The days of finding or creating a discipleship program, then using it for years, is over. Especially in a small church.
Our church created and implemented a great a discipleship class last year. In our church of 180 (average Sunday attendance) more than 60 adults took the class and got a lot out of it.
It’s been a huge win for us.
But I’m not going to tell you what our idea was. For two reasons.
First, because it was very specific to our church, our needs, our teaching style and our current circumstance, so the likelihood of it working elsewhere is slim.
Second, because, even though it worked really well, we’re not going to do it again.
What worked last year won’t work next year. Especially if you’re producing growing disciples, not just frequent attenders.
The Small Church Discipleship Dilemma
Our church doesn’t stick with any specific discipleship program for very long any more. Most of them are one and done.
We became aware of this challenge back in the in the 1990s, when we adapted the base path model from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church. We did it one year and it worked. A lot of people took Classes 101 through 401. So, when we restarted them the next year we expected a similar response and got … crickets.
A big church can use the same program year after year because there’s a big enough stream of new people to go through it.
But in a small church, it doesn’t take long for everyone who’s interested in a specific discipleship program to finish it. And there aren’t enough people coming in every year to replenish the well for the next go ‘round.
It’s not that people don’t want to be discipled, it’s that they don’t need the same class they’ve already been through.
Small church pastors are always looking for just the right discipleship program or curriculum to institute in their church. But the truth is, there is no “right” discipleship method – just the right one for right now.
As our church looks ahead to this fall, we’re not planning to redo last year’s successful program because 90 percent of the people who will ever want to do it have already done it.
So we’ll approach discipleship differently next year.
The Pastoral Role In Discipleship
Discipleship is a moving target in a small church. Especially for adults.
If pastors don’t do the hard work of keeping up, we’ll be left behind.
But if we pay attention to the needs of the church, adapting to the gifts, skills and schedules of the members, and we offer them something that helps them grow in their faith, they’ll jump on board with great enthusiasm.
Discipleship doesn’t happen because people finish a class. Sure, having good programs or curriculum can help, but programs must always take a back seat to the real needs of real people in real time.
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