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Christ’s command to the church is clear: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations...” It is in building disciples—helping others to embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, mature in him, and then lead others to do the same—that the Kingdom grows. And when the Kingdom grows, churches do, too.
In Growing True Disciples, respected author and researcher George Barna helps pastors and leaders assess how their churches are doing in fulfilling their role as disciplemakers. And he reveals models and examples that will equip churches to dramatically increase their effectiveness. As a result, your church can begin to see more involved members who want to live out their faith in submission to God, and joyfully share their resources to fulfill Christ’s commission.
Do You Want to Make a Difference?
Ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way.
Christians and Christian churches employ all kinds of strategies to influence their world.
We try to elect politicians who share our values and goals.
We strive to enact laws and policies that reflect our beliefs.
We attempt to expose people to Christian ideas and precepts through religious radio and television programming.
We hope to shape the minds of young people by enrolling them in Christian schools or by ensuring that God and His principles are not completely removed from the public school environment.
We use clever advertising campaigns and comprehensive direct marketing programs to encourage people to attend our churches or to develop a relationship with God.
We endeavor to get people to know Jesus by inviting them to evangelistic crusades, revivals, or other outreach events.
All such efforts are well intentioned and bear some fruit. But I would like to propose what I believe is a better strategy for growing the kingdom of God.
IGNITE AND NURTURE PEOPLE’S PASSION FOR GOD
What would happen if we were to focus on the four out of every ten adults and one out of every three teenagers who have already asked Jesus Christ to be their Savior—and do everything we can to help them grow into inspired, unmistakable disciples of Jesus?
What would happen for God’s kingdom if we did not consider our job complete when people confess their sins and say a prayer inviting Jesus to be their Redeemer, but would use their new commitments to Christ as a launching pad for a lifelong quest to become individuals who are completely sold out—emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually—to the Son of God?
Churches work hard at trying to expand and strengthen the kingdom of God with all types of creative and life-affecting ministries. Thousands of churches are currently fine-tuning their worship services to make them more attractive and compelling. The typical church labors to integrate numerous programs, classes, and other offerings into its menu of possibilities. Millions of dollars flow from church budgets into events each year in an effort to influence people’s thinking and behavior. Literally billions of dollars are spent every year maintaining, upgrading, and expanding buildings and facilities to provide the space and equipment required for the ministries planned by the church. To appeal to people who have thus far turned a cold shoulder to God, churches and denominations launch sophisticated marketing campaigns that are designed to reposition churches and raise awareness of the things of God.
All of those activities can be justified by their intent and outcomes. But here’s a better strategy: Ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way. When individuals are single-minded in their devotion to God, their commitment to His ways and His principles becomes much deeper, much more intense. Once they have made an enduring and serious commitment, the peripherals don’t matter as much. They’ll endure worship services that may not meet their exact specifications because their focus is on God, not themselves. They’ll attend activities at times that are not optimally convenient because the most important reality is to experience God’s presence. They will sacrifice more of their hard-earned money for the purposes of ministry because they recognize that they are stewards, not owners. They will gladly share their faith in Christ with nonbelievers because they understand their responsibility to other people and to God, and because they simply cannot contain their own excitement about the privilege of relating to God.
REDEFINING MINISTRY SUCCESS
When you talk to pastors, church staff, and lay leaders across the nation you quickly discover that churches work hard to increase attendance figures, to provide a full range of programs, and to have adequate facilities to support a broad-based, inclusive ministry. The people and resources available for such ministry efforts represent a tremendous blessing from God.
But what if we were to change our standards? Suppose we were to de-emphasize attendance statistics, square footage, and income figures in favor of a commitment to depth and authenticity in discipleship? What if we were to redefine ministry success in these ways:
• congregants who worship not just on Sundays but every day of the week—not just in the sanctuary but wherever they are
• constant efforts by the laity to discover new insights into their faith and to convert that information into personal application
• complete submission to the Holy Spirit in both decision making and behavior
• hearts that are sensitive to sin and wounded every time they do something that offends God
• individuals who joyfully share their resources—time, money, skills, information, relationships, possessions—with those in need, especially those who share a love of Christ and a commitment to His people
• a deep commitment to building a lasting and life-changing community among those who profess Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord
• spontaneous demonstrations of selfless compassion toward those in need of emotional, physical, financial, or spiritual assistance
• engagement in “organic evangelism”—the process of sharing one’s faith in Christ in very natural and unforced ways, based on relationships with the recipients of the information and supported by lifestyle modeling
• people who live differently from the norm because of their faith, leading lives that conform to the dictates of Scripture without cutting corners or trying to interpret biblical passages for personal comfort or advantage
• a church body that projects (and lives up to) an image of being loving, caring, focused, and clear-minded in its pursuit of the ways of God
• individuals who are continually linked to God through prayer and meditation, as if they were “online” twenty-four hours a day with the ultimate spiritual power
• believers who take the initiative to use their gifts, skills, and training for the benefit of their church without having to be cajoled into serving