You have your own biases. You have a certain way of inserting your preferences. I have discovered that there is wisdom to establish small groups prior to going public; but is that always the best approach? As a church planting and multiplication coach for the last three plus decades, I prefer to ask questions around the principles of a healthy church. This helps reorient my mind on those things that are relevant, regardless of the context.
If you have already coached the planter you are working with to launch public worship services, the reflection questions at the end of this blog might be of interest. However, if you are in the pre-launch phase, you will find the information below helpful as you coach church planters.
Establishing a Disciple Making DNA
Can a disciple making DNA be established after public services have launched? Absolutely! The reality is, though, that most new church planters invest so much time, energy, and resources into the public gathering that when it comes to creating disciple making communities, their bandwidth for giving that same energy can be diminished. Remember that illustration of putting the big rocks in the vase first, then filling in the smaller rocks around them? That describes this situation.
Planters feel real tension which then becomes intrinsic in the culture of the congregation. To establish small groups with the purpose of making disciples, you will be asking people who have become accustomed to attending the public gathering to make a second commitment. For some, the corporate gathering is the extent of the commitment they are able to make.
For others, the connectivity smaller gatherings provide is strong enough. A healthy percentage of people who participate in public gatherings and who are engaged in small groups is 80 percent. This is a metric that defines a church of small groups as opposed to a church with small groups. The statement that you have probably heard applies here: “What you win them with is what you win them to!” This simply suggests, once you have soft-wired a process in someone’s spiritual journey it takes work to rewire the circuits.
In practice, when a person comes to faith in the context of a small group, it will set an expectation for them in their discipleship journey, and for those they influence and invite to join them on their journey. Obviously, we celebrate when anyone crosses the line of faith. But we can see the evidence of a culture that has been influenced by the idea that “going to church” is misleadingly equated with followers of Jesus “being the church”.
Let’s unpack this a bit more.
Are you getting ahead of yourself?
Church planters often feel pressure to launch with a public gathering. As a coach it is helpful to look behind the curtain or under the hood to help the planter discern their motivations. Here’s where some of that pressure stems from:
- Theological – planters are compelled by the mandate to make more and better disciples
- Internal pressure – the planter intrinsically senses the need to start public gatherings to justify their hard work (to make something happen)
- External pressure – from a funding partner, denominational supervisor, or the community because it validates the ministry and is a metric of success
Slow your roll
Jesus provided us with a viable model. Heorientated, prepared and equipped His disciples as he launched His public ministry. I imagine, He realized that as soon as He performed His first miracle that word would spread rapidly. This man from Galilee had a small gathering of apprentices who were following Him and spent time together. They got to know Jesus and each other. During this time they were learning what it meant to follow Him. As they were becoming disciples they began making disciples. This is the motif I like to use for the process of church planting: beginning with the conception of a vision,equipping disciples who make disciples.
To combat this drive to go public, in some cases prematurely, I like to challenge planters to “Slow your roll!” Instead of giving into the internal and external pressure to go public, channel your energy to begin with the end in mind – make more and better disciples first. Once you have embedded that DNA into at minimum the 1st generation, better yet, a 2nd and ultimately a 3rd generation movement of disciple making. Then invite those groups to come together to worship God together. Remember, Jesus worked with his apprentices for 3 years.
All that sounds ideal. And it is. But it is helpful to begin with that end in mind.
6 ways it helps to start with the end in mind
1. It works like a pace car.
The time a church planter gives to establish a pattern of disciple making at the very beginning solidifies the DNA into the life of the newest disciples. It’s a safe pace at which to develop skills in your core team and monitor progress before empowering them to give it their all.
2. It sharpens your focus.
You are partnering with what God is already doing. Keeping that in mind from the start helps give you a real sense of who God is already working in and who is most responsive to the gospel.
3. You will discover trusted volunteers.
It won’t be long before you will need help. Small groups provide a fishing pool for recruiting volunteers to launch public gatherings.
4. You will be developing leaders.
People learn from doing. The way your initial small group responds to disciple making gives you insight into who your future small group leaders and future church planters may be,
5. Establishes value in service.
Finding ways to meet needs within the community you serve instills a value in the lives of small group participants as they discover their gifts and builds a pattern of using them for the benefit of not only the church but also the people you are trying to reach.
6. Launches Weekend Services with Purpose.
The corporate gathering will be pre-shaped with disciple making DNA. With the pre-work done you will have a service that is welcoming and thoughtful to newcomers. People will feel empowered to invite their friends and family to church. Living out the Great Commission won’t be a goal, it will be the beginning.
Challenge the Status Quo
The way churches have been planted–with the idea of launching a corporate gathering as the primary means of making disciples–has attracted the low-hanging fruit. To get different results–mature disciples with a Kingdom vision to make disciples–different approaches have been tested, resulting in different results.
Imagine you are 3-6-9 months into your public gathering and you already are seeing people come to Christ. Now, consider the effort it has taken. Compare and contrast that to the amount of energy that you have invested to make disciples who reproduce.
Questions to ask church planters to make disciples who make disciples:
- What are the irreducible minimums that you need to do to make more and better disciples?
- What are the essential environments required to accomplish these things?
- Who are the people you need now to move your vision forward?
- What kind of people will you need later to launch a public gathering?
- What are the essential next steps you must take to move your vision forward?
What do you do if things are already in motion?
Let’s set the context. You are coaching a church planter who has set things in motion to launch. But the public gathering is the primary focus, the small groups will come later. To help them establish a disciple making DNA, this is what I would recommend.
Manage the process of introducing small groups, or any new ministry for that matter.
2. Discern the start and end points
Help leaders assess their current reality. Help the planter clarify the end game (desired results). Then with a curious posture, ask questions of the planter to help clarify what it will take to get from where they are to where they want to be.
Walk leaders through reflection questions to help them process change. Here is a good list.
- State your goal.
- What steps are involved to reach your goal?
- What important steps are missing?
- In what ways could your plan be more effective?
- How and when will you evaluate your progress?
- How will you free up time and energy to focus on the change process?
- Who are the key people who can work with you to facilitate the change process?
- Who are the key influencers who need to embrace the vision and/or be included in the discussion/planning process?
- What permissions need to be secured? From whom?
- Who are the people most affected by the proposed changes? What impact will they face?
- What can you do to help people embrace the change?
- How will you strengthen relationships during the change process?
3 resources you can use to coach leaders in Change Management:
Change Management Skill Builder- InFocus: https://www.infocusnet.org/product/change-management-skill-builder-booklet/
Change Management Effectiveness Profile- InFocus: https://www.infocusnet.org/product/change-management-effectiveness-profile/
Change Management Coaching Guide with Storyboard- InFocus: https://www.infocusnet.org/product/managing-change-coaching-guide-with-storyboard/