Our church was founded in a time when marketing to gather a crowd for a “launch service” was the prevailing approach. That was how I was trained, so that is what I did. All my energy in the early days was focused on that first service. I didn’t stop to consider just what I would do with people when they actually showed up.
When I realized I’d need something to catch people who came to that first service, I quickly recruited a few small group leaders and gave them the titles of a few of my favorite studies. With that amount of preparation, we launched about ten small groups. Against all odds, those first groups managed fairly well, providing at least the appearance of spiritual care and connection for about half the adults in our community.
Ironically, the relative success of those first groups actually worked against our long-term growth. Because we had the “problem” of discipleship and connection “solved,” I moved on to other things and never took the time to develop a more mature and integrated system of active connection. As a consequence, our growth as those groups stagnated. Since then, our small group system has undergone several near-death experiences on the way to being finally revived and systematized for sustained growth.
Through failure, I learned the power of systems. To correct my early and naive mistakes, we have now built a system that works its way into every group, ministry and conversation of the church. Understanding that an integrated system requires attention to several key areas, we are now engaged in five initiatives to support a healthier, more sustainable system for making disciples.
Our model has always been discipleship through small groups. What we have failed to emphasize is the sense of apprenticeship in the nature of Christlikeness. We have over-emphasized studies and under-emphasized the spiritual spadework of healing, accountability, spiritual disciplines, and authentic spiritual conversation.
Unlike performance, which can be measured in steps, spiritual growth is measured in effectiveness, or what the Bible might call fruitfulness. Recognizing that measuring fruitfulness is a somewhat subjective pursuit, we believe there are at least some recognizable indicators present in someone who is authentically, actively following Jesus. They will have a basic understanding of Christian doctrine, a working knowledge of the Bible, a desire to serve others, an expectation to lead in the area of their giftedness and a hunger to grow more deeply in their relationships to God and others.
With the above character traits as our markers, we have developed the following five categories of adult groups:
- Beginning the journey (Introductory and Invitational Bible and Topical Study Groups)
- Learning the Trail (Foundational Bible and Topical Study Groups)
- Boots on the Ground (Mission and Ministry Teams that include a teaching and accountability component)
- Learning to Lead (Leadership Development Groups)
- Going Deeper (Focused Formational Groups)
Fruitfulness in this system is measured in the ways we connect people to groups appropriate to their level of formation. It is also measured in our ability to move folks forward from foundational learning to deeper levels of discipleship, service, leadership and ultimately, the joy of sacrificial giving.
We are convinced that giving is fundamentally a discipleship issue, a tangible, practical act of devotion. Those who do not give have an issue in their relationship with God. Those who give with strings attached have an issue in their relationship with God. Those who are not reaching their potential as givers have an issue in their relationship with God. In our teaching on discipleship and in our annual plan for budget education, our main work is not to develop givers but to develop disciples who are compelled by faith to give.
Staff and leader discipleship
We require that all staff and leadership team meetings begin with a discussion that orients us toward the spiritual care of the group members before we tackle the business of the church. We open every meeting (staff, finance, trustees, leadership council, etc) with three questions:
- How is it with your soul (or with your life in God)?
- Where have you seen Jesus at work in your life in the last week/ since we last met?
- How can we pray for you?
When we begin this way, the business conversations that follow are more kind, productive, and sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bonds are deepened. Christ is honored.
We used to recruit leaders by finding warm bodies willing to do a job, then putting their name at the top of the list. Now, we are more intentional. Through the invaluable support and training of Asbury’s Lay Ministry Institute, we’ve learned to develop spiritual leadership that values covenant-building, Bible study, prayer and vision-casting. This has helped tremendously to build health and effectiveness into our teams. We no longer recruit leaders; we raise them up.
Physical Resources for Spiritual Advancement
We consider our building a tool for our mission, which is to make disciples. Our master plan is an interpretation in blueprint form of the stories of transformation that have been told by our own people. We want even our building to reflect our vision for diffusing discipleship throughout a community of faith, for the sake of a lost and hurting world.
Mosaic exists to share hope and life, and create stories of transformation. Whether in our personal stories or in our corporate story, we can program our way into all kinds of activities that make us look very busy and engaged, but still miss the big story. God’s plan is not for the discipleship of his people to be one more activity in a long list of to-do’s but the basic building block in the formation of a new society.