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My church is waking up to the steady decline of participation, commitment and membership. We want to redefine our "purpose" as a church, and along with want to start a group to learn to be true disciples of our Lord Jesus.

Can anyone share what has worked for you? What did you do? What materials did you use? Any ideas are appreciated!

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I have been turning churches around for years. Some have done well and some have died. Those that have done well have listened and tried to make disciples. Those that have died had division in leadership and it was often not known until I started down the road of asking them to do ministry with me. It is amazing how many excuses they have had. I have planted and replanted churches. It is easier to start a new church than it is to turn one around. The estimates I have read are that 70-80 percent of the churches in America are plateaued or dying. The main reason why is not they do not have enough intellectual knowledge but they are not doing ministry. So many pastors have been taught that if they just preach the word then people will come. Nonsense!! If they only do that, then they are being disobedient and do not know it. James 1:22 says they are deluded if they are not doers of the word.

I have known several churches that were dying to the point of where they could hardly pay the light bill. Two churches I know were at one time over 1000 and reached a low of about 15. The people hung on for years and finally gave up. Both of them went back to the denomination. Both of them closed for about 3 months. They brought in a new pastor and the old leadership was gone. Within four years the churches were bigger than they had ever been. One was more than double what it had ever been in four years.

First off you need to define and demonstrate what a disciple truly is. I am convinced that very few know and understand what Jesus taught and did in its historical context. The historical background of the day was Judaism. In the past century there has been a complete disregard for discipleship within the context of Judaism. The Jews knew what discipleship under a rabbi was.

 

Some good books to read on the subject are:

Following the Master by Michael J. Wilkins

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life by Lois Tverberg

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg 

Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples by Jim Putman

Church is a Team Sport: A Championship Strategy for Doing Ministry Together by Jim Putman

Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual: Equipping Disciples Who Make Disciples by Avery T Willis Jr, Jim Putman, Bill Krause and Brandon Guindon  

I have found very few who know what a disciple is and what one looks like in America. There are lots of opinions and that will not work because the ignorant and troublemakers have a voice. I have found that churches are often one of the most difficult to turn around because everyone has an opinion of what a disciple is and most of the time it revolves around intellectual knowledge. I have developed a two year program of intensive leadership and study for those who want to be leaders and disciple others. It involves some basic discipleship materials such as the Nav books, both the OT and NT surveys, basic hermeneutics, a few books studies to teach them how to apply what they have learned. I also teach each of the men to do ministry by taking them with me when I do ministry. I usually start off by visiting someone they know and are comfortable with. Then I proceed from there and deal with what comes along as they ask questions and meet people. Each week I ask them to share something from their devotional life.

There is a reason why churches are dying. The most common reason is that they are not doing ministry. Too often the leaders are looking back and they do not have a clue on how to turn a church around. It can be done but the pastor must he highly focused on making disciples. Many are practical atheists. The have conservative theology and live their lives like atheists. The fact is that few who were in the Navigators in college and in the military when they were younger are making disciples today. So if that is the case then what is the likelihood you will have success with those who are old wineskins? So take it slow and meet with just a few who are with you. Too many try to get the entire church with them. Jesus could not even get that so why should we expect to be able to have that many?

Today I spend more time asking people about their devotional life and praying with them. In the past few years I have been amazed at how many college age students I meet with who know someone already they can meet with each week.

In the past two years I have been meeting with pastors to teach them how to make disciples. One of them was asked to leave because they saw where he was headed. He is now planting a church in another state and making disciples. Another I meet with is making disciples and doing very well.

 

Turning around churches can be done but it takes a focus that is intense and has a disregard for those who want to cause trouble. I have had people yell at me in leadership meetings. I have had people call others and stir up trouble. I have had people make noise in the congregation. I have been in fear at times. I also have been tremendously blessed when a church grows and people begin to express thanks and give God the glory.

Recently I had a church call me from another state and they want me to come and help them. So far I turned them down because they are not serious enough and focused enough to do whatever it takes. Discipleship is a choice but eventually it must be the only choice. Until a church gets to that point it is still divided. Be prepared for Satan's head to show. It is a spiritual work and the leaders must be prepared to deal with false teachers and antagonists

Ken,

We are being coached by 3DM (weare3dm.com) in creating huddles and missional communities. What I like about the process is that it has a simple language (LifeShapes) which allows disciples discipled to then disciple others. We've attended a twice yearly Lerarning Community led by them (have completed 3 of 4).


Gerald, this was extremely helpful information. I am not a pastor and not trained to lead a discipleship group, but do feel that the Lord is calling me to do something. I'm just trying to figure out how to get started! I plan to share your comments with some Christian friends, and perhaps start reading some of the books you referenced. Do you have a recommendation on which one to start with?
Gerald Polmateer said:

I have been turning churches around for years. Some have done well and some have died. Those that have done well have listened and tried to make disciples. Those that have died had division in leadership and it was often not known until I started down the road of asking them to do ministry with me. It is amazing how many excuses they have had. I have planted and replanted churches. It is easier to start a new church than it is to turn one around. The estimates I have read are that 70-80 percent of the churches in America are plateaued or dying. The main reason why is not they do not have enough intellectual knowledge but they are not doing ministry. So many pastors have been taught that if they just preach the word then people will come. Nonsense!! If they only do that, then they are being disobedient and do not know it. James 1:22 says they are deluded if they are not doers of the word.

I have known several churches that were dying to the point of where they could hardly pay the light bill. Two churches I know were at one time over 1000 and reached a low of about 15. The people hung on for years and finally gave up. Both of them went back to the denomination. Both of them closed for about 3 months. They brought in a new pastor and the old leadership was gone. Within four years the churches were bigger than they had ever been. One was more than double what it had ever been in four years.

First off you need to define and demonstrate what a disciple truly is. I am convinced that very few know and understand what Jesus taught and did in its historical context. The historical background of the day was Judaism. In the past century there has been a complete disregard for discipleship within the context of Judaism. The Jews knew what discipleship under a rabbi was.

 

Some good books to read on the subject are:

Following the Master by Michael J. Wilkins

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life by Lois Tverberg

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg 

Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples by Jim Putman

Church is a Team Sport: A Championship Strategy for Doing Ministry Together by Jim Putman

Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual: Equipping Disciples Who Make Disciples by Avery T Willis Jr, Jim Putman, Bill Krause and Brandon Guindon  

I have found very few who know what a disciple is and what one looks like in America. There are lots of opinions and that will not work because the ignorant and troublemakers have a voice. I have found that churches are often one of the most difficult to turn around because everyone has an opinion of what a disciple is and most of the time it revolves around intellectual knowledge. I have developed a two year program of intensive leadership and study for those who want to be leaders and disciple others. It involves some basic discipleship materials such as the Nav books, both the OT and NT surveys, basic hermeneutics, a few books studies to teach them how to apply what they have learned. I also teach each of the men to do ministry by taking them with me when I do ministry. I usually start off by visiting someone they know and are comfortable with. Then I proceed from there and deal with what comes along as they ask questions and meet people. Each week I ask them to share something from their devotional life.

There is a reason why churches are dying. The most common reason is that they are not doing ministry. Too often the leaders are looking back and they do not have a clue on how to turn a church around. It can be done but the pastor must he highly focused on making disciples. Many are practical atheists. The have conservative theology and live their lives like atheists. The fact is that few who were in the Navigators in college and in the military when they were younger are making disciples today. So if that is the case then what is the likelihood you will have success with those who are old wineskins? So take it slow and meet with just a few who are with you. Too many try to get the entire church with them. Jesus could not even get that so why should we expect to be able to have that many?

Today I spend more time asking people about their devotional life and praying with them. In the past few years I have been amazed at how many college age students I meet with who know someone already they can meet with each week.

In the past two years I have been meeting with pastors to teach them how to make disciples. One of them was asked to leave because they saw where he was headed. He is now planting a church in another state and making disciples. Another I meet with is making disciples and doing very well.

 

Turning around churches can be done but it takes a focus that is intense and has a disregard for those who want to cause trouble. I have had people yell at me in leadership meetings. I have had people call others and stir up trouble. I have had people make noise in the congregation. I have been in fear at times. I also have been tremendously blessed when a church grows and people begin to express thanks and give God the glory.

Recently I had a church call me from another state and they want me to come and help them. So far I turned them down because they are not serious enough and focused enough to do whatever it takes. Discipleship is a choice but eventually it must be the only choice. Until a church gets to that point it is still divided. Be prepared for Satan's head to show. It is a spiritual work and the leaders must be prepared to deal with false teachers and antagonists

I would suggest starting with a very good DVD that is done on discipleship. It is Faith Lessons - In the Dust of the Rabbi, Volume 6 by Ray Vander Laan

If you want to better understand the historical context of what Jesus taught in regards to discipleship I would suggest starting with the book,  Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. That book gives a good picture of what a disciple under a rabbi did and brings that into what Jesus taught. In reading that book you will see that what Jesus did was not all that new and His disciples understood what Jesus meant when He chose them.

If you want a scholarly treatment on what discipleship is then read the book, Following the Master by Michael J. Wilkins. It is not light reading but it will make you think. I know he makes disciples and speaks all over the world on the subject.

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