First of all, if you can’t write out your discipleship process on one page in a few sentences, it’s probably because you don’t have one, or it’s way too complicated then it needs to be.
Here are some benefits, though, of taking the time to develop and write one out:
1. It will bring you (as the pastor) clarity. Every leader should take the time to think through their discipleship strategy. Write it down on paper. What’s the first step that happens when someone comes to your church? Think it through. What would be the next link in the chain?
As pastors, we often want to talk about discipleship, but if you’re not clear on the process your church has, assuming it has one, then there’s no way your church will ever be clear about it.
2. It will bring the church excitement and adherence. There’s nothing like looking at a roadmap. Though discipleship is far different than some roadmap, I think there’s something really powerful about being able to communicate a simple discipleship process to your church. For one, it will create excitement because the people will know that there is a plan. It’s calming and exciting to know that the leaders and the church have a vision and a plan for your spiritual growth.
It’s said that people say no to what they don’t understand. If they don’t understand the process, or how it might fight together, they’re generally not going to get involved. It creates adherence because people naturally gravitate to clear and intentional processes.
3. It communicates vision. I’ve learned that vision is not what you say, it’s what you do. In other words, people learn much more about your vision through the process they go through, then anything you might actually say. Are you committed to discipleship and reaching the lost? If you have an intentional process that someone experiences and are reached themselves through the process, you’ll never have to convince them of the vision. They’re in. They’re excited because it worked on them.
Every other month our church holds a “membership class” called Starting Point. Those that are interested in learning more about Carrollwood Church or are interested in transferring in are invited to attend. During this 45 min “orientation” we unveil our discipleship process. We pull back the curtains. I want a guest and potential member to see that we’re seeking to be exceedingly intentional about everything that we do. I’ll ask people, “how many of you received a hand-written thank you card after you attended for the first time. And what kind of impact did it make on you when you received it.” I live to hear those answers. It’s exciting.
4. It will help you to see what’s missing. Do you need to add something to your strategy? You won’t know what’s missing until you actually write it out and think the process through. There’s something really valuable about taking the whole picture in. Seeing it from the end to the beginning helps you to make sure that they’re all connected. And just like putting a puzzle together, you only see the missing pieces when you can take in the whole puzzle.
Those are just a couple of benefits as to why you should write out your discipleship process. What are we using at Carrollwood Church? I’m glad you asked.
1. First time guest attends church. When someone attends for the first time, they receive a welcome email, and a hand-written thank you card later in the week that includes a small gift. They’re encouraged to attend a second time.
*To learn more about our entire assimilation strategy click here and checkout the series of posts on the subject.
2. Second-time guest attends church. We repeat the process, but with different things now. After coming a second time, it shows that they’re interested in the church and were not just trying to please grandma or their spouse. So we send them information on our next “Starting Point” membership class and give them an easy way to register: by replying to that email. Guests are also giving a 30-second survey to fill out on their experience.
3. Third-time guest attends church. In the beginning, I tried visiting third-time guests, but I found that our demographic was not very receptive to that. People didn’t want the pastor coming into their homes so soon. So I tried calling them instead and it worked. I just want to make sure that I’ve had some kind of personal contact, if I haven’t already, by the time someone attends for the third time. This gives me an opportunity to answer any questions they might have, and to better understand how we can serve them.
4. Starting Point membership class. By this point, we like to see people check out a starting point class. At the 45 minute orientation, they learn more about what we’re about and are challenged to take a next step. What are some next steps they can take? We encourage everyone to become followers of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, if someone is unchurched or coming in from a different denomination and wants to join the church, we enroll them in our “New Beginnings” bible study group where they spend 9 weeks studying some basics of Christianity, and what it means to be part of the Carrollwood Church family. At the end of that process, they’d be baptized and would become an official member of the church.
If they just want to transfer in from another Adventist Church, they still have to sign and agree to the covenant of what our church is about.
5. Join a small group. At this same membership class, we give them two more options. One is to join a small group. That’s the next step in our discipleship process. We like to get them connected to other people as soon as possible.
Lastly, people are given an opportunity to sign up for a ministry team. We tell them about some of the opportunities to serve. And we always have some opportunities in which anyone can participate and jump into.
That’s it. In a sense, that’s what we do. We are using a semester-based small group system, so after every semester, someone gets an opportunity to sign up for a different kind of small group. We used to have lots of other classes, but I’ve been convicted that discipleship happens best in the context of a small group.
Instead of having a discipleship class on spiritual growth that you rush through in four hours, it’s much better to have an 8-12 week small group in which people take the time to process and interact with the concepts. After all, they say that the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure. So if the class is too long, they won’t really be learning much because they’re so distracted.
So what about you? What are you learning and trying concerning discipleship? What does your discipleship process look like? What do you think is the best way?