When we launched The Journey seven years ago, our first official edict was that you had to live within 10 minutes of the church to attend. It wasn't that we didn't care about those who lived farther away, but we were committed to an "organic" approach to mission and discipleship. Living in close proximity to one another would permit less structured, more spontaneous relationships. As people connected in coffee shops and homes, and as they read their Bibles, we believed they would grow.
But there was another reason for using an unstructured approach—our community struggled with authority. Some might refer to the artistic, bohemian young adults in urban St. Louis as "hippies." They were suspicious of structured organizations, finding them too controlling. They preferred a relationally-focused model, and that's what we created.
But as The Journey grew we faced a significant challenge. Most of our people, including those in leadership roles, were not mature believers. Biblical illiteracy was high, and while most leaders were engaged in discipleship relationships, it was unclear whether they were forming disciples of Jesus Christ or simply replicating themselves.
It dawned on us that everything could not remain organic. A more intentional, structured approach to discipleship was necessary.
In my research I found that churches often lean in one of two directions. Some believe that people should be "self-feeders." The church's responsibility is to create impressive worship services with practical teaching, and maybe connect members into relational groups. From there, however, the people are expected to do the rest. Their spiritual growth is in their own hands.
On the other side are churches who are "spoon-feeders." They place a high value on biblical teaching and exposition. The sermons are deep and these churches imply that if you just come and listen, you'll grow in your faith. "Maturity migration" happens when attenders at a "self-feeder" church desire more depth and make the shift to a "spoon-feeder" congregation.
There are problems on both extremes. We should not expect the church to do everything, but we cannot undervalue the role of the church either. Gospel preaching and Bible exposition are vital, but equipping believers to take responsibility for their own growth is also important.
We decided that The Journey should pursue a model somewhere in the middle—a "both/and" strategy for discipleship. We didn't want to get caught up into the "structure or no structure" debate. Instead we asked, "What kind of structure? Can we create structures that facilitate our mission and avoid ones that don't?"
We started to bolster our loose, organic model by launching a leadership training class and aligning our small groups around the same curriculum. Many of our structure-suspicious people did not react well. They accused us of "selling out" and abandoning the promise that "we weren't going to be like other churches." Some said the new initiatives were "too controlling."
Small group leaders were used to calling pastors at all hours of the day and night to discuss their groups and ask for advice—they clearly wanted training. But when we created a meeting where they could be trained, they didn't want it. Many preferred the loose, relational way it used to be.