Call me simplistic, but I believe the church has two main functions:
We can point to other things the New Testament shows us, like encouraging each other, loving each other, and helping everyone. I think those fall under the umbrella of the two functions above.
When Crosspointe began our relaunch, we realized that at our core had to be discipleship. The Barna group released a multi-phase study a couple of years back indicating only 1% of churches in America engage in an intentional discipleship model. One percent usually doesn’t fly in most things, so we sought to improve how we discipled. So what did we do?
1. We admitted we weren’t doing a very good job
A lot of folks and church leaders believe sitting in a bible class on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night is discipleship. I can see their point, and for a long time, I thought so, too. While those gatherings certainly ARE a part of a holistic plan of intentionally leading people into Christ-likeness, they aren’t the main course.
Discipleship happens best in small gatherings. Our congregation had tried small groups a while back. It failed to materialize in the long-term. We also saw the need to maximize our time together during “appointed times” with classes that were heavy on application, but also in giving options and choices to people.
When we begin to see the only real option for building a close-knit community, we were a little gun-shy on the idea of small groups. Yet, admittedly, we had tried just about everything else, and we kept coming back to small groups and had already implemented a much more diverse Sunday School curriculum.
So we started our version of small groups, and we call them MERGE Pointes. The idea behind them is taken from Acts 2:42-47. The first Christians grew because they spend time together – a lot of time – and that created community that soon overflowed from Jerusalem to other parts of the region and beyond. Helping people feel that they belong is a felt-need we all have. God provides the solution through His Church. His Church is the people, and the people make the community. Once we settled on this, we begin to restructure everything around that idea. Here’s what we did next:
2. We Asked Four Questions
- What should our discipleship model look like?
- What is our end-game for people who choose to link arms with Crosspointe in ministry?
- What does a spiritually mature Christian look like?
- What part does the church have in developing Christ-followers?
If you’re a missiologist or a church growth guru, you might think these questions are common sense. Yet, for most of us working in smaller churches, just getting the doors open every week can be overwhelming, let alone developing a strategy to grow them in faith.
We had to be different. We had to create a model that would truly facilitate spiritual maturity. In our congregation spiritual formation (discipleship) didn’t exactly fall under the “MOST IMPORTANT” heading. We had to be different here. We had to become the exception to our own unspoken rule. Asking these questions realized a shift was needed if we were ever going to consistently develop mature Christians, so we found the problem, and we switched it up.
3. Changing Models with a Question
We were operating under a fairly common model in our approach to discipleship. We’ll call this the Head Knowledge Model. In this model, everything is built around increasing people’s knowledge about the Bible. These models are teaching/lecturing models, and we had to go beyond that.
If our mission now was leading people to a growing, active faith and life with Jesus Christ, then a growing relationship means growing faith. The question we then needed to ask was this:
What grows people’s faith?
That question leads to a few more specific questions:
- What fuels the development of faith?
- What are the ingredients that, when combined, result in greater confidence in God’s character and promises?
It was then that we found and borrowed a page from Reggie Joyner and Andy Stanley. The premise is this: every person who follows Jesus has five (5) common ingredients in their story. They call them the Five Faith Catalysts.
- Practical Teaching
- Private Disciplines
- Personal Ministry
- Providential Relationships
- Pivotal Circumstances
The first three of these five should be viewed as such: These are our responsibility. These are the part we play in growing. The other two are God’s part that we have no control over. I’m going to expound on those five things in the next post, but I want to plant the seed here.
Everyone who follows Jesus has these five things. Everyone who grows in Jesus continues to experience and do these five things. So, we needed to create a model that on-purpose exposed people to these five things.
4. Engagement over Attendance
This may seem like blasphemy to some, but we chose to follow a path that values engagement and connection above attendance. Getting people together in one place to learn is great. Getting a bunch of people together in small clusters and in different places to apply what they know is better.
We think the Sunday worship gathering and Wednesday nights are good things. We also recognize that people are busier today than ever before. That may seem like a cop-out, but keep following me.
During the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, there are a whole lot of people trying to impose the Jewish Law onto newly converted Gentile Christians. The Apostles meet, and James stands up and says something incredible:
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God – Acts 15:19, ESV
If the church makes it harder for people to come to Christ and grow in Him, we’re failing. It’s that simple. Seriously. If all we were doing was making our members and their families busier, than we weren’t helping at all. That could explain why so many felt disconnected or had walked away. We had turned church life into another thing to be at.
A lot of our families lamented that they couldn’t be there because of work and other obligations (which aren’t bad ones). Kids need to get to choir and band, work makes you stay over, homework, study and child rearing take a toll. So we wanted to take the “busy” out.
We stopped judging people’s faithfulness by how many services they attended consistently and started to measuring spiritual growth by engagement. We still believe that if you can be there you should, but we also gave MERGE Pointes to make getting together with brothers and sisters for encouragement, learning, and application easier.
We decided to commit to creating a discipleship model that is extremely relational. While it’s always dangerous to be disconnected from other Christians, it’s really dangerous when we’re struggling. MERGE Pointes provide the small-group, relational approach, FOCUS Pointes (our ministry teams) provide the service opportunities and ownership of each member, and our Sunday and Wednesday meeting times provide practical, yet in-depth bible study to apply to your life NOW.
Relationships are everything. Coming to worship on Sunday morning just simply isn’t designed to facilitate the relationships (and the feeling of belonging) required to stay the course and grow in Jesus. God never intended it that way. We come on Sundays to worship God, gather around His table, and hear from Him. It’s about Him – not us. We gather other times through the week to learn and grow together in Him and with each other.
That’s the path we’re on, and it seems to be working. Our Sunday evening numbers were pretty low…but now we have 8x that meeting in MERGE Pointe groups during the week! I don’t say that to toot a horn or look at numbers, but rather to look at how many people are engaging, and committing to what God is doing through Crosspointe. People crave community. If your discipleship model isn’t giving them that, they’ll find it somewhere else.
Love in Christ,