It has become fashionable these days for churches to preach "disciple making." Everyone is for it. Everyone claims it as a priority. The words, however, often exceed the reality.
A tragic personal experience made the need for disciple-making a passion with me.
Several of my relatives attend the same church and had been trying for years to get my aunt involved. After much patient influence, she and her husband finally agreed to attend.
Following a couple of visits, the church leaders began sending people to their home each week on evangelistic visits. My aunt and her husband were impressed with people's concern; eventually they made decisions to follow Christ and to become church members.
The tragedy: never again did anyone from the church contact them about spiritual things. As a result, they dropped out within a couple of years because they felt ignored. From their perspective, the church was concerned only with adding two more names to the membership rolls.
Churches cannot assume the job is done once someone makes a "decision" for Christ. We must fully incorporate each individual into the life of the church. And that job never ends.
In fact, author Lyle Schaller goes so far as to say, "It is un-Christian for a congregation to seek new members unless it is also willing and able to accept them into that called-out community."
Most Christians would agree with the need to help people grow into spiritual maturity. The question is how?
At West Valley Christian Church, we discovered an approach that has been amazingly effective, an approach that uses as its launching point an unlikely method: a study of Bible history.
Of course, the subject matter is merely the focus around which we gather. The other elements vital to making disciples—prayer, natural relationships with more mature Christians, the opportunity to ask practical questions, and the chance for new believers to share their own growing faith—are all part of the experience.
It began a few years ago when our staff, under the direction of Minister Glenn Kirby, began sensing that people didn't know Bible history. In Sunday school, references to the Babylonian exile brought blank stares. In sermons, mentioning the judges or Paul's imprisonment left people puzzled. We realized people couldn't fully understand any Bible text if they didn't know the historical settings.
Our strategy? A nine-month overview of Bible history for our adult Sunday school classes. We wrote our own curriculum, and the results surprised us. During those nine months, we gained 60 people in our Sunday school (we'd averaged 150 to that point), and after the class our people understood the basic story line of the Bible from Creation to the spread of the church.
But a new problem quickly arose. What do we do with newcomers? How do we provide them with this same solid foundation? Someone suggested we adapt the overview for one-on-one Bible study and use it for disciple making.
It worked. Led by Glenn Kirby's initiative and creativity, we put together a 61-page workbook, complete with maps and charts, to be taught in eight 1 1/2-hour lessons. The workbook and the Bible would be the only tools necessary.
Next, we recruited people capable of teaching the material—not to a whole class, but to one or two others in their living rooms. Of those who'd completed the Sunday school class, 50 happily offered to pass along what they'd learned.
Many invited friends or neighbors to spend eight weekly sessions getting an overview of the Bible. If they couldn't find someone on their own, we introduced them to recent visitors to the church or others who wanted to brush up on the Bible.