I’ve observed something in healthy, growing churches this last year that I think is very important for church leaders. The churches experiencing the most healthy growth tended to have a discipleship approach in the form of a path. Meaning, they had thought through how they could best help people along in their journey following Christ and offered them a series of next steps.
By contrast, many of the churches I see that are in decline have an overwhelming number of programs available to attendees and even the community, but no cohesive path that helps people learn which steps to take and when.
As you might imagine, there are several key differences between both types of churches.
Here’s the reality–every individual is accountable for their own spiritual growth. And, when we look back at our lives, most of the time, it was relationships that helped us grow in our love for Jesus and our desire to follow His way.
The advantage in having a simple, clear discipleship path over an assortment of programs is that you make it easy for new followers of Jesus to build important relationships at the right times in their journey. You give them space to ask their questions and opportunities to exercise their faith. You also make it simpler for church leaders and lead volunteers to not let people fall through the cracks, especially early on when they need the most guidance and time investment.
All that to say, your path — or your programs — are not likely going to ever be so effective in and of themselves that you turn into a spiritual maturity factory. Making disciples is never going to be a tidy process. The Holy Spirit’s work can’t be replaced by a class or a method. However, a discipleship path will help your church serve people better than a bunch of programs, and as we’re seeing, there’s at least a correlation between a clear path and healthy growth.
One more thing: Defining a discipleship path without cutting programs won’t work. By necessity, the path will become clear when it’s the thing you communicate most often and loudest. Keeping all those programs and then trying to communicate your path will only be adding to the noise.
Tony is founder and chief strategic officer of The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, NewSpring Church in South Carolina, and Granger Community Church in Indiana. He’s written several books, as well as articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com. He writes about leadership regularly at tonymorganlive.com. His next book, The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, will be available from Thomas Nelson in May 2017.