We have a problem. In Wheaton for our 11 AM worship service, we don’t have enough seats. Experts say that when a sanctuary is 80% full, then people will stop coming because it is too full. At 11 AM our sanctuary is about 95% full. Yet our 9 AM service in Wheaton is identical, and it is only about 60% full. If you worship at 11 AM in Wheaton and can attend the 9 AM, might you consider doing so? It would leave more hours open to do many other things on Sunday. And you will be giving a seat for another. But there is something even more important that we all need to do in light of this problem, no matter which campus or service you attend. What is that?
We must make disciples. Even if growth tapers off, what remains is the strength of real disciples of Jesus Christ. And disciples are made not born. After planting a thriving church in post-Christian England, Mike Breen concluded, “If you build disciples, you will always get a church; if you build a church, you may or may not get disciples.” Struggles in outreach for a church can usually be traced to failures in discipleship. Getting an immature Christian to reach others is like asking a child to have a baby. And if we are only growing spiritual children (AKA consumers) in the church but not raising spiritually mature adults (AKA disciple makers), then the mission of the church will fail. We must work hard to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).
Attention to discipleship will alleviate the perpetual struggle to find leaders in our church. A leadership vacuum typically reflects a discipleship vacuum. As our Governing Board identified key opportunities before us a year or two ago, the need to develop a leadership pipeline was repeatedly articulated since we struggle to find qualified leaders to serve in our ministries. When discipleship is strong, then leaders eventually become plentiful. As a result, we must engage in the time consuming work of making disciples. It is messy. Yet unless we keep our fingernails dirty in the messy process of making disciples, we will never have enough leaders.
Discipleship will also ignite a deeper men’s ministry in our church. While we have a strong women’s ministry with Women’s INC, Tapestry Living Stones, and Precepts, our men’s ministry is comparatively weak. In discussing this issue with the elders last year, we contemplated beginning a big new program for men. But we didn’t. Instead a few men have begun small discipleship groups. Last January I began a small men’s group with a few people. We have established a foundation of vulnerability, listening to God and one another, accountability, and challenging one another to step into God’s purposes. We are currently reading Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture. Yet most importantly we are growing to trust one another and see God’s work done in our lives. Similarly Ron M. has launched a men’s group with 5–6 men, and Stosh W. did as well. Instead of launching a programmatic weekly meeting for people to gather, we have begun an organic process of multiplication.
More could be said. Yet I have one invitation for you. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his followers to make disciples. This is work that any Christian can engage in. None of us can reach everyone, but all of us can reach and help someone. As we take one step in following Jesus Christ, then we look back and help someone else take that same step. And on and on it goes. May we focus not on building the church but on making disciples.