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).