This article is the third in a series of resources to help you move beyond the pull of being a church focused on addition. In this series, we will be highlighting five shifts necessary to move your church from addition to multiplication. You can read about the first shift here, and you can find the first article in the series here.
Disciples vs. Consumers
One of the most common laments I heard from pastors and ministry leaders coming out of the pandemic was, “I can’t believe how quickly and easily our people scattered when we shut down our Sunday gathering.” There was a growing concern that perhaps churches had so watered down what it means to be a disciple of Jesus that their people were actually acting more like consumers of Christian goods and services than true disciples.
Too many of our churches in pursuit of addition have lowered their expectations of a “disciple.”
Too many of our churches in pursuit of addition have lowered their expectations of a “disciple.” For some, being a disciple means nothing more than attending a service three out of five weekends, giving 2% of their income, volunteering when asked, and participating in a mission project once a year. (And for too many churches this also describes their elders.)
A Shift in Expectations
The first of five critical shifts involved changing the scorecard. The second requires a shift in the expectations of every believer. I would suggest that the core purpose of the Church is discipleship. Further it seems that biblical discipleship means making disciples who make disciples. In other words, it is better to say the core purpose of the Church is to make “disciple makers.”
It is better to say the core purpose of the Church is to make “disciple makers.”
Imagine a church that pursues and measures fourth-generation disciples as their primary metric of success. That’s a Level 5 expression of the Church! How might your schedule and budget change next year if you committed, above all else, to pursue and measure multigenerational disciples instead of weekend attendance?
I’ve had the privilege of serving many denominations through my work at Exponential. Many are making great strides. But, anecdotally, I can say the vast majority of vocational pastors are not doing any disciple making beyond speaking behind a pulpit. For many of them, it’s because they were never discipled; they don’t know what disciple making is supposed to look like. That’s concerning if the core purpose of the Church is truly discipleship. If we can’t get our heads, hearts, and hands around that, then we will be stuck in the patterns of the past.
Understanding Jesus’ way of disciple making is critical because this is how Jesus built multiplication into the Church. The majority of our efforts focus on getting a crowd to show up on the weekend, but that’s exactly the opposite of the approach Jesus took. He could clearly gather crowds, so if crowds were the means for effective Kingdom multiplication, why did he say things that caused crowds to leave?
The majority of our efforts focus on getting a crowd to show up on the weekend, but that’s exactly the opposite of the approach Jesus took.
We don’t know exactly how Jesus spent his time during his three years of ministry. Yet, what God chose to preserve for us in the Gospels suggests that 73% with some iteration of the 12 who most closely followed him (For more on how Jesus spent his time, read Dann Spader’s writings in Four Chair Discipling and Growing a Healthy Church). He could draw a crowd (probably bigger than yours), yet he chose to build the greatest movement the world has ever seen by personally pouring into only a relative few.
A Shift in Opportunities
The third shift involves missionary opportunities for every believer, and it begins by embracing the fact that the Great Commission was meant for EVERY Christ follower.
The Great Commission was meant for EVERY Christ follower.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20)
Imagine how easy it would be to win a competition if you could get 98% of the other team to sit in the stands instead of participating. That’s what the enemy has done to us. Most Christ followers sit in the stands watching the vocational pastors on the field, donating money when the plate is passed, and volunteering in the concession stand from time to time.
I have yet to meet a pastor who would say they did not believe in the priesthood of all believers. But many would be hard pressed to prove it by the way they invest their time and manage their church’s calendar and budget. If we’re not careful, the strategy becomes to get as many people through the doors on Sunday as possible and hope something sticks.
Mobilization is the bridge between disciple making and a multiplication movement! We serve a “sent” God who came to us and then sent us. We are to live “sent” in order to be the Church, “which is [Jesus’] body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23). That requires every believer! The core purpose of the Church combined with Jesus’ multiplication method produces disciples who make disciples who plant churches that plant churches.
Mobilization is the bridge between disciple making and a multiplication movement!
But what if some of your best leaders no longer had time to serve both the church and the ministry initiative they began? Could you release them from the responsibilities of the church and approve (and even encourage) the transition? To make this shift you’d need to not only approve of it, but you’d need to resource, celebrate, and champion that extension of the Kingdom.
You could say that the motto for many churches has been “We can do it; you can help” (“we” meaning the pastoral staff). We have the vision. We have the programs. Just come here, and we will show you where to plug in.
That’s not bad, but I think it misses the mark. I would suggest that the motto be “You can do it; we can help.” Imagine a church that embraces their responsibility to disciple people into their calling (since we’re all called to be missionaries), a church that helps people understand and embrace their Ephesians 2:10 gifts as God-ordained masterpieces created uniquely for a purpose. That’s powerful! That’s the root of real Kingdom impact.
If you’re looking for practical ways to move from simply recruiting volunteers to mobilizing missionaries, check out Made for More: Six Essential Shifts for Creating a Culture of Multiplication by Todd Wilson and Rob Wegner. You can download the Made for More kit for free HERE. You’ll find a Bible study from Ephesians, along with a variety of associated videos.
(Next up is shift four talking about a new operating system.)
- What is your definition of “disciple”?
- In what ways does your church’s current discipleship pathway contribute to or inhibit multiplication?
- How many of your people would identify themselves as everyday “missionaries” with a calling to where they live, work, learn, or play?