One of the common critiques of any church that is reaching a lot of people with the gospel (and I am humbled to say that God is using Next Level Church to reach a lot of people - over 2,500 people have given their life to Jesus in 9 years!), is that they must be sacrificing depth and discipleship in order to become “seeker-sensitive.” They must somehow be watering down the gospel or just trying to get a large number of “salvations,” but nobody knows what happens next. Like I said earlier, I am not trying to go there, but I think that context is essential to what I am going to say next...
THIS IS NOT AN EITHER/OR SITUATION. Both discipleship and a clear presentation of the gospel for unchurched people are essential to God’s church being effective. You don’t have to choose. They are not mutually exclusive.
At NLC, our first question about a weekend experience is always “what will the unchurched person think?” and our first question the rest of the time is “what is ____’s next step?”
Everyone has a next step, whether they have been following Jesus for 50 years or have never heard a word of Scripture in their life.
Here are 3 questions I believe you should consider when deciding what discipleship looks like at your church:
Is the gospel being presented in a clear and simple way every weekend? I know what you’re thinking. This is supposed to be a post about discipleship. But here is the thing: if you are not sharing Jesus with people who don’t know him, you are going to have very little need for a good discipleship system. It all starts with someone exploring Jesus and then making that choice to follow Him. Then discipleship begins.
Is the discipleship pathway simple and clear? Once someone steps across the line of faith, they are usually looking for what’s next. The problem is, most use words they don’t understand or just fail to talk altogether about what is next. This person isn’t wanting eschatology or Hebrew interpretation. They want to know how this impacts their day tomorrow. But the person who just moved to your town and has been in church for 30 years, they might want the eschatology Bible study. Is it obvious how to find what is available and is it being consistently offered in a concise way? No matter how clever the acronym is or how pretty the graphic showing it off is, people will never enter your discipleship process if they don’t understand it. They won’t take 20 minutes to read through it. They can’t choose from 90 options. Clear and simple wins every time.
Have you considered people who aren’t like you? As humans, we have a naturally tendency to create systems for people like us. If you are reading this, you are probably fairly mature in your faith. You might be an extrovert like me. You might not. Here is the thing, my tendency, as an extrovert who is relatively experienced at following Jesus, is to build a discipleship system around the things I know and love. I think people should go to groups and classes. They should read books that have helped me in the past. This is not a bad thought process, but what about the person who is nervous to go to a group because they don’t have a basic Bible knowledge? What about the introvert who hates group discussions? What about the person who has a hard time reading and fears being asked to read aloud? What about the person who works nights and can’t go to most of your group times?
Many churches have unintentionally created discipleship processes that eliminate most of their church from participation. These types of questions can help protect you from this mistake.