Seeking the Lost...Discipling the Found

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There is an increasing emphasis on discipleship among evangelicals.  It seems that this is the present great movement that is consuming us. In the 1980s and 90s it was evangelism, the recognition that we had not done well generally, and in the case of the CRCNA specifically, at reaching those who were not connected to Christ and his church. In those decades there was a strong emphasis on evangelism training, church planting (recognizing that percentage wise more people come to Christ through new churches than established ones), and a strong prayer initiative to pray for the lost in your neighborhoods. Along the way we began to recognize that while it was a good and absolutely necessary thing to bring the gospel, this was but a first step. We wanted people who not merely said they believed, but people who were passionate followers of Jesus i.e. disciples. 

Our failure at disciple making in North America is reflected by Ross Dothat, “The real story is what’s happening in the vast America in between, where papal encyclicals rarely penetrate and the works of Richard Dawkins pass unread. That’s where you’ll find the reality of contemporary religion, and the roots of our present crisis. It’s an America that remains the most religious country in the developed world, as God-besotted today as ever; a place where Jesus Christ is an obsession, God’s favor a birthright, and spiritual knowledge an all-consuming goal. But it’s also a place where traditional Christian teachings have been warped into justifications for solipsism and anti-intellectualism, jingoism and utopianism, selfishness and greed.” (Douthat, Ross [2012-04-17]. Bad Religion . Simon & Schuster, Inc..)

Our failure in the CRCNA in making disciples may be reflected in another one of those troubling Yearbook stats, namely, almost every year our reported reversions are equal to or exceed our evangelism growth. Now it could be that using the reversions category is an easy way to clean up the membership roles, but even so the fact that we name these people as reversions tells us they were not committed enough to stick around or at least tell us where they went.

Looking at our evangelism statistics and our reversions caused me to wonder a bit. If we would double our annual evangelism growth (from about 3000 a year to 6000 a year [6 new believers in each congregation]) and cut in half our reversions (from about 3000 to 1500), that would have the impact of planting 20 average sized CR congregations. But to do this means that we need to capture both a heart for evangelism (when was the last time your congregation saw 6 new converts?) and a heart for discipling both new and longterm Christ followers* (CRHM used to have as it’s tag line, “Gathering God’s growing family—seeking the lost, discipling the found...all for God’s glory.”) 

So where is your congregation in the 21st century? How are you, seeking the lost and discipling the found--all for God’s glory? What stories can you tell that reflect the wonder of this seeking and discipling?

 

*I recognize that some see discipleship as a process that begins before a commitment to Christ. This idea sees a more seamless experience in “crossing the line of faith” (see for instance, The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter III). 

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Is the goal disciples or dues - paying members?

Contributor

Hi Bill,

Thanks for joining the conversation. Our goal is always disciples. Part of discipleship is joining a local body of believers and contributing with one's time, talents, and financial gifts so that God's work goes forward both in that place and in the world. So we are not looking for dues paying member, but we are looking for fully involved and committed disciples who show that commitment with the fullness of all they have. I like to think of it in terms of Deuteronomy 6 and the Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your strength." One person has put this in modern terms by taking the Hebrews words and interpreting them, "Love the Lord your God with every thought that you think, every move that you make, and every penny in your wallet." 

Community Builder

Just one question: how has crcna done with its church planting emphasis?  How many are we planting each year? How many close after 3-5 years for various reasons?  Are new plants having better experiences with evangeism and discipleship than churches that have been established?  Sorry, my one question grew into three.

Larry

Contributor

 

Hi Larry,

Thanks for the questions.  Home Missions, as you know, has an emphasis on starting and stenghtening churches and campus ministries. Over the past few years we have started/planted an average of 18 churches a year.  Typcially new churches see that for every 8 members 1 person is brought to faith. In CRC's generally that number in somewhere in the neighhborhood of 100 members for every 1 person brought to faith (remember that around 600 CRCs had no converstion growth this past year). We find that about 70% of our church plants continue beyond 5 years. We are also discovering that while it used to take about 3 years for a church plant to gain traction in a community changes in the North American landscape in matters of faith and trust in institutions means that typcially it takes 5 years for a new church to get solid footing in a community. 

Seems to me the concept of "our making" is not Reformed. Regeneration precedes  (logically and temporally) conversion, We should be identifying the elect e.g. the regenerate and assisting their conversion to discipleship. It may seem like only words but words are important because our important theoretical (can't think of the right word) thinking is done in words.

Unlike our "dispenational" brothers and sisters, we don't evangelize for the purpose of "getting the lost into the lifeboats." If Reformed theology is correct, there is nothing we could do to keep the elect out of the lifeboats or to get the unregenerate into them. 

These days in Canada and the US most evangelism is designed to snatch people from other congregations and denominations. Our members have no training to deal with people who have a logical defense for other religions or even atheism. Off hand, I don't have a solution.   

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