Category Archives: Discipleship
“Assimilating and Making Disciples in the Local Church”
Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig
Larry Osborne is a pastor’s pastor and a leader’s leader. He has successfully made and multiplied disciples in the same local church for over thirty years. Whenever he writes a book I read it; re-read it; and make sure my staff and leaders read it as well. Larry started with a small struggling church and has successfully developed multiplying disciples of Christ in San Diego and all over the world through their simple church model of assimilation and discipleship through their intentional and strategic implementation of small groups.
In Sticky Church Osborne writes about a simple strategic process for developing a small group ministry that is extremely effective in assimilating attenders and new comers in the church and helping them become connected and committed to making and multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ for the long-haul.
Part 1 is composed of four chapters whereby Osborne makes a compelling case for a simple model and strategy in developing a “sticky church.” A sticky church is a church where people “stick” or stay because they immediately become convinced and unified around the vision; and live out this vision in the context of a small group. In Osborne’s church in Vista, California (a suburb of San Diego) 80% of church attenders (over 7,000 adults) become committed to their small groups – what they call “growth groups.” The whole idea of “stickiness” is keeping people in the church (what he calls “closing the back door”) so that you have a high retention of attenders who stay and grow because they commit to a small group that’s committed to their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Here are some insightful quotes from the first four chapters:
“But we’ve often become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.”
“What does Jesus’ parable about the four soils have to say about the way we do church? To my thinking it says a lot. And one of the most important things it says about churches is that stickiness matters.”
“They [the principles in this book and the sermon-based model used by North Coast Church) worked just as well when we were a small church of less than two hundred adults as they do today in a multisite megachurch with more than seven thousand in weekend attendance.”
“Almost all our growth has come by word of mouth.”
“We’ve simply tried to serve our people so well that they’ll want to bring their friends, without needing to be asked to do so.”
“Everything we do is aimed at helping the Christians we already have grow stronger in Christ. But everything is done in such a way that their non-Christian friends will understand all that we’re saying and doing.”
“Bottom line: We’ve tried to create a perfect storm for come-and-see evangelism while velcroing newcomers for long-term spiritual growth.”
“In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.”
“It’s as though they assumed (people that think that sermon-based small groups only work in a megachurch) that North Coast was always big church—or at least became one overnight…Not so…North Coast grew quite slowly in the early days. It took five years to go from 130-180. It took another five years to reach 750.”
“This is not an anti-marketing or anti-programs book. It’s a pro-stickiness book.”
“What matters is not the size of the church or the slickness of the programming . What matters is that those who come find a ministry and relationships worthy of spontaneous word-of-mouth recommendations. When that happens, a church is primed to hold on to the people it already has and the people they bring with them.”
“A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction (talking about the first big change necessary to developing a sticky church – retaining new comers).”
“The second big change was in the way I taught and led our congregation. Focusing on the front door aimed everything at two kinds of people: the not-yet Christian or the super saint who was ready to help me charge the hill. There wasn’t much room for people who came to Christ but didn’t grow at a fast enough pace or carried lots of old baggage.”
“The third change involved launching a small group ministry focus primarily on building significant relationships rather than growing the church.”
“Instead of celebrating how many people came, the most important measurement would be how many came back.”
“Churches that close the back door effectively do so by serving their congregations so well that the people don’t want to leave. And happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers.”
“Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (this is why they keep their ministries simple, consistent, and excellent – North Coast doesn’t do a lot of special events or programming).”
“High-powered front-door programs can have the unintended consequences of sending a message that some weekends and programs are for brining guests—and the rest aren’t.”
“There’s a second unintended obstacle that highly programmed front-door churches can put in the way of natural evangelism. If most of the people who come to Christ come as a result of a complex and high-powered event, it sends a subtle message that it takes lots of time, planning, and money to lead someone to Christ.”
“Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect the friends they’ve invited.”
In Part 2 Osborne writes five chapters on “How Small Groups Change Everything.” Here are some important points from this section:
“Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation.”
“The focus of a sermon based small group is not so much on the curriculum as it is on the process.”
“The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians.”
“When the New Testament was written, the typical church was so small that it was, in essence, a small group.”
“The best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church. Nothing compares.
“While many church leaders claim that small groups are an integral part of their ministry, I’ve learned that two simple measurements will always tell me their real place in a ministry’s pecking order: (1) the percentage of adults who attend a small group, and (2) the participation level of senior staff and key lay leaders.”
“Getting there (the key to reaching critical mass – that all-important stage at which the full power and benefits of a small group ministry begin to impact the ethos, DNA, and spiritual health of nearly everyone and everything in the church) usually requires that somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the average weekend adult attendance be involved in a small group. If fewer people participate, small groups will still have a profound effect, but it will be primarily on the individuals in them, not on the entire church.”
“Small groups undercut this Holy Man myth (The Holy Man myth is the idea that pastors/clergy somehow have more of a direct hot line to God) because they typically meet in widely dispersed settings. This makes it impossible for the pastor (or any other staff member) to carry out all the pastoral roles and functions. They simply can’t be everywhere at once…As a result, small group leaders inevitably step up and assume roles of spiritual leadership that they would have otherwise deferred to the pastoral staff.”
“That not only changes the way small group leaders view themselves; it changes the congregation’s outlook as well. Once people begin to realize that God’s anointing and spiritual power aren’t restricted to the guy who speaks on Sunday, they whine a lot less when he’s not available.”
“Another spiritually crippling falsehood that began to lose its grip on our congregation was what I call the Holy Place myth. It’s the idea that God’s presence is somehow greater in some places than in others.”
“With the demise of both the Holy Man and the Holy Place myths, our ministry was, for the first time, genuinely unleashed. People started bringing God to the workplace and into their neighborhoods rather than trying to bring everyone to the church building.”
“Let’s face it: In most churches there aren’t many opportunities for high-impact, life on life ministry. There are usually few up-front teaching roles, a handful of worship leader positions, and some youth and Sunday school spots to be filled. After that, most roles are pretty much part of the supporting cast, designed more to keep the machine running than to touch lives.”
“Small groups open up lots of new opportunities for frontline ministry. At North Coast every group has a leader and a host, most often made up of two couples. That means in every group, we have four people who teach, counsel, disciple, pray, visit hospitals, lead in worship, provide communion, and even baptize members of their little flock—none of which they would do without the platform for ministry we call growth groups.”
“As a former youth pastor, I learned long ago that no one steps up until there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Every year when my seniors were about to graduate, I would wonder if we’d survive without their leadership. But as soon as they were gone, the juniors and sophomores stepped up—often doing a better job than their departing upperclassmen.”
“Still another powerful advantage that small groups can bring is a marked increase in the practice of spiritual disciplines. That’s because a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the our calendar.”
“Here’s the irony: if we canceled our small groups and filled our facility once a week for a prayer meeting with standing-room-only crowds, we’d probably get some great write-ups in the Christian press. But in reality we’d have almost 70% fewer people praying than we already have in our small groups.”
“Our young adult dropout rate is a fraction of what I’ve seen in the past. And I’m convinced it’s because we’ve focused on giving our children and youth the powerful gift of a growing mom and dad.”
“Sermon-based small groups also made it much easier for our teaching team to keep the entire church focused and headed in the same direction. Whether we’re casting vision, clarifying direction, or simply dealing with an important issue, it’s much easier to get people on the same page and keep them there.”
“One reason I want my messages to be more memorable (on why sermon based small groups make the preacher a better preacher and make the sermon go further in people’s lives) is that I want people to apply the important truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.”
“It’s a relatively short step (for a marginal attender) from listening to a sermon to joining a small group that discusses the sermon he’s already heard. But it’s a much bigger step into a traditional small group Bible study.”
“There’s still another advantage that comes with a sermon based small group model. It’s that most people (including the marginally interested and new Christians) come to the meeting far more prepared than they would if they were using a typical workbook or study guide.”
Part 3 recounts ten chapters on the Why’s and How’s of Sermon-Based Small Groups and why this model works better than some of the more popular models out there for small groups. Here are some practical realities of sermon based small groups:
“A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to. That means the ideal size for a group of introverts will tend to be larger than the ideal size for a group of thin-it-and-immediately-say-it extroverts. One needs more people to break the silence. The other needs less people so that there will be some silence.”
“The ideal size for a group of married couples is usually twelve to fourteen people. For singles, eight to twelve can be ideal.”
“We’ve found that whenever a couples group reaches sixteen people (or a singles group reaches fourteen), attendance becomes predictably inconsistent. It’s strange, but we can have three groups of twelve people, and all thirty-six will be present at almost every meeting. But two groups of sixteen people will hardly ever have all thirty-two show up. Perhaps it has to do with those in the smaller group feeling more needed and feeling a greater sense of responsibility.”
“We’ve found that the sermon-based small groups that have the greater life-on-life impact and stay together the longest are always those in which the friendships are deepest. That’s why we tell people to choose a group primarily according to who else is in it rather than where or when it meets.”
“Although we allow people to pick any group they want as long as there’s room in the group, we’ve found that those who make their choice based on a convenient location or time have a much lower stick rate than those who look for a group with which they already share an interest or station in life.”
“In almost every case, the first thing you’d notice at one of our small group meetings is that it starts with some light refreshments as people arrive—especially something to drink.”
“Once the meeting starts, most groups spend fifteen to thirty minutes sharing prayer requests and updating one another on what has been going on in their lives…As a group jells, this part of the meeting tends to expand and move to a much deeper level. In new groups, it can be perfunctory and shallow at first. But that’s fine by us. We don’t try to force depth. We simply provide an opportunity for great depth and vulnerability t show up when both the group and the Holy Spirit are ready.”
“The next part of the meeting is dedicated to the study and discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon…To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with the answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer.”
“The homework (discussion/study guide) always consists of three types of questions: Getting to Know Me (These questions offer a nonthreatening look into our past or current life situations. They’re designed to help us get to know each other at a safe but accelerated pace), Into the Bible (These questions take the group to biblical passages that are either complementary or parallel to the main text of the sermon but were not covered in the message), and Application (These are designed to take home the main point or points of the sermon and drive them home. They typically deal with attitudes or life-change issues).”
“We ask every group to take at least one service project a year (the ideal is two) and to have at least one social gathering per quarter).”
“As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots per week. No matter what the third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.”
Osborne goes on to discuss how to overcome the time crunch of developing and sustaining leaders; determining your primary purpose; how groups can grow deeper; why dividing groups isn’t the best strategy; how to find and develop leaders; how to train leaders; and these five key questions to ask before starting small groups:
- “Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”
- “What you plan to do in your meetings?” The options are endless. But once I know what happens in a small group, I can predict with uncanny accuracy who will come and who won’t.
- “How well does who you want to reach match up with what you plan to do?”
- “How do you think people are best trained to live out the Christian life and best prepared for leadership?”
- The final question to ask before launching a new or revamped small group ministry is, “Who already does what we want to do well—and does it in a church we would go to if we lived in the area?”
There is a large appendix section in the back of the book containing helps for the following topics: (1) Writing Great Questions; (2) Sample Sermon Note Sheet and Study Questions; (3) Sample Growth Group Covenant; (4) End-of-the-quarter Evaluation Form; (5) Leader Training Topics; (6) Leader Responsibilities; (7) Host Responsibilities; (8) A List of NT “One Anothers.” The Last section contains a Study Guide of Follow Up Questions for each chapter in the book.
Osborne’s model is simple; practical, proven, and effective. I don’t know of a better model for helping a local church reach out; equip; serve; raise up leaders; and unleash people for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. I have used this model in three churches; and now about to embark on launching this model in another church. I am grateful for it’s simplicity and yet the profound impact it has made practically in so many lives that I have been in community with. It has made a profound impact on my own belief that discipleship is done best in community and is a process not an event.
5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life
This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards On the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. – originally posted @http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/08/5-things-jonathan-edwards-teaches-us-about-the-christian-life/
Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us
For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:
that he wrote a lot of really dense books
that he talked a lot about the glory of God
that he was part of the Great Awakening
that John Piper likes him a lot
And that’s about it.
But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.
Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life:
1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.
When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.
Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.
Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”
For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.
2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.
If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.
Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”
We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.
How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.
3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.
Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.
A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:
“The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”
“He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”
“God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”