Where to Begin?

As a pastor I receive a regular crush of junk mail that advertises Christian education curricula, leadership development resources, church renewal gimmicks, and discipleship/small group programs.  Every time I peruse yet another catalog, I experience a twinge of vertigo as I try to quickly discern how effective each of these things would be in my church.  Perhaps if you’ve ever had to choose a Sunday school or VBS curriculum, you can relate!

It seems hopeless!  Which is the best?  Which course most closely matches my own convictions and what I want to convey in my congregation?  Which ones are lame, and which ones are homeruns?  Where to begin?

I came across a “newsletter” from Crossways International–yet another organization hawking discipleship stuff–and I was truly struck by what I saw there.  I am excerpting a large chunk of Harry Wendt’s (the president of Crossways) article and give him full credit:

“I commend Bill Hybels at the Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) in Chicago for his honesty in relation to changing course.  WCCC has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of its programs and philosophy of ministry in a book titled Reveal: Where Are You….  Hybels calls the findings ‘earth-shaking,’ ‘ground-breaking,’ and ‘mind-blowing.’  The report reveals that most of what they have been doing at WCCC for many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not necessarily producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ.  Numbers yes, disciples no.  It also states that success is not determined by the size of the crowd but by the transformation of lives, and that what is really essential to mature discipleship is–are you ready?–regular reading and study of Scripture.  Hybels states: ‘We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.'”

Wendt went on to write, “My colleagues in South Korea have taught me many things.  Protestant missionaries began working in South Korea in 1884.  Several years later, a conference was held to determine the most effective way to build God’s Kingdom.  John L. Nevius, a European missionary working in China, exhorted attendees to focus on conducting adult Bible study programs.  One major denomination did not embrace the Nevius Plan; today it has 1.5 million members.  The other denomination (Presbyterian) did; today it has 7.5 million members.  In the Sunday worship bulletin of Choon Hyun Presbyterian Church in Seoul (30,000 members), worshippers are reminded that they are expected to read three chapters of the Bible every weekday and five on Sundays.  The point?  If we focus on numbers, we may not cultivate disciples; if we focus on discipleship, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

Although I’m not endorsing Crossways International’s curricula, Dr. Wendt makes an excellent point!  This is great news for the majority of Christians in America who do not worship in a mega-church, that we are okay, too.  And I believe it’s a sign of the changing tide–away from lusting after bigger and bigger churches and toward a focus on relationships, both among church members and with God.

What if it really isn’t about the number of people in a church but about the quality of their relationship with Jesus Christ?  What if all the fancy programs, the abundant curricula, and the gimmicks for discipleship are just fancy packaging for the thing that matters most: reading the Bible?  What if we smaller churches can stop worrying about “getting new people” into the congregation and just focus on helping others grow in their faith?  Truly radical!

What a great place to begin.

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One thought on “Where to Begin?

  1. I think it would be amazing to those who propose church growth models to find that the church, throughout history, grew most and best when following God’s design and depending solely upon the power of His Word. It’s not so radical afte all, it’s the way it’s always been. We don’t need gimmicks or man-made models, we just need to trust and obey (“there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”) Thanks Ray.

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