Church Steps Outreach is Spreading!

Some time back I introduced something on the blog called “Church Steps”. There were several people who were interested in trying this approach to outreach out. I got some feedback from a friend of mine who decided it would be worth trying this out where he ministers in Pennsylvania. My friend’s name is Jimmy Hinton and he said I could share the note he sent me this morning here on the blog. I got so pumped listening to what God is doing there in that congregation and I wanted to pass it along, thinking someone else might read this and decide to try this out in their congregation. Here is what Jimmy wrote,

“Matt,
I just wanted to let you know that we are 3 weeks into our steps class on Wednesdays. So far, we have more than doubled our Wednesday evening attendance (from about 16 to 34), we have 9 new people coming to church who have all told me, “we have found our church home,” (we had 11 new visitors alltogether but 2 can’t be here on Sundays due to their schedules) we have a family of 3 who have not attended in a long time come back to church, and we have 1 member who asked me if he can give a testimony Sunday about how he was in a very bad place spiritually but, because several people (from our Wed. night group) noticed and reached out to him, he is now called to reach out to existing members who are going through faith struggles.

I just wanted to share the blessings, brother! Thank you, again, for the blogs you wrote about doing the steps ministry. Oh, and I have a Bible study set up next month with a family of 5 who all want to be baptized together, but want to study with me first!”

Praise God for that! It is amazing what God is able to do in us and through us when we decide it is time to get to work for the Kingdom of God! If any of you want to know more about this approach to get a congregation more involved in outreach, feel free to email and we can talk it over. If you like it, I will get you the information and templates you need to try it out. If you don’t think it fits for your congregation, I totally understand. Email me at – matthewdabbs@hotmail.com or leave a comment here on the blog. Thanks for reading!

Why Are Young Adults Leaving Church? A Comprehensive Answer

There has been a mass exodus of young adults from Christian churches (including but not limited to Churches of Christ) over the last few decades. As I mentioned a few posts ago, there is a flurry of debate in blogs, facebook, etc on why young people are leaving the church in their early 20s. What you end up finding is that the experts tend to give the one thing they are most passionate about as the one reason young people are leaving. Well, there isn’t one reason. There are many. There are two big questions that are on people’s minds when it comes to this issue: 1) Why are they leaving? (what this post is about) and 2) what can we do about it? (future post). There are a variety of reasons young adults leave the church in their early 20s. They are not all leaving for the same reasons and not every reason is the church’s fault (which tends to be the chorus out there…the church is fully to blame. Not really). I believe there are four categories that all work together into a devastating mix that have resulted in this movement.

Re-frame the discussion: Who/what are they leaving?
Before I dive into the four reasons let me say this. The whole discussion needs to be re-framed from the start. We are stating the problem in terms of young people leaving “the church” when what is more concerning are young people who are “leaving the Lord”. One reason for that is, it is easy to measure when someone leaves the church. They stop attending. It is easy and measurable but it gets us off on the wrong foot in the discussion. Our goal is not first and foremost to get them back to church attendance but to get them back to Jesus. That is an important distinction. I do mean to diminish the church in saying that. I am just trying to get everything in the right order. I want to credit Eric Brown for pointing this out to me sometime back.

1 – Themselves

 Them factor #1 – Identity Formation
Young adults are at a transition point in life where they are trying to figure out multiple major decisions. What career will they pursue, where will they study, who will they marry, how many children will they have, and the big question “Who am I and how do I go about answering that question?” It is a time of investigation, experimentation, transition and stress. We might assume that, if they grew up in church, they should already know who they are through years of Bible class, youth group, summer camp, etc. Many didn’t develop a faith of their own during those years.

When you are a child, our society guides your path. You know you go to first grade after kindergarten and you know you go from middle school to high school. It is all mapped out for you. But when you enter your young adult years the map is removed and all you have to go on is whatever you have been taught and experienced up to that point in your life. The way isn’t clear and it isn’t easy. They are going to make a lot of mistakes along the way and, from what they remember about church, it is not necessarily the place they want to be because they don’t believe they will be welcome their given the decisions they have made or are currently making trying to form their own identity. Many are forming an identity and that identity no longer identifies with “church” as they knew it growing up.

Them factor #2 – Freedom, decisions and experimentation
Adulthood comes with a new set of freedom to make a path for yourself in the world. Finding that path comes with experience, experimentation and the influence of others. Many are already engaging in risky behaviors (drug usage and sex) in their teens years (yes, even while in the youth group). When they get the increased freedom of adulthood and being away from home and influenced by a new set of non-Christian peers, the behaviors that were so private in high school may be taken to a whole new level. They know those behaviors were preached against in church. They may not feel like church is the right fit for them because they don’t see how church has anything meaningful for their life to influence them into a better way of living. They just anticipate condemnation from those who disagree with their choices.

Them factor #3 – Never a disciple to begin with
Another “them” factor is whether or not they were ever “bought in” to being a disciple of Christ in the first place. In the past, the assumption was that faithful attendance equaled mature disciple. When they got on their own they ran for the door. They did that because in adulthood they now had the freedom to choose and finally chose what they would have done years prior had their parents not been forcing them to attend.

For this crowd, they were a part of our attendance number…but they weren’t really serious about their faith to begin with. They never made it their own. This transitions us into the next two categories that may have had an impact on why they never made their faith their own in the first place: 1) the church & 2) the family.

2 – The Church

 Church factor #1 – The “institutional appearance” of the church
There has been a lot of talk about how institutional the church has become. I think there is some truth in that but I think we also have to be careful to not talk institutionally of Christ’s bride. That also, though, means the church has a responsibility to not relegate itself to the level of institution along the way. What does it mean when someone talks about the church as an institution? What most people mean when they say that is that the church has lost sight of its mission and has become an organization that exists to perpetuate it’s own ecclesiology, often not seeing much distinction between tradition and scripture.

There aren’t going to be many churches who actually do this in a purposeful way. Most churches are doing what they believe God’s mission for them is in some sort of way…even if they just think it is worshipping for an hour on Sunday each week. The problem is that many congregations are presenting themselves in institutional ways and don’t realize they are doing it. For example, the practice and attitude that spiritual things must happen at a building and not in homes communicates that the church is an institution.

We frame this whole discussion from an institutional perspective – the big discussion today is why young people are “leaving the church”. That is an institutional way of framing a deeper problem. Shouldn’t we be framing this as young people are leaving the Lord? We talk about how they have left church because that is how we measure things, by an institutional measure we call attendance. Counting is fast and easy. Discipling someone is slow and difficult.

When a young person is looking for answers and for a relationship with Jesus but all they find is what appears to be the spinning of wheels of an institution with little warmth and no visible mission other than to get back again on Wednesday and Sunday and do it again that young person may go somewhere else where they can find that. Then we say they left the church. Did they? Even the thinking that people are leaving the church is institutional

There are several more “church factors” but they are all influenced by the problems that come along with institutional church. Here are the rest…

Church factor #2 – Woefully Inadequate Discipleship
As a teen, if I was there regularly it was assumed I was a disciple of Jesus. Even more basic than that, if I was baptized then everything was good as long as I kept attending. I never experienced any intentional discipling until I was in graduate school studying psychology. My major professor discipled me in clinical psychology. Not what you expected? She did. We worked out major projects together. She taught me, mentored me, took me under her wing. She gave me guidance in the field. She was the expert and I was the student and I spent hundreds of hours with her helping me grow into being the best psychologist I could be. How is it that a state school graduate department has a better method for discipling people than most churches?

My experience has been that we do a better job teaching someone why they need to be baptized (which is important) than we do actually teaching them to follow Jesus. The truth is, you teach those things the same way. It is all under the umbrella of helping make a disciple. Many churches have missed the boat on this. If you want to know more on how to do this have a look at Mike Breen’s material. It is excellent. We are working on our own discipling material that will be done in 2013.

Church factor #3 – Age segregated ministry, a body divided
A body that is divided cannot grow unless you are a worm. A few decades ago the youth ministry model became really popular and still is today. There are many good things that came through youth ministry. I was blessed by a good youth ministry in my teen years. But we cannot be blind to the problems that it fosters. 1) It isn’t geared to disciple. There are some exceptional youth ministries out there who do better at this but for the most part that is true. 2) Teens don’t know anyone in the rest of the church. Eric Brown said that if you have a viable youth ministry, you have at least two churches that are meeting in your building on Sunday. The teens don’t know the rest of the church. When it comes time for them to graduate out of the youth group the leap is too big and they jump ship. There are some transitions that can be made that will be discussed later.

Church factor #4 – Ecclesiology
Some churches haven’t changed their worship service in decades, if ever. I am not saying that is a sin, I am just making an observation. The tempting route here is to talk about how we need certain things in worship in order to make it relevant. I won’t deny that certain things will help connect with a younger generation but I that discussion comes after a much more important one. The discussion that has to happen first is to understand why a church can worship with the same order and the same songs and the same topics for 100 years and never make much of a visible change. This is a value issue that points to something under the surface that needs to be examined if we are going to reach the next generation. Here is how I can say that with confidence. Go into a church that has been doing it like that and move communion to the end of the service and see what happens. People will be up in arms over it! Why? Because we haven’t ever done it that way, it’s not scriptural to have it after the sermon, the guys who started this church would roll over in their graves if they knew we did that and on and on it goes. What you won’t hear is an actual scripture that says its wrong or that God even cares. What you will find is value in tradition that is so deeply rooted that it becomes destructive, stifling and insulating.

It is not the lack of powerpoint that will run young people off or keep new young people from coming in the first place. Faster songs won’t heal an unhealthy dynamic in a congregation. It is the actions, attitudes and underlying values that will take care of that. Before you can deal with the young people leaving issue you have to dig around in why you do the things you do and whether God is more concerned about when you have the Lord’s Supper or that your attitudes and values are driving away your own children. I think scripture is clear about the second and is absolutely silent on the first.

Church factor #6 – Leadership & Change
In Churches of Christ we are notorious for having a difficult time with change. Fear can keep us from addressing this issue. I grew up being taught that on every issue there is a right and a wrong. Change was bad because change could logically only have two outcomes (and both were to be avoided), 1) you either had to admit that what you were doing was wrong in order to do something different or 2) what you are doing now is right and the new way is wrong. Some churches are willing to go to their grave and shut their doors rather than tweak the negotiables. Some believe there is no such thing as a negotiable. There is a fear that the only way to reach 20 somethings is be negotiating core beliefs or even some very important, non-core beliefs and doctrines. We fear we will have to compromise scripture in order to reach them. That is just not the case. Leadership must be willing to disseminate control and responsibility even to young adults. They aren’t kids any more. They need a voice and they need to be heard. We might even fear what they will say if we let them speak. Well, get over it because some are leaving because no one cares enough about them to listen or love them.  Some will fear that these young people will want us to do some crazy things and it will all get out of control, nothing worse than losing control right? Control is an illusion. Did we ever really have control of things in the first place? What isn’t an illusion is their absence.

3 – The Family

 Family Factor #1 – Families are broken
The divorce rate remains high, even among Christians. Kids are experiencing trauma and hurt in their lives at a very young age. Teenagers today are exposed to things that you cannot even imagine. Substance abuse is becoming common place. Teenage pregnancy is running rampant. This is not just “out there” but in the church as well. Families are broken and the kids are feeling the pain as a result.

Family Factor #2 – Families aren’t  discipling their own kids
Youth ministry worked well when families were intact. As families have started to deteriorate and our churches have less and less intact families, the spiritual development of teens has been left in the hands of youth ministers as the families have spent less and less time developing their kids spiritually. It used to be common for families to eat together, pray together and even read scripture together, that is happening less and less. What is more, in our attempts to show how vibrant our youth ministry is parents have assumed that the ministry can disciple their kids. Again, if they attend, it must rub off. Youth ministry only works well as a supplement to what the parents are doing. Parents are doing less and less spiritual development. These kids are growing up and we are seeing the effects today in the mass exodus of young adults from our church.

About 10 years ago I worked with a bus ministry. Every week we knocked doors and every week we would bring in around 100 kids and 0 parents to the church. We formed relationships with them. We sang with them, taught them, baptized them and loved them. Now those kids are adults and very, very few of them that I am aware of are still actively involved in their faith and relationship with God. It wasn’t for lack of effort. The family card trumps the church card nearly every time. For more information on how families can disciple their own children see Impartfaith.com

4 – Culture

 Cultural Factor #1 – Post-modernism, Perceived Relevance & Questions
It is easy to see that the world has changed. Christianity is on the decline and agnostics are on the rise. Post-modernism has put the world in a “question everything” state of mind. That can be healthy. In some instances, the church wasn’t ready to give an answer to those questions. Or let me put it this way, we were so out of touch with the culture that we weren’t even aware of what questions people were needing answers to. Instead, some kept answering the same worn out old questions over and over again. When you spend your time answering questions no one is asking and ignoring or are ignorant of the questions people are asking you box yourself out of relevance.

Cultural Factor #2 – The Church’s position in society has changed
The church no longer holds the position in society that it once did. Church scandals, this lack of relevance, and a general distrust of absolutes (both moral, ethical and epistemological) have resulted on the macro level in a growing distance between the church and the unchurched. The politicizing of the church has also played a role for some in recognizing the church with one political party over another. It muddies the water of what the church exists for. However, on the micro level Christians have become so much like the surrounding culture that it can be hard to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians. The actions, attitudes, and beliefs of both groups have gotten blurry. That can make church an unattractive place for a young adult who is looking for something different than they find in the world when they come to church and find the same antics they see in the world.

All of this to say, the church is losing its identity and place in the world. Now, that is to be expected if we are following our biblically mandated mission, that the world will not understand or even hate the church. It is tragic, though, if the church loses its place in the world because those inside and those outside the church are not radically different from one another. The church loses its relevance because people can find the same thing in church that they find in their workplace, their home, and everywhere else.

Culture Factors #3: The Need for Real Experience/Encounter
95% of the activity of the church is geared toward less than 1% of the week, that special hour of corporate worship on Sunday. They want a faith and teaching that translates into the other 99% of their life. The church “experience” doesn’t seem to reflect real life or the early church at all. We have traditionally favored logic and reason over emotion and yet emotion is still a part of real life and worship should not be distanced from reality. When worship is unengaged and seems like it is going through the motions, it doesn’t click with a culture that values transparency and authenticity. This includes things like a lack of celebration. Big things happen in the church…a lost person is saved and no one seems excited. It just doesn’t add up so it must not be real. They will leave. The structure of the church and its activities don’t match up with real life. There is no lament. The order of worship has too much order and not enough worship. Life is messier than what we put on on a given Sunday. Let it happen when it needs to happen.

 Combination of Factors Over One Main Reason

 What I have attempted to show here is that, while we all have our pet reasons about why young people are leaving, there isn’t one answer to that question. There is a constellation of issues that all culminate in a mass exodus of young adults from church and even from faith. There are more things that could be added but I figure 3200 words is a good enough running start. I am going to tackle what it is we can and should do about this in the next post.

For more information you can read my handouts from the 2011 Tulsa workshop on reaching 20 Somethings.

Bottom line – If you want to know why someone left, don’t get bogged down in all of this…go ask them. Let them know you love them and miss them. Invite them into your home and show them how much you care about them, even if they have made every mistake in the book.

Additional reading:

20s & 30s Section here at Kingdom Living – 40+ posts on ministering to 20s & 30s
James Nored
Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking (Part 1)
Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking (Part 2)

Danny Dodd – Everything Has Changed
Lynn Stringfellow – Why Our Kids are Leaving the Church
Russ Adcox – When I Grow Up

“Witness”…Making Personal Things Public

ws“My religion is a personal thing, deeply personal, but it’s not private.” – J. Mack Stiles in Speaking of Jesus, p.13

There is a belief out there that deeply personal beliefs should be kept private. The thought is, they should be kept private because deeply personal beliefs often have a lot of strings attached. When someone presents these types of beliefs we either have to stand our ground on any differing beliefs we might have or be changed by what we see and hear. Deep seated, deeply personal beliefs, when presented demand a response…some sort of action. Many people don’t want to have to be faced with someone else’s belief system and then have to examine their own life in light of what that other person believes. If you believe in moral relativism and all belief systems are equally good, then why be bothered with that kind of friction?

When Jesus gave his disciples the great commission in Matthew 28 and then again in Acts 1:8, Jesus was commanding them to take the most profound and personal areas of their life and make it public. There is a word in Acts 1:8 that I have read dozens of times but never really unpacked. Jesus told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

A witness is someone who experiences an event and is willing to talk about what they saw and heard. The word witness is a legal term. We see it in the legal requirements laid out in the Torah in verses like Numbers 35:30 & Exodus 23:1 in regard to witnesses needed to convict someone of a capital offense. But in the New Testament the term witness is used almost exclusively about what people saw and heard Jesus do. 1 John 1:1-4 lays this out really well,

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

In John’s Gospel he tells us that the very idea of witness started with Jesus himself. He came to be a witness to us about what he knows about the Father (John 1:1-8). Jesus bore witness through his words (things people heard…telling us what he knows about God) and through his actions (things people saw…showing us something about God through his compassion, miracles and even his judgment).

What we hear and see in Jesus’ teaching is that he bore witness to the world about the Father so that his disciples, in turn, bear witness to the world of what they saw and heard from Jesus. So in Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them that they will be his witnesses. In Acts 2, Peter preaches (a public pronouncement of what he has seen and heard from Jesus) to several thousand people. He tells them in 2:29-33 that David bore witness of the Christ because he saw what was ahead and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ (2:31). Peter goes on to say that the resurrected Christ, “has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Now they are witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit that also bears witness that Peter’s testimony (another legal term) is true. They have experienced something deep and personal. Will they tell someone about what they saw and heard and how it all came from the power of the resurrected Lord?

Another instance of this is in the very next chapter of Acts where Peter and John heal a crippled beggar. The crowd has experienced the power of God and Peter tells the crowd this, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

What does this all mean for us? If we have any experience with the resurrected Lord, any transformation through the Holy Spirit, or any blessings that we have received from Christ or through Christ…we have a story to share as a witness to these things. What is more, we can point people back to the original eye witnesses of these events that testify to who Jesus is and what he has done so that people can see and hear for themselves so that, like with any good eye witness testimony, they can conclude that these things are true and find life through Christ. But it starts with us having the willingness to make some very personal and often private views public.

The Other Side of Evangelism: The Importance of Receiving Those God Sends Our Way

The biggest and most discussed component of evangelism is us going out to lost people. Jesus commanded that we do that (Matt 28:19). There is another, smaller, dimension of impacting lost people and that is the importance of receiving those God sends our way. I know that sounds passive but it isn’t. I am not talking about giving up on going out and just hope someone drives by and has a burning desire to attend a worship service. What I am talking about is a piece of the evangelism puzzle that fully complements the going out part. We can go out and reach out to people all day but if we don’t receive them well then we may never gain access to getting into any deeper conversation with them than whatever they hear on their first visit, because they may never come back.

Here are a few things that can make someone never want to return:

  1. No one speaks with them in any meaningful way: Here they got a warm invitation from a friend and they decided to step out of their comfort zone and attend. That says a lot. That says that they are willing to come into a place with several hundred strangers to see what is going on and see if there is something there that they need in their life. We cannot afford to mess this one up! Some will be graceful enough to return, but some won’t.
  2. They feel they are unequal: If they feel talked down to in any way for being an outsider, that is lethal.
  3. They are made to stand out: There are different opinions on this one by many smart and experienced people but my opinion is that visitors don’t come to be made to stand out and seem different. They don’t want you to have all the visitors stand so we can isolate them first and then awkwardly greet them because the preacher said to. That is just weird.
  4. They are made uncomfortable: Be aware of what you are communicating. We communicate a lot more than we even realize. Some of what we communicate is in what we say. Some of what we communicate is in what we didn’t say. Part of our communication is in what they see, who they see and who they don’t see. They pick up on that. Along with this, by its very nature, the Gospel itself can confront someone’s life and make them uncomfortable. It is good when the Gospel makes someone uncomfortable because they need to become aware of the changes God is calling them to make. We don’t need to add to the necessary discomforts the Gospel already affords through strange & ineffective practices.
  5. Don’t interrogate them: We want to get to know people. We even want their contact information so we can be in touch. But you have to have enough since of when and who to ask, how much to ask and what not to ask otherwise we can come on too strong and run them off.
  6. Followup with them if they provide information: If someone comes to worship with you and they actually do leave you an address or phone number, they are basically giving you permission to contact them. Don’t over do it but don’t under do it either. If they leave their information and no one contacts them, that is a fail. What does that communicate to them?
  7. Don’t say you are glad they are there unless you really are glad they are there: People can see through pleasantries. They can tell if you care or if you don’t. If you are glad you are there, avail yourself to them. Make yourself available, spend time with them but also know when it is too much and they are feeling a little overwhelmed.
  8. Find balance between overwhelming and underwhelming…just “whelm” them, nothing more nothing less (If you look up “whelm” don’t take me literally on that…it was just a joke!).
  9. Be aware of what your surroundings communicate: You have probably walked through your church foyer hundreds or thousands of times…so much so that you no longer notice that big coffee stain in the middle of the carpet or that smell that is in the bathroom. Those things won’t run off an insider but it can make a newcomer not want to come back.
  10. You guys provide what you think #10 should be…what input do you have on this? Comments?

List of Resources on Evangelism

Here are a few really good resources on evangelism that range from the theory/theology of evangelism all the way toward practical evangelism. One random thought…If you are considering teaching a class on evangelism, it is important to determine your purpose…There is a big difference in teaching a class about evangelism and actually having people evangelize.

Here is the list in order from the more theory oriented books to the more practical ones:

Revival & Revivalism by Iain Murray – theory

Master Plan of Evangelism by Coleman – Theory…Modeling our ministry after Jesus’ discipleship process.

Tell the truth by Will Metzger – balance of theory/practice

The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever – balance of theory/practice

Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully by John MacArthur – balance of theory/practice (very thorough, as always)

Evangelism Handbook by Alvin Reid – missional paradigm shifting book that front loads the theory and moves you toward practice.

Speaking of Jesus by Mack Stiles – practical

Heaven’s Star by Jim Woodell – very practical with good stories mixed throughout.

Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels – a little dated now but extremely practical. There is a whole study/DVD kit you can get for this one.

Terry Rush also has a DVD called 100% Natural Evangelism but you can’t order that online that I know of. If anyone is interested in that let me know or contact Terry. I posted up a study guide to that material here.

I also have to mention Jesus 101. I am sure you guys already know about it because I have mentioned it frequently, but it is an evangelistic study through the Gospel of Mark.

What have you found helpful?

Two Questions that Are Essential For Discipleship

Last year we created an evangelistic study of Mark called Jesus 101. The study is designed to be used with seekers so that they can discover who Jesus is by studying Mark. Mark is the perfect book for that because it is a little bit of a mystery until chapter 8. At that point in Mark and in the study things start to crystallize about exactly who Jesus is. Before you can become a disciple you have to answer the question “Who is Jesus?”. What is more, this is exactly what Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8:27-30…first Jesus asked who do people say he is and followed that up with “who do you say I am?”. We are working on a followup study on discipleship and its focus is going to be the second most important question that has to come after the first, “Who, then, am I?” In order to be a disciple you first have to figure out who Jesus is and then figure out, based on all of that, who you are. That is all very simple but for some reason it has taken a while for that to crystallize in my mind.

Q & A on “Church Steps” Outreach (Part 2)

Here are some questions a friend of mine asked about how to implement “Church Steps” at the congregation he ministers at. These questions were from those in the congregation who are interested in implementing this approach:

Question: Do they use a questionnaire to find out what people are willing to do?

Answer: We introduced Church Steps to the congregation through a big combo class that introduced all of this and at the end we had signups for all the steps and for the class. From those signups I created 7 email lists: All who signed up, just the class, and one for each of the five steps. I use the emails for each steps as needs arise that aren’t met in the class. I use the class email list every single week to remind people what is happening and to come. I rarely use the email list of all those who signed up.

Question: Does one person (member) stay with a person from start to finish or do they move along with different people at the different steps?

Answer: This depends on where the person is in the process. If someone comes and is ready to study from the beginning, we get someone with them to study and that person would help guide them through from study, baptism, to integrate/involvement. If a person has just come for the first time, we are going to have several people via the Wed night class contact them over a number of weeks to try to see what clicks and so that they feel welcome. Sometimes in Step 2 a connection is formed and the person who establishes that wants to continue on with any future needs of that person. We welcome that. Hope that makes sense.

Question: [Paraphrasing his point/question]: What do you do about being mindful of gender…(for instance, sending women to reach out to women)?

Answer: The gender thing – we are very much aware of that when asking who is going to take a particular person and contact/connect with them. I have ladies contact ladies and will ask “Which one of you ladies wants to take “Sarah Smith”?

Additional thought on implementing Church Steps in a congregation: The important thing here is that this is a framework that you can take an innovate to fit the congregation there with your particular set of talents and strengths. I don’t say that to try to avoid your question but to say that there are some things that you will figure out as you go along the way. As others have said before, sometimes we freeze up because we want to see it all and have every answer before we start. Some answers won’t come until you start. Hope that makes sense!

Heaven’s Star by Jim Woodell

A while back I received a book from Jim Woodell called, “Heaven’s Star: Check this Ancient GPS“. This book came to me at a time when I was looking into more resources on how people were evangelizing and what seemed to be working. One reason I was interested in Jim’s perspective on evangelism is because of the amount of respect I have for the congregation that the Woodell’s have been a part of in years past, the Bay Area Church of Christ in Tampa. I have been blessed to know several people from that congregation and I always get the impression that they are in the game. They don’t just talk about evangelism. They do it and do it very well.

I want to say that I don’t want to appear to be critical at all in critiquing someone else’s evangelism approach. Sometimes we fail to appreciate a certain approach because it doesn’t suit our style when, in fact, it is an entirely appropriate and effective strategy. So I am going to offer some critique of the book but I want to make sure that in doing so you don’t hear me slamming this book or Jim’s approach because that would be entirely inappropriate.

First, I think this book starts in the right place. It starts with Jesus Christ. It starts with who Jesus is, what he came to do, what he taught and his mission/commission to us. He move from Jesus to Christians. Here Jim reminds us that God expects His people to be a part of the great commission and that God is a God who sends people to do His work. He does this through some powerful testimonies as well as scripture.

Second, this book is very, very practical. That is the number one thing I liked about this book. Jim knows what you might run into and addresses it in advance. He turns to the actual conversation with a lost person and what it takes to get someone’s attention and engage them in a dialog about Jesus and faith. This is the strength of the book. It is real. It is practical and you can tell it comes from repeated experiences of trial and error from over a long period of time. It is easy to see that Jim has a heart for people and a passion for Jesus Christ.

Third, Jim turns our attention to his specific approach to sharing the Gospel with lost people. He calls it the Romans Approach (also called “Reaping with Romans” on p.26 – I wasn’t sure if this was the same study or something else. Assuming it is the same thing.). Chapter 5 is titled, “Sharing the Gospel from Romans The Romans Approach”. This is about the only real issue that I have with the study…again, not fault finding, just a difference in perspective and preference. If I am going to present the Gospel, I am usually going to go to the Gospels to do it. That is exactly what Jim does in the opening chapters of the book until he gets to the actual approach, then he goes to Romans. Now, I have to say in all fairness that the Romans approach can and will work and I don’t mean to demean it whatsoever, just stating a difference in preference. I will also say that if you are going to use Romans to present the Gospel then you should read this book because this is about as good a presentation of that approach as you are going to find.

The Romans Approach (as presented in this book and outlined in the addendum) is a textual and evangelistic study of Romans 4-8. In those chapters we learn that we are sinful. We learn that God is offering us salvation as a free gift in response to our faith in Christ. We learn about who Jesus is, what he has done and what that means for us (how he gives us eternal life). Jim goes further by sharing from his experience on what this conversation can look like, what to avoid, what to emphasize and what not to emphasize and how to overcome potential objections. He reminds us that we study with people about a who (Jesus) and not a what (baptism) while still recognizing the vitally important role baptism has in this process.

Last, Jim shares his thoughts on discipleship. He does that because that is what Jesus actually told us to do in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19f). It felt to me like the discipleship section got split in half by chapter 12 (addressing potential objections). He talks about how to care for new Christians because, after all, discipleship is about more than baptism.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It was one more piece in the puzzle for me of figuring out my own voice in evangelism. I would probably be more inclined to use this approach with someone who is in their mid 40s or older and stick with a Gospel (say Luke-Acts 2) for a person younger than that who is probably more in tune with narrative. Thanks to Jim Woodell for sharing from his heart and from his experience and wisdom. Thanks also for raising up Wes to be the minister and man he is as well.

Church Steps: How People Move Through the Steps

One of the most important elements of Church Steps is gathering and organizing information. First, you have to understand the structure to our organization. Some time back a few of us got together to talk about how this was going to work. We had just read Andy Stanley’s book Seven Practices of Effective ministry and were well aware of Andy’s practice of thinking in steps, not in programs. So we talked about what steps people typically take before becoming a full fledged disciple of Jesus Christ. The idea is, we are trying to take lost people somewhere and we have to identify what the next steps are toward the goal. We identified five possible steps from not knowing anything to following Christ with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. It is through these five steps that we organize those we are reaching out to so that we can see where they are and what they need to get to the next step. Here are the five steps, what the step means and what it takes to get to the next step:

Step 1 – Attract

  • This is the group that has yet to attend anything. Someone has mentioned that they want to reach out to this person but they haven’t yet been invited or haven’t yet accepted the invitation.
  • In order to get to the next step, they have to decide to come to something (worship, class, LIFE Group, service project, etc)

Step 2 – Welcome

  • This group has come to something. They have walked through the door. They met us, we met them…they have been welcomed. Our goal is for them to feel loved and cared for and to see what we, as a congregation, are doing to advance God’s kingdom. No commitment here…they just showed up.
  • In order to get to the next step they need to be getting to know people.

Step 3 – Relationships

  • As we reflect on our own faith stories and the stories of others we realized that relationships often (and should) precede a biblical presentation of the Gospel. If they are in step 3 they have gotten to know some people (could be through contact in our Church Steps Class, LIFE Group, Bible class, etc)
  • In order to get to the next step they have to start an evangelistic study

Step 4 – Transformation

  • This is the group we are studying with (usually 1 on 1) usually using the Jesus 101 study of Mark.
  • To get to the next step they have to be baptized.

Step 5 – Integration

  • Once someone is baptized we want to get them involved in some sort of ministry.
  • Our belief is that if they are going to grow in their faith they are going to need to do more than just sit in a pew.

In two follow up posts I will discuss how we manage who is in which step, moving people from step to step
and how all this flows out of the Wednesday night Church Steps outreach class.

Q & A on “Church Steps” Outreach

I asked my friend Philip Cunningham for some feedback and what questions he had so far about our “Church Steps” Outreach we have started at Northwest. Here are Philip’s questions and my answers:

Philip: What is the age range of your outreach group?  Also- the median age?
Our ministry is representative of the congregation. The main Wednesday night adult classes goes from 20-70. Our youth group is starting to do this as part of their ministry on a regular basis as well, reaching specifically to teens. Our 20s & 30s ministry will likely be doing this once a month (here is the class outline & template I am talking about here). So our whole church is covered and it is done by all ages teen and up.

Philip: Is this just a group to coordinate outreach prospects?  Or does the group also do outreach together?  Like, say, going to a mall.  Or other similar outdoor shopping center where people gather.
The group coordinates prospects and then prays for those people and sends people out with assignments. The assignments that are given depend on the situation of the person (referring back to the five steps a person typically falls into and the needs they have within that step that the “assignments” are aimed at meeting). Typical assignments varying go like this:

  • Step 1 (attract) that means they haven’t ever been to anything so our goal is to be invitational. That means we will call them and write them to invite them to a LIFE Group and the next worship service.
  • Step 2 (Welcome – that means they have visited) our goal is to let them know how appreciative we are that they came and to try to get to know them – catch them the next Sunday, invite them to lunch, get them in a LIFE Group. We assign people to call them and write them (thanks for coming – especially for 1st time visitors).
  • Step 3 (Relationship) – Our goal here is to really get people in their life that they can connect with. This can come through LIFE group, Sunday class, Softball, or via other ministries. One of my goals is to have a representative from each life group in the Church Steps class every week to help coordinate getting the groups in on this process.
  • Step 4 (Transformation) – Once they know some people we are going to ask them if they would like to have a Bible study (typically using Jesus 101).
  • Step 5 (Integration) – Once someone is baptized our goal is to get them active in ministry. One of our goals is to have them come and work this process for new people/non-Christians themselves alongside a more experienced Christian.
  • Last, every week a prayer list is given out that lists every person who we are reaching to that week so that everything we are doing has prayer all over it (God is the one who gives the harvest – we emphasize that all the time). So everyone gets something to do because everyone who comes is praying about this – also part of the culture change…hard to keep praying for something and it not do something to you/motivate you to work at it yourself).

Philip: Does the fact that there’s an “outreach group” engender any sort of resentment toward those who are NOT in the group?  Or maybe once were but are no longer?  As in- “we’re pulling the weight here & the other folks aren’t sharing their faith” kind of sentiment.
That is a very insightful question because that is the tendency of these sorts of efforts. The problem is, once you really buy in, it is tempting to get an us vs. them mentality (those who “get it” and the rest of the church that doesn’t seem to want to participate). The reason it happens is because once it is a no brainer to you and you start trying to get more Christians in the class and they don’t want to come it is easy to think we get it and they don’t.  I caught onto this about a month in when I started to hear that attitude reflected to a small degree in my own teaching. I had to check myself and my attitudes and be very, very careful about that and graceful to the rest of the church. So I started teaching against that mentality and it continues to be something we are very careful about.

There is one main teaching point that I have used to combat that attitude. It is the guiding principle that no matter how much work we do, God is really the one who brings the growth and success, so let’s not think we are “all that” because it is all dependent on God, not on us. God can do it without us if He likes. 

I would like to hear questions from some of you who have been following the updates on this ministry (or maybe just read the summary post yesterday and have questions about it).