discipled by another leader, even if it is online discipling, punctuated by face-to-face meetings every month or two. 

David Bailey

 

I believe that every Christian leader should have five types of relationships: someone who is discipling you, someone you are discipling, a therapist, a coach, and a peer companion. You gotta practice what you preach. I don’t trust anyone who is discipling people and not being discipled themselves. You shouldn’t trust them either. If you don’t have someone who is discipling you…pray, seek, and find. Be a disciple yourself. At the same time, go even further to make sure you are healthy as a spiritual leader by establishing a rhythm with a therapist. Being a pastor or Christian leader comes with so many temptations that can pull you toward being an emotionally unhealthy person. A rhythm with a therapist is a great guardrail from going off the deep end. A coach helps you to get from where you are to where you want to go, and a good peer companion helps you to be and stay honest. Everything starts with being discipled, but don’t have the expectation for that one person to be everything to you. 

Rob Wegner

 

Go back to question 3.   The Lord will be faithful.   Ask Him to give you a mentor as you begin to make disciples.  He will provide.  Currently, with Disciples Made we have a cohort of pastors from one conference of a denomination with an incredible origin story of disciple-making.  This cohort is made up incredible men and woman, who are doing their best to lay their life down for the church.   Most would admit that although their denomination has this great heritage, they personally have been challenged by the lack of transformation in their discipleship culture and programs.  About a month or so into the cohort process,  about 25% of the pastors realized, “I’ve never personally been discipled.”   We reorganized the cohort, so those pastors could go through a sixth month disciple-making experience called Followers Made.   The rest of the cohort continued with a focus on moving toward four generations of reproduction in disciple-making.   I was humbled and amazed that none of the 25% dropped out.  None of them caved to shame, pride, or condemnation.  They humbly said, “Disciple me.”   I have GREAT hopes for their disciple-making future.

Resources from These Leaders

Race, Class & the Kingdom of God Study Series
by David Bailey and the Arrabon Team

Screen Addiction, Discipleship & the new AA

Screen Addiction, Discipleship & the new AA

Well I just finished leading a session at the “Future of the Church Summit” with Exponential and I wanted to share one idea I shared there. In fact, it’s one that I’ve been thinking about for the last 18 months.

…but before I get there, let me set the stage about where our ever-increasing-digital-world is.

This is the current digital terrain we live in:

  • People spend an average of 37.8 hours a week on a smartphone
  • The average person consumes roughly 100,000 words a week from reading social media feeds (that’s the equivalent of like a 500 page book!)
  • 1/3rd of Millennials have a medically diagnosed anxiety disorder linked to social media activity (PS: The oldest Millennial turned 40 last year!)
  • 79% of North American self-diagnose as “addicted to their screen”

It takes roughly 10 years to get research back on the long-term affects of a new technology, so we’re just seeing the first wave of results about how we relate to smartphones and what they do to us over time. And folks…it’s catastrophic.

Here’s the point: Christian or not, it’s not whether or not people are being discipled. They are! And their most active discipler is the little device they hold in their hands.

 

What we are talking about is full-blown addiction.

Now in the 1930’s, there was another kind of addiction that finally got some breakthrough: Alcoholism.And through the inspiring work of Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, Alcoholics Anonymous was born. Today, more than 130 million people found freedom from an addiction they just couldn’t break. But even better? Scores of people encountered God and came to faith in Jesus Christ.

So what’s the big idea I’ve been thinking about for the last 18 months? There will be leaders who press into this opportunity to get people freedom from screen addiction. It’s hard to explain the ways in which there is a looming catastrophe on the horizon (if you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, it’s worth the watch). But as with all things, this presents a gospel opportunity for the people of God. Not only do we get to demonstrate what freedom from addiction looks like, we get to share stories of hope and a process for that breakthrough.

I believe getting people this level of freedom presents a generational opportunity for evangelism and discipleship. The question is this: Who will start working on it now?

I think Andy and Amy Crouch have done some great preliminary thinking on this with My Tech-Wise Life and The Tech-Wise Family. I know both of those books have been helpful in how my wife and I are discipling our kids (and ourselves!).

My crazy prayer I’ve been praying all week? Maybe the Lord is spurring one of the readers of this article, or one of the listeners at Exponential, to start the next AA.

The Fatal Flaw of Discipleship Strategies

The Fatal Flaw of Discipleship Strategies

I’ve probably spent the last 15 years of my life trying things in the local churches I’ve led or with leaders I’m coaching or walking alongside to help them innovate discipleship strategies. And more recently at Catapult, we’ve been piloting some new strategies to help churches create a discipleship process that really gets the fruit they are going after. As you can imagine, the learning has been in overdrive.
The more I’ve done this work, the more I see that there are probably 6 different kinds of Discipleship churches.

 

Each has a different strategy, different outcomes, pros, cons and almost all of them have a fatal flaw. But as you’ll discover at the end, there is one fatal flaw they all have in common.

Church #1: Discipleship as Preaching

Headline: Churches with this discipleship strategy love (mostly) expositional preaching and rightly dividing the Word of God. And that’s a good thing!

Greatest Strength: This creates a culture of people who love the Word of God in both their Sunday morning experience and in daily times with the Lord, nourishing them as they go.

Fatal Flaw: These churches overestimate what preaching can do in and of itself. Did Jesus preach? Absolutely. But the Bible shows that’s not what the majority of his discipleship process looked like. Jesus was the best disciple-maker who ever lived. And while preaching was part of his strategy, it was a small piece of it.

Church #2: It’s all organic, baby.

Headline: Disciples are made in the everyday comings and goings of life; after all, the Great Commission says, “and as you go, make disciples.”

Greatest Strength: Some things are simply better caught than taught. The organic process allows people to learn from the places of real life where the Gospel is being lived out, in real time. After all, how much of the twelve disciples formation happened just by being with Jesus and processing in real time?

Fatal Flaw: There is often a lack of intentionality, focus and overall direction for where the person being discipled is being taken. Sometimes it feels like it’s just two people in a coffee shop or bar hanging out and it’s not really going anywhere. Jesus knew exactly where he wanted to take twelve and was exceptionally intentional about getting them there.

Church #3: Just join a small group!

Headline: The seeker sensitive movement and simple church emphasis created a place for everyone in the church to go. Most churches are using some version of a small group strategy. But does it lead to spiritual transformation?

Greatest Strength: People can form deep relationships with a consistent group of people over a long period of time who can love them, grow with them, walk with them and speak into their life.

Fatal Flaw: Ultimately the small group strategy started as a kind of relational flypaper. Churches were trying to close the “back door” of the church. Small groups are great at cultivating relationships because that’s what they were designed for. But they weren’t necessarily designed to help people grow spiritually or propel them into mission. The real fatal flaw? A fair number of small groups are led by spiritually immature people leading other spiritually immature people.

Church #4: We’ve got a program for that.

Headline: This strategy focuses on creating a large choice of classes and programs that pinpoint people’s felt needs and then seek to deliver the goods.

Greatest Strength: People are able to locate a place of weakness, pain point or something they simply want to learn and then applies the Gospel to that specific area.

Fatal Flaw: There are a couple. First, it creates a caste system of the elite vs. consumers of religious goods and services. Second, very rarely does this discipleship strategy create a culture where people are engaging in everyday mission or discipling people of their own. Third, it means the church is always looking for “the next program” to scratch the itch of those consumers.

Church #5: Discipleship as a spark.

Headline: Churches deploy and execute a system for discipleship that leads to reproduction, train people in it and release them as yeast into the dough of the church and wider community.

Greatest Strength: Reproduction gets into the water and as you get into generational disciple-making where disciples are making disciples, it leads to people outside the church who don’t know Jesus yet. Discipleship is now leading to evangelism.

Fatal Flaw: This model is built on low control. That can sometimes be positive, but there’s often a drawback with unintended consequences. The spark that you light might look different than you think it should. Or maybe it burns something down.

Church #6: Discipleship as optional.

Headline: Churches with this strategy see the almost exclusive mission of the church to get people to heaven when they die and very little time or energy is spent on this present life.

Greatest Strength: There tends to be a heavy evangelistic fervor in this culture, albeit for a very small version of the Gospel.

Fatal Flaw: When discipleship is seen as separate from the Gospel, as an optional add-on, it means people are missing the essential ingredients for transformation. They might go to heaven when they die, but they often cause a lot of misery and brokenness while on earth. Very few people who aren’t Christians look at their lives and think, “I want that kind of life.”

But what’s the fatal flaw they all have in common?

One of the things we’ve found at Catapult is virtually all of these plans are IMPORTED or CUT-AND-PASTED from other places. And what might have worked in one place rarely works in a different place…or it works quite differently. For instance, the small group strategy that might be producing a lot of specific outcomes for Andy Stanley at North Point might be imported somewhere else and rarely gets the same results. (Which, by the way, is an incredibly frustrating experience for pastors!)

 

So what’s the fatal flaw? It’s not having a contextualized discipleship process built on your church’s DNA.

 

It’s for this very reason that we created the Disciple Making Innovation Lab. We wanted to help churches create something unique to their DNA, theology, vision and context that leads to deep spiritual transformation and reproduction of disciples who make disciples. (And actually works!)

 

Are you wanting to move discipleship forward in your ministry?

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How we got 10,000+ Leaders in Coaching Groups

How we got 10,000+ Leaders in Coaching Groups

When we started the COVID-19 coaching groups, Daniel Yang, Todd Milby, and I were hoping we’d have somewhere between fifty churches join in. As we continued to talk with leaders of other networks, we began to realize the number might be a little bigger, but our expectations didn’t massively shift.

Early on, we made a strategic choice: We decided not to brand the work under any particular organization. If we believed we were better together, it needed to function and be communicated as a collaboration. It was a trade-off: No single organization got the credit, but it meant more people (Mass) might be part of it. So from day one, these coaching groups were a combined effort of Catapult, the SEND Institute, the NewThing Network, Christ Together—a collection of leaders who were already working together in one way or another, with each of us bringing some of our coaches to the table.

We made another strategic choice: We would not charge for participation in a coaching group. Every coach gave their time away. That made it accessible to anyone in the world with internet access. We offered groups on every day of the week (except Saturday and Sunday), including some with early morning slots, to account for global time zones. We asked coaches to help lead at least two groups. This was our radical minimum. Not surprisingly, the first and fast followers of our coaches quickly turned into a hotbed with a center of gravity. And as more groups developed, more hotbeds started to emerge and multiply, and they started to share best practices. Very quickly, a tribe was developing, and it had all the relational thickness that Alan Hirsch calls Communitas—the friendship, community, and relational bonds formed in the fires of being on mission together.

The groups themselves happened on Zoom, so if we had five hundred people register for one time slot, the only thing keeping us from scaling was the number of coaches, because each virtual breakout room required one coach to every six to eight participants.

We started Week 1 with a few hundred churches participating in groups, and we decided to lower another barrier that might hurt scalability: We didn’t close registration after Week 1. As it turns out, the experience of the first week was sticky and sneezable. We grew to 1,094 churches at the end of Week 2.

But it didn’t stop after Week 2. Word got out what was happening; not only was it helping people stabilize and re-normalize in the midst of the crisis, but it was helping leaders mobilize their people into mission. We had more and more people clamoring to get into groups.

Like Rent the Runway, we had a problem on our hands: a lot of new churches wanted to get into coaching groups, but our infrastructure was starting to creak. We were running out of coaches, the IT support needed to sustain the team maxed out, and the logistics of running that many groups, with that many people, were redlining the effort. At this point, the way we were scaling the innovation was using the Resourced model. This was only possible because everyone was donating their time, and we were using technology already in our budget.

A number of networks, denominations, and mission agencies asked if we could start groups for churches in their tribe. There was just one problem: the infrastructure built for the Resourced model was tapped out. But if we pivoted to the Groundswell model? It was suddenly scalable to a new level. However, doing this would mean sacrificing control.

In the end, we made a choice. We gave those leaders everything we had and held nothing back: Detailed notes of every session, scripts, worksheets, slides, training videos we’d recorded for coaches, video replays of each week, email templates. Everything we had, we gave it to them, free of charge. We trained the leaders of those tribes of churches, walked them through the essentials of the radical minimums and what they’d need to do. We then released them to be the yeast in the dough of their specific tribe.

This pivot worked.

At the end of Week 2 there were 1,094 churches in a coaching group. At the end of Week 5, there were more than ten thousand churches in a coaching group, spread across thirty-nine countries, speaking eleven languages.

And after that? We simply stopped counting.