I think had one of those “Is that me or did the Spirit just throw this in my brain?” moments this morning. I’m sure it’s nothing new. I’m sure there are already churches somewhere that operate like this intentionally or otherwise. And it isn’t like I think God just showed me the right way to do this and everyone should do it this way too. Too many variables like size, locations, etc. But I think it could be very cool and I welcome some feedback on it.
We are a small-ish fellowship of about 50 adults. The church has been around for 9 years, I have been the pastor for almost a month now. We are a bedroom community of Hillsboro, OR which is a bedroom community to Portland, OR. There are about 20K people in our town. Lots of farm land around. Lots of high tech around. Needless to say there is some transition going on. I don’t even live in the community the church is in yet, may family commutes on Sunday. It will have to be that way for the time being. The previous pastor did most of the work. He led the college group, the youth group, the mens group, his wife led the women’s group. Needless to say there are lots of pairs of shoes to fill. That’s the setting.
How things work now. It has to do with what we’ve been discussion concerning discipleship and how it is (or isn’t) done in a fellowship. I asked a friend of mine in the midwest if there is any kind of discipleship going on in the CC she attends. She didn’t know of any at all. That saddened me. So here’s the deal. Typically, a church has a men’s ministry, a women’s ministry, a youth ministry, perhaps a college/singles ministry. These ministries typically meet on a night of the week as a group. They gather for worship (if you have the resources) and Bible study. It is kind of like having church for that specialized group. Isn’t it? The churches I have participated in that are medium to large usually work this way. If they have the further resources each group might be organized into smaller groups that meet when they can. That’s where the discipleship is supposed to happen. I had that in high school. We called it our small group. Later I led one when I was an intern. (I’m proud to say that most of those guys are in some kind of ministry today.) So the model is basically like this; a group ministry that regularly meets, with smaller groups if possible.
So what’s this revelation I had? To flip the thing around. I can do this because I’m already in that small church setting. Instead of having these group meetings every week and making them the focus, having those be the thing you bring your friends to, make the smaller group, the discipleship group the focus. Let’s say I only have 5-10 women in the church who want to be discipled. That’s enough for my wife to handle as a small discipleship group. They will get together once a week and go through a study. She won’t be the teacher that teaches a sermon for 40 minutes. Rather she will interact with them, help them study the word, talk about practical life issues on how to be a follower of Jesus that is married, an employee, a mom, a student, whatever. At the same time she is raising up one or two specific women to one day lead their own groups as growth occurs. Instead of inviting a friend to come see the show at the large group, she comes and participates in a small group where she can ask her own questions, see the reality of the struggles other women face, and how walking in the Spirit enables them to have real life despite circumstances. There is something to be said for gathering as a large group. Instead of making in the main event, we do it maybe once a month so that there is a sense of being a part of something bigger. It would still look like the old large group meeting with worship and a study, but it isn’t the draw, the main event.
The same would be done with mens, college, and yes, even youth group. I have never really liked the youth group model, at least the ones I have been exposed to. It seems, for the most part, based on what I’ve seen and read about, the typical youth group is really focused on being a draw. It seems all about creating a fun environment with games, food, music, all that stuff that there is nothing wrong with in and of itself, but have nothing to do with teaching kids to follow Jesus. It’s about getting them in the doors so you have a chance to give them the message and hope something happens. The rest of the time they are on MySpace posting and reading trash, or watching the latest kid fight videos on YouTube. If you are lucky, you have the volunteers who are mature enough to lead a small group, and kids whose lives aren’t so consumed with sports, jobs, and relationships that they will make the time to participate in a small group. We normally have 20-30 kids on a Wednesday night which is pretty good for being out in the sticks like we are. (Sorry, I’m talking about the church I’m an associate at, not the one I’m transitioning into as pastor). Two weeks ago there was a home basketball game for districts. We had four kids show up. Two of the three guys in our worship team are in pep band so we had no worship team. Last week was Valentines Day. We had 15 kids. Last night was another district game but it was away. We had 8 kids, then four more showed up 30 minutes late, and no worship team again (the pep band went to the game).
So, as with the women’s ministry example above, start as a discipleship group with the youth. That’s what kids bring their friends to. As it grows and you have the people power, split the groups up based on gender and age. Have a large group meeting maybe once a month and have the games and food then, with a study of course. This way the emphasis is put on real growth, real training. They don’t need more social time. They get that at school and on the weekends. They need strong Godly examples to follow and to hold them accountable.
That’s what I have so far. What do you think? Do you know of others already operating this way? Are there any obvious glaring flaws in this that I’m missing or have not addressed? Again, I’m not saying this is the right way to do it or that anyone else should do it. Just something to help me put my discipleship money where my discipleship mouth is.