Ed Stetzer: “Here are three methodological shifts churches should consider to more effectively make disciples.”
It’s long been said the seven last words of a church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
The effect of holding onto bad tradition, bad habits and bad strategy results in ineffective evangelism, stagnation and eventually death.
How can churches avoid holding onto mechanisms, strategies and traditions past their expiration date? How can churches be constantly effective in reaching their communities?
In light of modern cultural realities, here are three methodological shifts churches should consider to more effectively make disciples and reach our communities.
1. Consider scattering over gathering.
Why not push more of the functions of church life to the periphery of church, including the amount of times we gather? I know this may sound counterintuitive and I don’t want to completely de-emphasize large worship gatherings. Gatherings are biblical.
But it would make more sense—in our current context—to do less gathering and more scattering. We are beyond the place where saying, “Everyone come!” will bring unbelievers to a gathering. Churches need to have more of a “Let’s go!” mentality.
To be successful, leaders need to empower people. Church members need to be released as witnesses in their everyday lives—to be the “church scattered.”
In some cases, it’s helpful to empower small groups to have a broader functionality, even to the point of these groups functioning like little congregations. Some can be pre-church plants.
When ownership and responsibility is distributed, the more likely you are to have greater impact in a community.
2. Consider how to use pathways.
We need a simple and regularly applied approach to what I call “pathways.” A pathways strategy is when a church moves people from sitting in rows to sitting in circles. This simple rearrangement is a means of changing members from consumers to participants. Rows tend to focus everyone on a single person. Circles tend to focus everyone on each other.
Pathways transition people away from apathy and into groups where they’ll encourage one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). We need to help people live as agents of God’s mission.
Sometimes you have to stop doing good things to do the best things. That’s always a hard call, especially for churches. Churches that refuse to budge on the inerrancy of Scripture should be commended. But churches that confuse inerrancy with methodology should be corrected.
That tendency can be applied to aspects of ministry that have outlived their usefulness. We need clearer systems and processes that lead people from passivity to activity in involvement in the mission of God and serving one another.
3. Consider the “de-clergification” of ministry.
Within our theological understanding of church and ordination, let’s de-emphasize the role of clergy. Ironically, many low-church denominations are not a clergy-driven people, but we certainly function like a clergy people. Many low-church congregations have a leadership culture that is essentially a hierarchical priesthood. There’s one man who is the only one who has the authority to interpret and teach the Bible. To them, the pastor functions almost as an intermediary priest.
If you are a Protestant, you probably agree that clergification is a bad thing, even if you believe, as I do, that the role of pastor is a biblical role. And, you probably agree the Protestant Reformation emphasis on direct access to God was a reflection of the biblical teaching that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man.
I want to see a de-clergification of ministry in evangelical churches, in which God’s people own the ministry collaboratively and corporately and pastors serve as equippers of the saints in accordance with Ephesians 4:11—to equip God’s people for works of service to the building up of the body of Christ.
As we move into the future, churches need to scatter more, develop better pathways to encourage active members and combat clergification by equipping the entire body of Christ for service.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.