I began pastoring as a very naive 23 year old. I was the worship leader at a fairly new church plant in Canmore, Alberta and one day our senior pastor felt he should go plant another church and turned his church over to me.
To be honest, I hadn’t ever planned on being a lead pastor. I wasn’t sure how to run a church and so I looked everywhere for help and for a mentor. Pastor George Hill became that mentor to me. I am so appreciative of what he has poured into me over the years.
It was his Bible College class on the book of Acts that I first fell in love with the local church and its call on the earth. I was inspired by his vision and the vision of Victory Churches to Reach, Teach, and Mobilize. To me, this vision most reflected the heartbeat of the early church in the book of Acts and it was a vision that fulfilled the global mission Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28.
It is a never ending vision. We reach every available person, by every available means, at every available time with the Gospel of Jesus Christ; teaching them to become disciples and mobilizing them to Reach every available person. It is a vision that works in every country, with every people group, in every language. It is simple and portable. And I love it!
So, I went to work as a pastor to live this vision in my church. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to translate the vision to my local setting. How does a local church most effectively reach every available person, while at the same time teaching those you’ve reached, while mobilizing others into their own callings?
To be honest, I have wrestled with how to most effectively do all three of these things for most of my ministry career. It’s required me to continually mess with the methods while keeping the message sacred.
By the time I had arrived in Lethbridge, five and a half years ago, I had learned how to become effective in reaching a community. I went to work, with our amazing board and staff, at refocusing the Lethbridge church outward and at reaching the unchurched community. Because Pastor George Hill was my mentor for many years, and continues to be to this day, and because he was the founding pastor of this church, the church very quickly took to the vision. Many of those who had been in the church from the beginning remarked at how it felt just like it did in the beginning with Pastors George and Hazel. I knew we were moving in the right direction. Our methods are a little different, but they should be. After all, it is 2016 not 1979. But the vision was the same.
We started to see amazing results. In the first year we saw 386 people come to a relationship with Jesus for the first time. In our second year, another 400 became first time believers. We had successfully created a church that unchurched people loved to attend and we were effectively reaching every available person, by every available means with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A new problem presented itself. While hundreds were coming to Christ every year, a very small percentage of them were remaining in the church. The majority of those we had reached we never saw again. We were greatly dissatisfied. Jesus said to go into all of the world and make disciples, not just converts.
Desperate to find a solution, our pastoral team gathered together and began to brainstorm how we could most effectively increase our retention rates and make disciples.
The first question we tackled was “What is a disciple?” We knew that if we couldn’t concretely define what one was, we would not be effective in making one. It was in the middle of this search, that I heard Pastor George speak at one of our conferences and in his talk he used verses from 1 John 2 where John said to the early church, “I write to you little children…I write to you young men…and I write to you fathers.”
That’s when it hit me, he was describing the maturity process of a Christ follower. He was defining a disciple!
I came back to our team and shared my revelation. They were all excited and we began brainstorming around what all of that would mean and how to translate that into the every day life of our church.
The conclusion we came to was that spiritual maturity revolves totally around the Word of God. When John described little children, he was describing the new believers who did not yet understand the Word and were still completely dependent on others to teach them and feed them spiritually.
When John described the young men, he described them as strong in the Word. We concluded that they were strong because they were independent and regularly fed themselves the Word.
When John described fathers, he was describing those who were not only self feeders, but also took to the time and effort to teach and train others in the Word. We suddenly saw, REACH, TEACH, and MOBILIZE in the Scripture.
We went to work designing a new retention plan. We evaluated everything we were doing as a church and discussed at length what we should be doing in order to effectively Reach, Teach, and Mobilize disciples.
We settled on 5 things:
- _____________________. We would continue to create weekly church services that the unchurched would love to attend and in every single service we committed to giving an opportunity for people to commit their lives to Christ by leading them through the salvation prayer.
- _____________________. We would begin small groups in our church and would encourage all of our weekly attendees to participate in a weekly Connect Group with the purpose of building intimate relationships while discussing the Bible in a small group setting. Relationships are the key to helping new comers “remain” and it is a great way to make a big church small. It is also a great way to mobilize our mature believers to become “fathers”—feeding others the Word.
- _____________________. We determined to make it a weekly habit to encourage our people to read the Bible daily as well as provide as many ways as we could for them to feed on the Word of God themselves. We determined to not be a church that keeps people dependent on their pastor to feed them, but instead taught them how to feed themselves. This is where they become strong to face their storms, and remain standing.
- _____________________. We decided that we would unashamedly encourage all of our people to participate in the activities of the local church by volunteering their time and energies to its growth. We feel that if people can give of themselves by serving others that they will not drift into the dangerous lane of me-church. I feel that the natural gravitation pull of every local church is to become insider focused. To resist this pull, we feel it necessary to keep our people participating in serving others. Regular volunteering is one great way to do just that.
- _____________________. One of the big tests as to whether we are effectively creating services that unchurched people love to attend, is whether or not our regular attenders feel comfortable to invite their unchurch friends or family to our weekly services. Using Acts 15:19 as our cue, “we don’t want to make it difficult for the unchurched to come to Jesus.” So, we regularly poll our people as to whether they are inviting or feel comfortable to invite their friends or family members to church. And we do what we can to remove all cringe factors that would hinder them from doing so. In our latest poll, 78% of our regular attenders invited at least one unchurched person to church with them in the last year.
These 5 were the model in which we built all of our ministries on. Our children’s ministry leads kids to Attend, Connect, Read, Serve, and Invite. Our youth ministry leads people to Attend, Connect, Read, Serve, and Invite. The entire church does these 5 things and only these 5 things. Any activity that does not lead people to do these 5, does not happen.
With this model in place, we then began working on materials to teach and equip our new believers into a fully committed relationship with Christ. We looked at all kinds of materials out there, and while there are a lot of great tools that teach people the basics of Christianity, we didn't find anything that led people into a deeper participation in what we feel are vital activities within the local church. And, we didn’t find anything that really furthered our vision of Reach, Teach, Mobilize. We found things that were effective in one or two, but nothing that led people into all three.
So, we built our own. We first released it as a January series to begin our year. We called it B40X. It included a weekly sermon, a weekly small group guide, and a daily devotional. The effect on our church was incredible. That year we led over 400 people to Jesus and retained over 250 of them in the church! We were excited, but felt we could do even better. So, we have been honing this process for the last couple of years, and the result is My Victory Starts Here.
We put the devotional and small group guides in print because we felt they could become a tool to REACH the unchurched, TEACH the little children, and MOBILIZE the young men to become fathers by giving them a resource that they could give to someone they were discipling.
We have now equipped our mature believers with a resource that they can disciple their new believing friends and family members with, on their own, without relying on the pastors of the church to conduct a Christianity 101 class.
Our retention has never been better and I think if we use this tool properly we can become even more effective in making disciples. This is a tool to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. This is also a tool that allows us to effectively REACH, TEACH, and MOBILIZE.