Case Study for Growing Churches in America

churchgrowth

Measuring growth and success in churches is not something new, but given the major shift currently taking place in Christianity’s center, moving from America to nations like: Africa, South America, and parts of Asia, there has been a special emphasis on what is working and what is not working in churches in the United States. Additionally, as Joe Carter illustrates, “Mainliners may try to comfort themselves by claiming that every denomination is in decline, but it is simply not true. While conservative churches are not growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.”[1] Growth and success can be misleading words, so a proper definition must be established for both. In many cases, growth is assigned to the numerical attendance, while success points more towards community impact, spiritual formation/development, and reproducing disciples. For the purposes of this case study, three of the top five churches, when looking at numerical growth will be evaluated, compared, and contrasted.[2] By looking at the vision and mission of each church, core doctrines, and values, special areas of ministry will be highlighted and gauged to see if one’s numerical growth is representative of their success.

EVALUATION OF CHURCHES

Gateway Fellowship Church, in San Antonio, Texas is the fastest numerical growing church in the United States with an average attendance of 2,332 people, up 187% over the previous year. Virtually doubling in size over the course of a year is not the norm, but Gateway’s senior pastor; John Van Pay attributes this growth to their passion for discipleship. Van Pay says, “We follow a simple process of discipleship, in which friends are encouraged to belong to a small group so they can grow and be sent to start new small groups where disciples are made.”[3] Small group ministry appears to be the primary focus of Gateway Fellowship Church because small groups present the best environment to form friendships, spiritual formation, and reproducing disciples. At the core of Gateway’s vision is love because, “Love finds a need and meets it.” Other areas to serve center around meeting the needs of: single parents, first responders, the poor and elderly, inner-city ministries, and orphan/foster care programs.

Gateway’s website is very well organized, especially for the first time visitor. In addition to stating their doctrine of faith, their core values center on being: “Spiritually Engaged by Walking With Jesus, Having Passionate Purpose, Through the Making of Disciples, and Being Relationally Connected by Resolving Conflict Biblically.”[4] Getting people plugged into ministry, meeting the needs of others, and serving are the driving forces of their marketing efforts and this is likely one of the primary reasons for their tremendous growth.

Red Rocks Church, in Littleton, Colorado ranks fourth in terms of numerical growth. Current attendance is 9,624, up 26% over last year. Founded in 2005, senior pastor Shawn Johnson credits the church’s growth to, “Pursuing God, Making Him Known, Living in Gospel-Centered Community, Serving with Purpose, and Multiplying Disciples.”[5] What makes this church stand out from any other was their choice to use a run-down theme park to plant the church. Pastor Johnson gives God the complete glory for, “Turning this remote and awkward location into a place where people are able to pray, sacrifice, serve, give, and go for the sake of making heaven more crowded.”

Red Rocks Church, “Exists to make Heaven more crowded.”[6] Getting people plugged in and involved in ministry seems to be the primary focus and intent of the website. Their motto is: “One church, with four ways to get involved: Group Life, Sports, Care, and Serving. Pastor Johnson says, ‘Authenticity and transparency are vital for forming relationships and making the Word of God come alive.’”[7] This mindset is not the norm in many churches or pulpits, but this writer believes it is vital for the congregation to know they are not alone in their struggles, trials, and temptations.

Church of the Highlands, in Birmingham, Alabama is the fifth fastest growing church in America, with attendance of 38,346, up 24% over last year, making them the second largest church in America. Pastor Chris Hodges explains, “Our story begins with the dream of planting a church with a simple goal: ‘help people connect with God in a church without letting structure and programs get in the way.’”[8] The main focus of Church of the Highlands is: “Relevant teaching, heartfelt worship, honest friendships, constant prayer, and compassionate care for others. These focuses help Church of the Highlands line up every ministry with the vision and mission, to make sure all efforts maximize people in becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.

Church of the Highland’s website is easy to navigate and despite the large size of the church and multiple campuses, it was not overwhelming finding a growth track or area of ministry/fellowship to get plugged into. Pastor Hodges, “Co-founded ARC (Association of Related Churches) in 2001, which has launched hundreds of churches all across the USA. He also founded a coaching network called GROW, which trains and resources pastors to help them break barriers and reach their growth potential. Hodges is also the founder and President of the Highlands College, a ministry training school that trains and launches students into full-time ministry careers.”[9] These endeavors, coupled with the Highland’s Growth Track, “Guides you to discover your redemptive purpose and live the life God created for you. The Growth Track is made up of four steps that equip you to 1) connect to the church, 2) discover the strengths of your purposeful design, 3) develop your personal leadership, and 4) use your God-given gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.”[10] In addition to the great growth track, Highland’s Small Groups have one, simple purpose: “To bring people together. We believe God created us to live in relationship with others and only then can we live the full life He intends for us. Sharing life through community is part of our design, but meaningful relationships are not always easy to find. That is why small groups exist—to make these life-changing relationships relevant and accessible to you.”[11] Training, equipping, and empowering their members to do the work of the church is one of the primary reasons for this church’s numerical growth and spiritual health and vitality. The one area that really stood out, when looking through the website was not only their commitment to those who called Highlands their home church, but also to pastors and leaders in other churches, who are looking for resources and/or training.[12] In a climate of church versus church or denomination versus denomination, it was truly refreshing to see a body of believers committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, in partnership with other churches.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST

It was very enlightening looking at the various similarities and differences among some of the fastest growing churches in America. While numerical growth was the determining factor used in the survey, it seems evident the spiritual formation and discipleship for all churches cited are on point with their numerical growth. In recent years, there has been a much-needed shift from focusing on church membership to getting people plugged into ministry and serving. When this occurs, there is a transformation that happens in the life of the believer as he or she taps into their God-given potential. There also seems to be a common thread in all of these churches using small group ministry as the primary place where discipleship, spiritual formation, and relationships are formed. These three areas are vital when assessing the health of a church and also contribute to the spiritual/numerical growth of the church. Each of the churches cited above also offer Española as a ministry and service offered, which is something many new churches have identified as an important outreach. Ultimately, understanding the demographics in one’s area is critical when determining what areas of ministry will be offered. In addition, each of the churches had a clear vision and mission and every area of ministry offered either supported or helped achieve the specific vision or mission. Much of the ministries listed were laity led, which is another trend in many churches and points back to equipping the body of the church to do the work of the church. The sad reality is twenty percent of most church attenders are doing eighty percent of the work, and without a paradigm shift, many leaders and volunteers will burnout because others either refuse or feel ill-equipped to serve. In each of the growing churches, the growth track helped identify the areas of service people were suited for and serving was made a priority for all churches listed. The problem many churches face is how to get the remaining eighty percent of seat warmers to become actively engaged in serving in some form of ministry. For churches that have been around for over five to ten years, this is an ever-increasing dilemma, but one that must be addressed if growth is going to occur. It is all about getting the right people on the bus and in the right seat, and sometimes that means there are people that need to get off the bus because he or she is limiting progress and growth.

CONCLUSION

As Ed Stetzer demonstrates, “Growing churches are showing a great commitment to multiplying themselves, as we see in the development of multiple campuses, and this commitment to multiplication often creates a need for sacrifice. Sacrifice is inherent to the experience of every growing believer—and every growing church.”[13] Sacrifice is also needed for church growth and kingdom growth and churches that understand this principle are poised for God to do great things in and through their congregation. It is sad to say many congregations have the mindset that everything should be about them, while the exact opposite is true. Every service and every ministry must be geared towards the first time visitor and to the people who are not yet serving. The missing catalyst to growth in many churches is helping people discover and refine their areas of spiritual gifting and then plugging them into ministry where he or she can reach their God-given potential in advancing the kingdom of God. This assignment is something every church leader should research and then determine if the vision and mission of their church lines up with the various forms of ministry and fellowship being offered. For some, it will be a wake-up call, while for others, it will help refine and correctly target where God is leading them.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carter, Joe. “Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” March 17, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline (accessed June 8, 2015).

Christianity Today Website. “Trends Among Growing Churches.” September 24, 2013 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/sacrifice-is-trending.html (accessed June 8, 2017).

Church of the Highlands Website. https://www.churchofthehighlands.com (accessed June 8, 2017).

Gateway Fellowship Church Website. https://mygateway.tv/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

Outreach Magazine Website. http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html (accessed June 7, 2017).

Red Rocks Church Website. http://www.redrockschurch.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[1] Joe Carter, “Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” March 17, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline (accessed June 8, 2015).

[2] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html (accessed June 7, 2017).

[3] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=101 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[4] Gateway Fellowship Church Website, https://mygateway.tv/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

[5] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=40 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[6] Red Rocks Church Website, http://www.redrockschurch.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[7] Red Rocks Church Website, http://www.redrockschurch.com/learn-more/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[8] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=2 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[9] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/about/pastor (accessed June 8, 2017).

[10] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/connect/growth-track (accessed June 8, 2017).

[11] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/groups (accessed June 8, 2017).

[12] Church of the Highlands Website, https://growleader.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[13] Christianity Today Website, “Trends Among Growing Churches,” September 24, 2013 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/sacrifice-is-trending.html (accessed June 8, 2017).

Small Group Leadership

small group leader training

As Rod Dempsey asserts, “Anyone who knows Christ can be a leader, since being a leader is all about influence.”[1] Within the framework of small groups, Dempsey and Dave Earley identify three key leadership positions. The first is the small group leader who, “Understands their job is to serve and empower [the attendees] to ‘be all they can be’ for Christ. The small group leader [also] selects the curriculum, finds a good location to meet, and chooses an apprentice who will be trained to start a new group.”[2] The second leadership position in a small group is the apprentice who is basically a small group leader in training, with the goal of leading his or her own small group within several months. The apprentice is involved with all areas of planning and leadership, to provide the best chance for success when facilitating his or her own small group. The third leadership position in a small group is the host, who are primarily responsible for making attendees feel welcome. Dempsey and Earley illustrate hosts are, “Vital to making the small group experience a good one for everyone who comes to their home and [when these three positions are] involved in the planning, preparation, and execution of small groups, the groups have a much better chance for healthy growth and multiplication.”[3]

In addition to the three leadership positions, Dempsey and Earley cite three components/streams that when employed combine to form one powerful, moving force. The first is the biblical stream, made up of the qualities found in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, which relate to the leader’s values and being blameless. This “Means that he [or she] does not have any major spiritual area that could come into question or attack from the enemy.”[4] The second component is the spiritual stream, which is rooted in an understanding and execution of the first stream. This stream is composed of: prayer, spiritual gifts, fruit of the Spirit, armor of God, and Spirit of God. Dempsey and Earley explain, “Many leaders are one the front lines of the battle, but they may not be aware of the [spiritual] weapons and armor that they have as soldiers of the King. Another challenge is that many leaders may be aware of the tools they have at their disposal, but they may not be skilled in using the spiritual arsenal.”[5] The third component is the practical stream, which as Dempsey and Earley demonstrate allows, “The small group leader to receive a vision from God and communicate it clearly to the people entrusted to his or her care.” This stream is made up of: planning, organizing, communicating, training, mentoring, multiplying and vision casting.

Dempsey and Earley provide eight habits, which will enhance the effectiveness of small group leaders and will, “Create a path that leads to fruitfulness, and multiplication, helping leaders, and those under them, experience greater fulfillment in ministry.”[6] They are as follows:

(1) Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group. (2) Pray for your group members daily. (3) Invite new people to visit your group weekly. (4) Contact your group members regularly. (5) Prepare for your group meetings. (6) Mentor an apprentice leader. (7) Plan group fellowship activities. (8) Be committed to your own personal growth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dempsey, Rod and Dave Earley. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196596_1 (accessed June 5, 2017).

 

[1] Rod Dempsey, “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196596_1 (accessed June 5, 2017).

[2] Rod Dempsey and Dave Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 66.

[3] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 67.

[4] Ibid., 69.

[5] Ibid., 70.

[6] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 115.

Definition and Focus of Small Groups

small-group

Small groups are playing a major role in the advancement of the gospel and the spiritual formation of believers. Relationships are key in this process and are extremely difficult to form during weekly services, making small groups the ideal venue for discipleship and ministry efforts. Groups can vary in size, they can be open or closed, and they can meet at the church or off campus. The beauty of small groups is the fluidity of each group’s dynamics. Ideal groups will stay under forty people; otherwise, the group members will not be able to fully express his or her views and each member’s spiritual gifts cannot be utilized when the group gets too large. The overreaching goal of small groups is to function as the body of Christ, essentially becoming His hands and feet in various forms of ministry, by serving both the community and each other.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CLIQUE AND A SMALL GROUP

According to Jeffrey Arnold, “A small group is intent on participating with Christ in building His ever-expanding kingdom in the hearts of individuals, in the life of the group, and through believers, into the world.”[1] Conversely, cliques are characterized by the inward, unfocused, and random nature of undisciplined groups, which are scattered throughout the church, with no emphasis on the Bible or biblical living. Arnold then stresses the importance of small groups saying, “If we do not focus on returning to our biblical roots by building intentional community, we will miss the greatest lessons that our faith offers. As we observed with Jesus, disciples are best made in community. Unlike cliques, these communities are intentionally small, outward in focus, and intent on participating with Christ in the building of His kingdom.”[2] Over time, if small groups do not stay focused on kingdom living and godly principles, they will crystallize, making it difficult for anyone new to join the group, which ultimately turns what used to be a small group into a clique. These cliques are like cancerous cells within the church and can wreak havoc if not brought under the umbrella of God’s grace and realigned to fulfill the Great Commission by enacting the Great Commandment.

DEFINITION OF G.R.O.U.P.

Dempsey and Earley use the acrostic G.R.O.U.P. to demonstrate the necessary components small groups must possess. Guided by a leader is the first objective as, “Everything rises and falls on leadership…[And] in order for a group to be successful, the leader of the group needs to view their role as drawing out the new creation God has in mind for every individual in the group.”[3] Regular meeting times are vital to the success of small groups and Dempsey believes, “Meeting weekly is best, so people can gather to serve and share God’s love and gifts with one another and with the world.”[4] Opening God’s Word is mandatory in small groups due to the Bible’s power to change people’s lives from the inside out (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 12:2). Dempsey illustrates, “Studying and applying the Word of God has the power to change us from what we are into what God has in mind for us.”[5] United in service is rooted in the Great Commandment (John 13:34-35). Dempsey explains, “Spiritual gifts are designed to strengthen the body of Christ and to serve the world… [And] every believer has at least one spiritual gift to build up the body of Christ and to minister and serve others.”[6] Prayer for one another is what separates a Christ-centered group from a civic club. As Jerry Falwell so brilliantly put it, “Nothing of eternal significance ever happens apart from prayer,” making this a necessary component to any successful small group ministry. In addition, as Joel Comiskey emphasizes:

To continue to lead a group, multiply that group, and care for the new leaders as a coach, you need Christ’s light and easy yoke. Avoid the common cell leader sins that will damage or even kill your ministry. Make feasible goals; use your team; discover where God’s working, and persist until you see breakthroughs. With this kind of ministry, you will be able to avoid burnout and continue a fruitful cell ministry throughout your life.[7]

FOUR QUESTIONS RELATED TO GROUPS AND CHURCH

Are we introducing Christian disciplines into our small groupings? This is an area many small groups fail to fully utilize because Christian disciplines are more caught than taught and small groups present the best opportunity to learn these disciplines because the members of the group typically spend more time together. If Christian disciplines are not being introduced in small group settings, this is huge missed opportunity to instill key traits in the lives of the other members. Behavior is often emulated, so there must an intentional focus on mentoring and training members of a small group in biblical disciplines.

Are our small groupings building the kingdom or hindering the kingdom? This should be the question one must answer in every form of ministry the church is involved with. If an event or ministry does not line up with the vision and mission of the church, it should not be done. With this mindset, small groups only hinder the kingdom when they crystallize and are merely cliques or when the small groups do not receive full endorsement from the lead pastor. A church of small groups or a church that is small groups will be much more impactful than a church with small groups. Small groups are essentially a mini-version of the larger body of Christ, so the vision and mission of the larger body should be portrayed in the small group DNA as well. However, as Comiskey illustrates, “Small groups and cells have become commodities in today’s church. When someone mentions a cell, what registers is a Bible study, a social gathering, a Sunday school class or anything else (small and a group). And many cell models are even adding to this thinking by liberally sprinkling the word cell over all groups in their church.”[8] This paradigm must change for biblical small groups to have the most impact in advancing the gospel.

Are we training leaders who bring Christian disciplines into small groupings? The sad reality to this question is no. Unfortunately, there are a great many opportunities being missed by not training the younger generations up and mentoring them, so they then too can mentor those who will become leaders one day in the future. Age segregated ministries is detrimental to this process, as many generations have little to no interaction. However, in the small group environment, there is an opportunity to become multi-generational and intentional in training future leaders.

 Is our entire congregation working to develop a disciplined small group mentality? If there is not congregational buy-in, especially as it pertains to developing a disciplined small group mentality, any model will ultimately fail. Churches of small groups and church who are small groups stand a better chance to develop this healthy mentality because it is a major indicator of the church’s health as well. A strong case can be made that churches with an emphasis on small groups stand a much better chance of developing a disciplined small group mentality.

INWARD, OUTWARD, AND UPWARD CONCEPTS AND CONTEXT

Arnold presents one of the best models this writer has come across when looking at the role and dynamics of small groups, especially when one takes into consideration the 80/20 principle he highlights. In many churches, it is probably closer to 85/15, where fifteen percent of the members are doing eighty-five percent of the work, and this generally translates to giving as well. The interesting principle Arnold illustrates is, “As members of the body, we are reliant on one another and on Christ, and mutually responsible to use whatever contribution we make to grow the body into maturity.”[9] If a part of the human body is dead, it is surgically removed, but in the church, the eighty to eighty-five percent of people who sit idly by taking up passive roles are not treated like a dead or diseased appendage would be. This illustration is profound and to ultimately engage those who are not currently serving or active in the church, small groups are the answer, as long as the groups are healthy, by reaching inward, outward, and upward.

When a group reaches inward, the focus is on group care. Arnold demonstrates how, “Groups provide love and care for their members in many ways [and] a loving community offers members a positive body life experience by engaging people in the discovery of their spiritual gifts, developing the lay leadership of the church, and caring for its members.”[10] There is something so empowering about finding one’s gifting and then engaging in ministry fulfilling the role God has called the person to. However, without an environment to first define and second to refine the areas of spiritual gifting(s), many people never reach his or her full potential. In addition to equipping individuals with various giftings, the spiritual maturity of the individual is also a byproduct, which further refines his or her discipline and produces great future leaders. For large churches especially, this inward focus is vital because congregational care, unknown, and unmet needs are a daily occurrence. With a focus on small groups, this is an amazing step in making people truly feel cared for and also provides an area of ministry for other members with the gift(s) of prayer, comfort, love, and compassion.

As groups focus on reaching upward, this cultivates an attitude of nurture and worship. Nurturing allows members to not only get to know one another better, but it lays the foundation and vision for the group to help people get connected to God. Doing life together is an amazing experience and this sense of community is hardwired into humanity. God created His children with this desire to love and be loved by. As small groups develop times of fellowship and walk through trials and circumstances, opportunities to pray and grow their faith are presented. As a result of answered prayers and faith in God’s plans, thanksgiving and praise are the appropriate response. Arnold demonstrates, “When enough people in a congregation start experiencing these worship moments, the entire church begins to change. Spiritual renewal that begins in groups can begin to create revival in the larger body of Christ.”[11] However, neglecting the power of worship is one of the main reasons Dempsey and Earley cite for groups failing to reach their full potential, stressing, “Worship is a moral obligation and a natural response to the absolute worth of God. Worship completes us, is transforming, puts life back into perspective, and intensifies the presence and therefore the activity of God.”[12] Dempsey and Earley could not be more correct on the power of prayer, as they illustrate, “God often manifests His presence in proportion to our expressed recognition of our need and love for Him.”[13]

When groups begin to reach outward through acts of service and evangelism, they reach their full potential. As Arnold explains, “One of the inherent weaknesses in any small grouping of people is the natural tendency to maintain an inward focus (care), ignoring the outward focus (service and evangelism)… [making] the outward focus the most difficult group discipline to cultivate.”[14] Arnold clarifies how evangelism then leads to both spiritual and numerical growth as healthy groups work to attach people deeply to their God and show them how to minister to the world. Ultimately, as Arnold explains, “Biblical evangelism is not a program but a person-to-person process of sharing the good news about forgiveness of sin and new life in Jesus. Because small groups are likely to be the most personal setting offered by a church, they are natural places for this kind of evangelism to take place.”[15]

CONCLUSION

Leading healthy small groups is the key to building the church. Much can be learned from the early church model, as people regularly met together in each other’s homes, sharing meals together, providing the apostles and early church teachers the perfect environment to fulfill the Great Commission, by encouraging one another to live their lives with love for one another, and faith and obedience to God. The process of making disciples largely rests on making relationships a priority and this means putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This outward focus is the ultimate goal every individual and small group should be working towards in their walk with Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

_______. “What is a Cell Church?” http://www.joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_leader_deadlysins.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

________. “What is a Cell Group?” http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_whatisacellgroup.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “What is a Group?” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 7:08. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196591_1 (accessed June 2, 2017).

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

[1] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 31-32.

[4] Rod Dempsey, “What is a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 7:08. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196591_1 (accessed June 2, 2017).

[5] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 32.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Joel Comiskey, “What is a Cell Church?” http://www.joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_leader_deadlysins.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

[8] Joel Comiskey, “What is a Cell Group?” http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_whatisacellgroup.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

[9] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 31.

[10] Ibid., 34.

[11] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 37.

[12] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 45-46.

[13] Ibid., 46.

[14] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 38.

[15] Ibid., 39.

Why Churches Need Small Groups

Small_Group_logo

Developing small group ministry in the church is important to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).”[1] Dempsey explains, “The church has a head; the head of the church is Jesus. The church has members that need to be connected to the head and connected to each other. And finally the church’s members need to serve one another and serve the community at large. Churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus”[2] and inward-focused groups die. Dempsey then demonstrates the necessity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.”[3]

One’s primary reason for wanting to develop small group ministry must be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. Earley and Dempsey further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. They will work anywhere, at any time, and in any political situation. The key to your success is to begin practicing the principles behind the commands Jesus gave us. Live your life purposefully for God and lead by example.”[4] Another important reason for developing small groups is found in the principle of multiplication. Earley and Dempsey illustrate the strongest churches in the world have tens of thousands of members in thousands of small groups. As humans, and with finite minds, it can oftentimes be hard to fathom the omnipotence of God and His marvelous plan of salvation and redemption. As a result, when most churches are planning areas of ministry, the addition of believers is used as the primary litmus test for success; however, God, as Earley and Dempsey convey, “Has given us an exponential plan to reach the world. The question is… are you following an addition or a multiplication plan? Why should you lead a group? That is easy: to follow His command to make disciples of all the nations.”[5] A final reason for forming small groups lies in the desire for community. As Jeffrey Arnold expounds, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships”[6] and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

[1] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

[2] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 2.

[3] Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group.”

[4] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 18, 23-24.

 

Need for Ecclesiology and the Believers’ Church: Article Critique

christian-doctrine

Against the backdrop of America’s Industrial Revolution, Jason Duesing compares President Theodore Roosevelt’s call-to-action in conserving the nation’s natural resources[1] to, “The people of God needing to take action to preserve and protect the doctrine of the church.”[2] America was growing at a rapid rate, yet Roosevelt had the foresight to recognize the immediate threat if changes were not made. Similarly, Duesing seeks to show, “Believers, acting under various constructs – from liberalism to ecumenism to even evangelism – have also engaged in ‘old wasteful methods’ with regard to the ‘natural resources’ of the doctrine of the church.”[3] The purpose of this critique is to assess Duesing’s proposed solution to overcoming indifference and his call to awaken evangelicals toward both ecclesiology and the believers’ church.

SUMMARY

            Duesing begins by establishing the widespread doctrinal deterioration that has plagued the local church and contributes this breakdown of the Great Commission[4] to the local church not protecting the gospel message, internal disputes, and attacks from outside the church. Where parachurch organizations thrived in evangelistic outreach efforts, the local church has become sterile in reproducing disciples, even within close proximity. Duesing then proposes the only way the true biblical gospel message will make it to the next generation is the believers’ church.

As the first champions of the believers’ church, since the Constantine Synthesis, Duesing acknowledges the Anabaptists were, “The pioneers of ecclesiological conservatism in an age not of ecclesiological indifference, but of ecclesiological intolerance.”[5] This distinction separated them from the Magisterial Reformers who Leonard Verduin asserts, were primarily only concerned with, “The Anabaptists’ desire to move beyond Church reform to complete restoration of the church to its New Testament origins.”[6] Duesing demonstrates, “The Magisterial Reformers were not looking to make many ecclesiological changes, [but were concerned with] the economic and political ramifications of separating the church from the state.”[7] While the Anabaptists sought to conserve doctrine, Duesing contrasts, “The Magisterial Reformers sought to make membership contingent upon baptism as an infant, [and] just as the State carried the sword for the purpose of maintaining and establishing justice, so too did the Church support the sword for the purpose of maintaining and establishing the truth.”[8] Ultimately, the Anabaptists recognized, “The only way to accomplish biblical purity in the Church was to separate completely from the existing institutions and establish a believers’ church, [which] no longer supported the use of the sword and refused to call for the death penalty even for those with divergent doctrinal views.”[9]

STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES

            Duesing does a worthy job demonstrating the state of affairs within the local church and the need for doctrinal reform. The gospel message has become so diluted and religion in general has turned more into an environment of pleasing people, rather than training and equipping disciples to fulfill the Great Commission. The formation of the believers’ church was truly a radical paradigm shift, rooted biblical teaching. This writer agrees, “For the sake of preserving what is essential for salvation for the next generation, a new call is needed to awaken evangelicals from a state of indifference toward ecclesiology and the believers’ church”[10]

By only briefly touching on the decline of the church, Duesing’s call on believers to see “Ecclesiological Conversation as a Christian Duty” does not paint as vivid of a picture had the failure of maintaining a pure church been better demonstrated. For example, H. Leon McBeth illustrates how, “The eighteenth century proved devastating for the General Baptists, [due] to theological problems, antiquated church practices, and failure to recruit new leaders of stature.”[11] Had this been included in Duesing’s article, another comparison could have been made to the eighteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived and the Intellectual Revolution challenged the way people viewed God, the universe, and themselves.”[12]

CONCLUSION

            Duesing’s use of America, standing on the precipice of its own demise by reckless indifference sets the stage for a solid argument for the need of ecclesiological conservation and a movement towards the believers’ church. Duesing is right, doctrines must be upheld and biblical principles must never be compromised, even for the sake of unity, and the Anabaptists are a great example of what is sometimes needed to form a pure church rooted in biblical teaching.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duesing, Jason G. “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving.” A White Paper from the CTR, Fort Worth, TX: Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006. http://www.baptisttheology.org/baptisttheology/assets/File/BelieversChurch.pdf (accessed April 6, 2017).

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Sarasota, FL: The Christian Hymnary Publishers, reprint 1997.

[1] Theodore Roosevelt, “Conservation as a National Day,” in Conferences of Governors (Washington: G.P.O., 1909), 3-13.

[2] Jason G. Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” A White Paper from the CTR (Fort Worth, TX: Center for Theological Research, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006), 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew 28:16-20

[5] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 3.

[6] Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Sarasota, FL: The Christian Hymnary Publishers, reprint 1997).

[7] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 3-4.

[8] Ibid., 4.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Duesing, “The Believers’ Church: A ‘Natural Resource’ Worth Conserving,” 5.

[11] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 170.

[12] Ibid., 151.

Communion

You may not know this, but communion is actually an act of worship to our Heavenly Father. While it is a reenactment of the gospel story, it is also a means of expressing gratitude to our Savior, it is a statement of faith, and it is an act of contrition. In eating the bread, worshippers physically communicate that they are receiving the pierced and wounded body of Jesus for the healing of our own brokenness. In drinking the cup, worshippers physically communicate that they are receiving the atoning blood of Jesus as a cleansing for our sin. Through this act of worship, we declare his death to be our life, the true source of all our comforts and hopes. God ordained this Holy Communion not as a ritual to be observed, but as a blessing to be received. He didn’t say this wafer represents my body, He said this is my body given for you. He didn’t say this grape juice represents my blood; He said this is my new covenant with you. My prayer is that right now as we get ready to reenact this sacred ordinance that you would be drawn back to when Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins and redemption.

Bread: Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke the bread and said, this is my body, given for you. Do this to remember me.

Prayer- Father, we praise your holy name, we thank you because you paid the ultimate price so we could be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to you. We thank you for revealing yourself to us and that when we respond we would be transformed. God, as we eat this bread I pray that those who are sick or broken in body would be restored and made new through your miraculous transforming power.

Wine: After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns.

Prayer- Lord, the blood of Jesus is the most precious gift you could ever have given to us. It redeems and cleanses us from sin and protects us from the power of darkness. We humbly praise and thank you for the blood shed at Calvary and we pray that our lives may be a living sacrifice to you and we pray that our actions be a sweet aroma to you. Father, right now I plead your precious blood over us all, we pray that you wash us white as snow, we praise you for redeeming us, and we thank you for paying the ultimate price for our salvation. Thank you Jesus, the name above all names, everlasting Lord, blessed redeemer; Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Amen!