I am a senior pastor; I have been one for more than 30 years.
So, I know the subtle pressure that can sneak in: to produce, provide and program for those who show up each week. It often comes from a good place—we want to draw people into our church and keep them so we can help them know God. Plus, attendance and contribution numbers matter when you have made commitments to pay for your building, ministerial staff, and missional efforts.
But attempting to draw a crowd can also make the heart of a leader go numb, especially when you feel pressure to cater to the expectations of cultural and consumer Christians. They wince at Jesus’ hard teachings and they want the church to cater to their every desire and personal need.
Then, on the other hand, I also know what it means to call people to be disciples of Jesus.
With this juxtaposition, Easter presents a challenge for every church leader. How do we attend to the cultural/consumer Christians while also seeking to draw them into discipling relationships?
Here are five ways that we at my church will try to lead those who attend our Easter events to come back and join us in ongoing discipling relationships.
1. Clearly Cast the Vision
Easter is the time we celebrate hope in Jesus. We will talk about the gospel, about forgiveness, and about the resurrection of Jesus. But we will also talk about discipling relationships as we normally do. In the sermon and in the announcements, we will tell people that, as a church, we are ultimately about these relationships. We will tell stories, describe our experiences in groups, and we will invite people to join us in those relationships. We will make our vision clear: we are about relationships that help people to trust and follow Jesus.
2. Boldly Ask for One Specific Response
I have learned that people do fairly well when we clearly call them to one key response on Sunday. On Easter Sunday, it is very tempting to tell them about our great menu of ministries and people. As pastors we can easily rattle off the positive benefits of this or that ministry. But we will not do that on Easter.
People want a clear next step, not a menu of options. We have too many options today. Choices confuse people. They may not be interested, but if they are interested, they are not sure which option is the right one.
So we will invite people to make one response. We will invite them into a relational environment that looks at God’s Word. We will provide one option. We will describe it based upon their needs, their questions, and their desires. They may not join us the week after Easter, but they will clearly understand the next step, when they are ready to take the next step.
3. Provide Trained Leadership
If they come back and try out a group, they want good guides. They need a person who is trained, confident, and knows how to lead them. Too many people are confused – again, there are too many opinions, too many voices, too many invitations. They want a trusted source. They want someone the church leadership has trained and who knows what they are doing.
They also want trusted curriculum. Part of good leadership in discipling relationships is good material. Many discipling relationships never get properly started because the church has not made sure that the material is high quality. We are seeking to provide good leaders and good material for those who will follow our invitation to the next step.
4. Provide a Good Model
Most new people are nervous about trying any discipling group. They want good leadership and material, but they also want to try a model that church leadership knows works. If they try it, they are expecting that we have field tested it and we know what we are doing.
This is not a time for the latest idea or to try something that another church uses. Wise leaders know that people who try a group and find it to be a bad experience will resist ever trying it again. They make themselves vulnerable in trying a group and they want it to be a good experience. So we will seek to provide them with an introductory group experience that is tried and true.
5. Joyfully Make Sunday Services Excellent to Draw them Back
We also want to make their experience of Sunday to be a good one so that they will come back. Unless a friend takes them into a discipling relationship, they will want to hear more about the church and get a feel for who we are – and they will think about discipling relationships before they jump in. So we want them to continue attending our church.
We also want to continue praying for them – that God will open their hearts.
We seek to live in the tension of putting enough time and energy into Sunday services so that they are good, without putting all of our time, energy and resources into Sunday services so there is nothing left for discipling relationships. We want to draw people into our Sunday services and from there, draw them into discipling relationships.
Honestly, this last part can be a very difficult tension. Most people in churches today and people who visit churches want excellence on Sundays, but they do not easily perceive the need to be involved in discipling relationships during the week. So they may not understand that excellence in discipling relationships comes with a price. We have to balance our time, energy, and resources – we are not going to be able to compete with churches that put everything they have into their Sunday programming.
But that is a tension with which our leadership is happy live. We pray that God’s Spirit will work in us as we make disciples. We pray that God will be the one who adds that extra factor. We focus on this reality because we know God wants disciples, not just church attenders. We seek both quality and quantity, but if we have to pick, quality will win in the long run.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he made the mandate clear – he told us to make disciples who make disciples.
So that will be our focus this coming Easter Weekend. We hope you will join us.
By Bobby Harrington
Bobby Harrington is the point-leader of Discipleship.org, a collaborating ministry of disciple–making organizations, a host for National Forums, and a distributor of free content. It is a ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is also the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN) and the point-leader of Renew.org (a ministry that renews the teachings of Jesus to fuel disciple making). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of over 10 books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick), and Becoming a Disciple Maker: The Pursuit of Level 5 Disciple Making.
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