There is one goal and one foundational purpose in all we do in church communications and that is to make disciples.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matt: 28:18
These verses are our marching orders, what we are supposed to be about as representatives of Jesus here on earth-that seems obvious. The actions required by these verses also seems obvious-go, baptize, teach-with the end result of making disciples.
Why discipleship is essential for the church to survive—and why your communications are essential to develop disciples
What is painfully obvious in America today (and most of North America) is that as a whole, we aren't doing a very good job of fulfilling the Great Commission. This statistic from an article "Rethinking Leadership" by E.Glenn Wagner reports a situation to what many other studies also reveal:
"Of the some 400,000 churches in the USA today, 85% are not growing, 14% are growing by transfer growth, and only 1% are growing by conversion growth."
I could bore you with reams of more studies and statistics, but you know in the quietness of the your heart and the turmoil of your mind that the Christian church is losing ground, so let's skip the statistics and get to solutions.
The solution is to fully fulfill the Great Commission.
What it means to fully fulfill the Great Commission
It means to not stop short by getting people into the church and participating in an uplifting praise service and listening to a feel-good message. We fully fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples. To be satisfied with anything less for all of your people is incomplete obedience.
Your church communications, the complete program of them that goes through the Five Steps of Effective Church Communications, which is explained in another article on this site will give you the practical steps of what to do, but you won't have the strength or will to create all of those communications if you don't understand and believe how important it is to make disciples.
Making disciples as a priority would honestly be a shift in priorities for many churches today because most grow by adding attendees rather than making disciples. A key way to reverse the current slide into irrelevancy and decline in the church today is for the church to make it a priority to intentionally make disciples instead of just adding people to the pews.
It is not an easy or quickly accomplished task and we need to look at a few more reasons why it isn't being accomplished before we can reverse our situation.
Why we are where we are-a low expectation of who is to be a disciple
Somehow in many churches in America, the only person the church expects to be a mature disciple is the senior pastor. Churches have huge expectations for the pastor and perhaps other leadership, but few for the church members as a whole. Perhaps this is part of the pastor as super-star syndrome, the CEO model of leadership popular in the church today, or the misuse of delegation, where the pastor delegates and doesn't model, who knows, but this seems to be the situation.
Please don't misunderstand. The church should have high expectations in morality and integrity for church leaders, but these expectations should be the same for every member. But sadly, that is not the expectation in most churches. The situation in which we find ourselves is that most church members live lives no different from the world around them in terms of spiritual maturity. In sharp contrast is the biblical view that "we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4: 13-italics mine). I would venture to say that the expectation to become totally like Jesus, in other words, a mature disciple, would come as a surprise to many people attending church. Most people today come to church to feel good, not to learn how to die to self and bear a cross.
Discipleship is also essential to church growth because only mature disciples reproduce themselves.
My pastor husband often says, "Sheep have sheep, not the shepherd." The point he's making is that adult mature sheep have the babies. The shepherd's job is to nurture and grow sheep to maturity so the adult sheep can reproduce.
We'd think a shepherd a bit odd if he tried to grow his flock by building a big sheep pen and making it exciting so other sheep would desert their sheep pen and come over to his. We'd wonder what he was doing if he worked harder on advertising for other sheep to join his flock than on feeding his own so his sheep would grow to maturity and naturally increase the herd.
The analogies are obvious and the result is that it seems we've got some shepherds today with confused job descriptions.
The changes have to start at the top with how churches and pastors view their job.
The changing job description of shepherds
What has happened in many churches in America today is that the measure of success for a church, and its senior pastor in particular, has shifted from the New Testament standard of a job description to develop mature disciples to a job description to increase attendance on Sunday morning. From a church plant anxious to an increase every week to a mega-church with national television coverage, Sunday morning numbers seem all important.
Sadly, we all fall into this. I am always angry with myself, when one of the first questions, I find myself asking a seminar attendee when I'm talking to the group before I teach on church communications is, "How big is your church?"
There is a value in numbers in that we are called to win the world, but a focus on numbers alone is not the answer to building disciples or even ultimately to church growth because even if the pastor is energetic, hard-working, a great preacher, and wonderful at visitation, he or she cannot fully fulfill the Great Commission by simply adding numbers each week. With a big budget, a unthreatening message and a charismatic personality, a pastor might pack an auditorium, but numbers on Sunday do not mean a church is fully fulfilling the Great Commission.
There is only one way to fully fulfill the Great Commission and it's what Jesus said to do: make disciples. A mature disciple by definition will reproduce other disciples, who will produce other disciples. It's the principle of multiplication vs. simple addition in church growth. Here's how it works-
Back to basics: multiplication vs. addition
When I was in college I was involved with Navigator ministry and our leaders constantly impressed on us the importance of growing a ministry through multiplication rather than addition. The lesson following applies to any ministry whether you are building a church or campus ministry.
LeRoy Eims, my college Nav group leader, again and again would show us a checkerboard pattern of squares. He'd explain how if you start on square one, if you add one grain of wheat a day for a month on each square, when you get to the end of 30 days, you'll have 30 grains of wheat. The same thing would happen if you really hustle in your Christian life. If you knock on lots of dormitory doors, do lots of evangelism, engage in debates, and work really hard, maybe you can add one person a day to the ministry and that would be 30 people added at the end of the month.
Not bad, we'd be tempted to think-but LeRoy wasn't finished.
Of course, he'd go on, you're so busy just adding new believers, you don't have much time to take care of the ones you added the day before, you just hope they are OK and you press on because you want to grow the ministry. You're willing to burn out for Jesus and you keep up that pace for months. You make it all through the school year working like crazy and at the end of 9 months you've got 280 people in your campus ministry. LeRoy was still not pleased. What's wrong with that, we'd wonder?
But there is another way to grow a ministry LeRoy would explain. Imagine what could happen, if instead of just adding one person a day, you added one person and then the two of you each added two, instead of simple addition, you'd see the power of multiplication.
The charts below illustrate this:
Obviously multiplication is a much more effective way to increase numbers than simple addition, but expecting a person to be a reproducing disciple in one day isn't realistic. More realistically, what if you took a month to intensely disciple that person: helping him or her study the Bible, learn to pray, get involved in church and a small group, learn share their faith?
Though discipleship is a lifelong process, by the end of a month imagine your disciple in training is able to introduce one person to Jesus. If you do the same thing there are now 4 of you. The next month is spend on intensive discipleship involving 4 people with the expectation that each one introduces just one other person to Jesus during that month. Going into month 4, you've got 8 people.
Don't compare too soon
Multiplication ministry can be discouraging if another campus minister or pastor of a church down the road is doing great job of addition ministry. At the end of 4 months the person inviting aggressively (or sending out a slick direct mail campaign) has 120 people coming to his or her church or campus ministry, you've got 8. Looking at the numbers at that point, could make you think what you are doing isn't working. Numbers are important-we are commanded to reach the world, but don't evaluate the numbers too soon. In multiplication ministry, your focus is on discipling-making sure that your people become mature and can lead others to Jesus. If you do that, the numbers will take care of themselves.
Needless to say, the chart below is for illustration purposes only, but notice what happens at month 8:
The church or other ministry doing addition is up to 240, but your slow and steady discipleship building process has reached 256 people. You're finally about even, but then things start to shift dramatically. At the church or ministry that continues to grow primarily by addition, unless they have added staff to keep growing the numbers, one person can only do so much. But at the multiplication church where a core value is that the Great Commission is to be fully fulfilled and every convert is discipled to reproducing maturity and expected to introduce other people to Jesus and to disciple them, no one person wears out. By month or year 10, the church or ministry growing by addition is at 300 (and 80% of all churches in American are less than this in size). The church or ministry that has grown by discipleship is now at 1,024. To carry the illustration out 30 months, the addition church is at 900, and the multiplication church at 1,073,741,824.
This chart is obviously a challenge to illustrate contrasting processes-in a real world situation the actual growth of both groups will most likely be less. In churches that grow primarily by addition, the senior pastor is exhausted far short of gathering 900 members, and people who are never taught to get into God's Word and feed and care for themselves and others are bound to get frustrated if their needs aren't continuously met and will wander off to another church with a more interesting pastor and praise service.
In churches that grow by multiplication a variety of issues can enter in to keep the church from reaching its full potential. Not everyone has the time or interest to become a disciple. Cross-bearing, sacrifice, self-discipline and the reality of living as if we truly believe that our best life isn't now, but in heaven, is a tough sell in America today.
Tough sell or not, growing people to mature discipleship is the command given to the church if we are to fully fulfill the Great Commission.
My plan for helping churches fully fulfill the Great Communications through their church communications is explained in my Five Steps of Effective Church Communication & Marketing article and is fleshed out in the many other resources available through my ministry.
Good communication is essential, but it is not the only thing needed. Staff commitment, prayer, time, money, vision-so many things go into the make-up of a Great Commission fulfilling church. Church communications aren't everything, but it has been my experience from observing thousands of churches and their publications from over two decades of church communication teaching that a church can have the greatest vision and programs in place, but if they are not communicated well, nothing much happens. A vision that stays inside the heads and hearts of the pastor and staff and isn't communicated isn't a vision, it's a fantasy.
I am quite certain that my suggestions are not the only or the final answer. They are offered as part of the solution, but Lord willing, a useful part. A guiding inspiration for my ministry is the example of the children of Israel when they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah.
He records as they rebuilt the wall (a picture of how we are building up the church today in fulfillment of the Great Commission) how various people worked on a section of the wall directly in front of their home. Nobody had the responsibility to build the whole thing, but when each group did their part, the wall got built. Church communications is my section of the wall. Good communications isn't the only requirement for building up the Church, but I hope through my training and resources to do all I can to help you make this part of the wall strong as you build your church of disciples and fully fulfill the Great Commission our Lord gave us.
****Material from The Five Steps of Effective Church Communications and Marketing by Yvon Prehn