As a senior pastor, spiritual leader and ministry coach, reaching people with the gospel has always been important to me. Decades ago, I planted New Beginnings Church (NBC), a solo church plant located in Matthews, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte. NBC started with 12 people in a recreation center without outside support or a launch group. It has organically developed over time to see over 7,000 members and three locations. One unique aspect of NBC is that it is a multigenerational church that seeks to reach several demographics, including young families and Generations X, Y and Z.
In order to grow the church, we recognized early on the necessity of being intentional with a systematic plan of discipleship and evangelism. Prior to the pandemic, members reported numerous stories about sharing Christ and seeing responses to the gospel. And throughout 2020, members were challenged to be even more creative about sharing the good news of Jesus. Even now, central has been understanding the relationship between evangelism and discipleship.
ONE AND THE SAME
Evangelism and discipleship are not two separate entities, but one and the same. In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples. It is a mistake to separate evangelism and discipleship. John MacArthur dealt with this in his teaching of lordship salvation. Many Christians separate Jesus as Lord and Jesus as Savior, and that’s confusing. If Jesus is our Savior, then he is automatically our Lord. And because he is Lord, his commandments are not optional but are directional.
When Jesus says to go and make disciples, conversion is implied. There is no harvest without intentionality around evangelism and discipleship. Many faith traditions and churches have separated the two; however, I don’t believe you can. It is analogous to giving birth and leaving the hospital without the baby. God has set it up so when we win people to Christ, there must be a family to help the child develop in Christ. That is the role of the church.
In order for churches to be effective in this arena, it is crucial to set up programming and ministry to take people from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. Thus, true discipleship has an intentional organic element. John 13:34–35 states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Discipleship has to do with our relationship with God, and how we relate to each other.
COME, GROW, SERVE AND GO
At NBC, we have an intentional organic discipleship process employing our core values, which are Come, Grow, Serve and Go.
We encourage converts to come to the church and learn more about Jesus Christ. We have discipleship points to help them take the next steps in their relationship with Jesus and to share their testimony and the gospel with others. These initial steps (the early stages of their spiritual adolescence) enable them to grow in their faith as they go deeper into the Word, attend Bible study, adult life classes, life groups and other areas for spiritual growth. These are all tools to aid in discipling.
As they graduate to the next level in their walk with God (this would be considered spiritual young adulthood), they are now able to identify their spiritual gifts, which allow them to serve in the kingdom to edify the body and glorify God. At each step, dynamic discipleship happens, enabling these believers to grow into mature Christians (grown-ups in the faith), and go disciple others in various ways.
The ultimate goal is to continue deputizing disciples through an organizational process set up to display organic discipleship, and be a missional and attractional church.
READY, SET, GROW
NBC aims to teach people how to share their faith and how to have spiritual conversations, including teaching people how to develop relationships so they can share the gospel to get others on the pathway to discipleship.
First, our leaders read You Found Me by Rick Richardson (IVP), which contains research on how unchurched nones, millennials and the irreligious populations think and believe. Secondly, life group members have studied Becoming a Contagious Christian by Mark Mittelberg, Lee Strobel and Bill Hybels (Zondervan). This study trains participants how to share their faith in a smart, wise and easy manner.
Our discipleship process is set up to move people to their spiritual next step. When a guest or convert is at a point of making a decision or pre-decision about salvation, membership and/or rededication, we take them through a formal orientation where we start building a relationship with them. Those who attend the orientation learn what we believe as a church, the mission of the church, what drives our relationship with God and our commitment to our community.
After the orientation, members and nonmembers are encouraged to attend our Connect Institute. In three segments, it teaches participants what God commands us to do as believers. Segment 1 is Discovering Church Membership. Segment 2 is Discovering My Spiritual Maturity, where we suggest methods on how to grow in their Christian faith through prayer, Bible study and daily devotional time with God. And Segment 3 is Discovering My Spiritual Ministry, where participants learn about their spiritual gifts.
Our weekly large-group Bible studies, which were held completely virtually throughout 2020, enable us to continue to develop people and teach them the principles of faith. We have also seen effectiveness with our weekly adult life classes (aka Sunday school).
Specialized discipleship at NBC includes the Ministers in Training Program for those who sense a call to ministry. It is a one- to two-year process that covers in-depth Scripture study, character development and the major doctrines of the faith. Next Level Leadership is a men’s mentoring program that I personally lead; Titus 2 Ministry is a mentoring program for millennial women led by my wife and a team of seasoned women.
Any ministry can experience organic evangelism and discipleship when intentional training and development is implemented.