Is your church struggling? Is it plateauing? Is your church planting core team losing interest? Are you having difficulty in reaching the unreached?
Become a force seven multiplier—sounds awesome—doesn’t it? It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite movie titles, Force 10 from Navarone!
What’s a force seven multiplier?
Click. bait. We’ve all been hooked at some point, sorry. We read a sweet eye-candy infused headline and take the bait! For church planters and revitalizers, there are tons of baited hooks.
But, for the most part, many of the “hooks” are baited with buzzwords that appeal to emotion.
There’s something about catchwords that church planters love—and thrive on. They eat them up and spew them out like sunflower seeds. Missional, attractional, immersion, engagement, bi-vo, co-vo, relational, and so on… I even used them—I’m guilty.
At any church planting conference, these hipster slogans become incantations over coffee as lyrical prose.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about pipelines, champions, and co-vocational topics. Maybe you have, too? But, can we address the overall picture of why? Can we hit reset for a second?
The Truth about Gospel Engagement
As I stated, I’m guilty. In my last article, I wrote about the psychographic viewpoint and the fruitfulness of their examination (I’ll stick with my claim, too). Recently, I’ve been asked to speak at several small events. I met with planters and revitalizers—and listened to their heart.
Vocabulary is good. Humanity uses it to glorify God, build relationships, express emotions, feelings, opinions, and also to define specific contexts. So, hear me out, I’m not against all of the “hipster” terminology—it has purpose and can be edifying. I merely want to “lift some fog” and bring clarity to what we’re doing.
The truth about gospel engagement is derived from our captivation by God’s love, through Jesus Christ. Natural gospel conversations will occur when our hearts, minds, and souls are aligned with the first and greatest commandment—to love the Lord…
Sometimes we make things more difficult than they need to be. We seek out instantaneous low-hanging fruit. We try to mimic the Apostle Paul’s journey, utilize tested programs, or buy into the newest network.
Observation: I’ve never seen a garden grow overnight. That’s fairytale stuff. There’s always plotting, plowing, sowing, weeding, and then reaping. Only to do it all over again each year and each year the variables are different (sun, rain, clouds, temperature, soil).
Sometimes we get delusions of grandeur because we read a best-selling-megachurch guy’s book. We get depressed when we don’t see multiplicative fruit, immediately. We’ll say, “What and where did I do wrong?”
Our focus is wrong. We’re concentrated on tertiary concepts more than obedient disciple-making. And the cause is our reliance on self or man, more than Christ.
Community gospel engagement is not about an event, but Jesus. If we see the world through the lens of Christ, we will see humanity’s brokenness, lostness, addictions, and a sin-laden culture. When we look upon Christ, we will see our own sin, the great forgiveness granted to us, and our hearts will burn with passion.
None of us want to hear the words given to the church of Ephesus—you have lost your first love (Rev. 2:4). So, let’s just set aside some of the jargon for a second and be intentional and practical.
The Practical Side of Missional Engagement
I get it. Most church planters, and more revitalizers, are finding themselves in bi-vocational settings. I love much of what is being written about navigating these waters. Kudos to the “heroes” who devote time and energy to pour into others. We all know that it’s not easy juggling family, ministry, and diverse occupations—needless to say—remaining an obedient disciple-maker in the midst.
But the practical side of any gospel mission is the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying and sustaining power. Whether we are building relationships within our first, second, or third job, with our next-door neighbor, seeking the rhythms of the community, or strategizing to reach out to our children’s sports’ moms, our obedience comes from our intentionality. We must yield to the Spirit’s control.
The practical side of missional engagement is to realize why we’re on the mission in the first place. Rescue, redemption, reconciliation, renewal, and rejuvenation. We have been set apart for God’s use—sanctified—and for God’s mission—gospel proclamation.
The practical side is whether we’re bi-vocational, co-vocational, full-time, or volunteering—the Apostle Paul’s confession should rend our hearts, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
The practicality is finding the rhythmic natural gospel conversation—and that overflow from a rescued and redeemed heart.
Let’s not lose focus on what is most important. Strategies, programs, acronyms, catchphrases, and resources are all tools to assist in gospel proclamation—but our first love and primary focus must be the gospel.
You’ve never heard about psychographics?
Well, it’s not too late to learn—and you should.
Recently, I was having coffee (of course) with an experienced church planter/pastor—he’s a very respected friend. We were discussing the many models, programs, and classifications of planting and revitalizing churches. A great edifying conversation.
We briefly touched on the topic of how church planting gurus utilize demographic data for missional engagement but have no concept of psychographics.
What is psychographics? In a nutshell, psychographics is detailed qualitative consumer market information. It is the results, opinions, activities, and interests of specified demographics.
In layman’s terms, psychographics helps to know what people enjoy, are passionate about, participate in, and love—it’s basically an Instagram photo.
Let me give you two of the most important psychographic information tools.
A psychographic view provides the possible ways and means in which a church may reach a demographic. One such way is by examining the activities that people enjoy.
For instance, I have demographic information (true story) about the county and town where my church is located. I have spent six years in a revitalization, here. The demographics, from census.gov, illustrate that the town has grown faster than the county—but the African American population has grown by an astounding 120%, while the Caucasian population has decreased by over 7%. What does that tell me? It tells me a lot about the people group I am reaching.
However, what demographics do not tell me is how to reach the new African American members of the community—and what they value. This is where psychographics comes in handy. Psychographics will show me what activities my community is passionate about—the online gaming, crafts, fishing, fortnite (if you have to ask, forget it!), football, surfing, kayaking, sewing, bingo, etc.
Psychographics tells me how people spend their time, not merely their interests. It’s great to know the socio-economics of my community, but if I don’t know the psychographic activities then I don’t know the community.
This psychographic analysis is very insightful. I, not only, want to know about the community’s passion, but I want to know their attitudes towards those passions. How does my community feel about President Trump may not mean much to you, and you may not care, but if the community strongly despises the President—probably my first missional outreach should not involve a “Trump 2020” booth.
What does the community think about Christianity? Adoption? Sports salaries compared to teacher salaries? What do they think their greatest social need to be? Do they care about environmental protection, recycling, or clean water?
Knowing the attitudes of the people that you are reaching is a major bonus. This is nearly identical to the Apostle Paul walking through Athens, making the summation, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’” (Acts 17:22–23). The people of Athens were passionate about their gods—Paul used their passions to reach them.
There are several other facets of psychographics that are very helpful, I listed the two that I enjoy researching. To me, activities and attitudes tell me how people “tick” and what motivates them. I’m going to provide some graphics below. Each of the graphics has a linked source—do yourself a favor and click on some of those links.
The Western church has been traveling along the highway of culture with punctured tires. With warnings from passersby, finally, the hazards began blinking as a testimony to the crawling headway of expansion. For years, a passionate plea from prophetic missiologists and the apostolic elite—the Church must pull over and change its treads.
Throughout the eighties and nineties, a call for Western and global church planting was being received—by some. Today, the message of missional engagement has caught on and with a millennial onslaught of hipster urbanization, the Church began birthing city-wide movements.
Along with the missional paradigmatic shifts, God-molded zealous individuals—the crazy and the called—the weathered, tattooed, past-soaked, ex-addicted, and grace-delivered entrepreneurial-type persons—to reach an unreached world—gladly answered the call.
Coupled with the crazed and called (or confused), more and more church planting networks popped up around America. Each network—with its devised models, programs, and assessments—concentrating upon the inevitable and highly anticipated— “launch.”
Some planters focused on raising funds, some centered on the social aspects of society, some others on music, others on outreaches with bouncy-house-packed block parties, and still numerous others on sending masses of people from one church to another city to create an “insta-church.”
While it’s not productive (or wise) to point blameful fingers as to what went right and what went wrong over the last ten years in planting—I believe it is essential to analyze and learn. Admittedly, I long and love the passion and attempts for any missional engagement to reach the lost.
Once, a woman complained to D. L. Moody:
“Mr. Moody, I don’t agree with your evangelism methods.”
Without hesitation, Moody responded, “I agree with you. May I ask what your methods of evangelism are?”
The woman quipped, “I don’t have any…”
To which Moody famously retorted, “Then I like mine, better.”
With that clarified, I believe the Western church has been planting churches in reverse—backwards. And, we can do better.
Planting in Reverse
Once again, let me reiterate, I love the fact that the Church is planting churches, period. I also believe that to effectively reach unreached cultures, the church will have to utilize a multi-pronged approach to planting.
There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to planting. But, there is one aspect which should be the center-focus of all churches, missions, and plants—making reproducible disciple-makers.
The Church may have changed her tires, but without reproducible disciple-making, depress the hazard button now and prepare for another blow-out!
We’re planting churches in reverse.
While an overall focus is beginning to shift, a more concerted effort and awareness are imperative.
When planters focus on core groups and launch teams, instead of Great Commission multiplication, it is certain that people-centered “churches” will form. Most church planting networks emphasize their programs and upon numerical gatherings than people? Not all—but most.
Discipleship becomes an after-thought of what the church does, once people are gathered within it. While the Church may have seen a shift from the attractional model to the missional model—that was only a change in cheap tires, not in run-flats. As you can see—the discipleship after-thought approach is backward.
There are key components to biblical reproducible disciple-making (Matt. 28:18–20). But instead of looking at the main factors (gospel proclamation, baptism, commands, etc.), let’s understand one important principle—disciple-making does not begin with a conversion.
Disciple-making begins with relationship. This is the current church’s major dilemma. As if in a dense fog and driving with the high beams on—the Church is oblivious to effectively navigating the culture highway.
Most church planters are (or should be) trained to build relationships. The problem is that most networks do not focus on disciple-making at the core of those relationships. Discipleship is placed at the end and not the beginning. How so—you may ask?
When the planter targets creating a collective body, known as an ekklesia (the church), the focus is already numbers centered, instead of people-centered. The planter becomes burdened with the mantra “meet more people…gather more people.” The conclusion, the planter will feel like a failure if they’re not gathering masses of people. Likewise, it is not foreign for the planter to wait to engage in any form of discipleship until converts are gathered, as the church.
Reproducible disciple-making begins the church planting process with relationship. I know, if you’re like me, you’re desiring application.
What does this look like?
If a planter is parachuting into a city (let’s say, a husband and wife team), the main focus should be on finding an “anchor trade” (a term I coined for New Breed). An anchor trade is an occupation that meets a community need and provides income. Most planters seek to find maximum income potential but will have minimum exposure to the community.
Think of an anchor trade as the proverbial “tent-maker.” Paul’s occupation was making tents (Acts 18), a need that nomadic peoples of the first-century required and utilized. Paul’s tent-making placed him in the center of the community, buying, selling, and making—an anchor trade.
While in the anchor trade, the planter begins the disciple-making process. The planter proceeds to find the Mars Hill of the community (i.e. Mars Hill=what do they worship?) For you and me, a community may worship football, craft-beer, cross-fit, coffee, LGBTQ, or eclectic art. It is the planter’s obligation, as Paul achieved, to find the Mars Hill and engage it.
Next, the planter becomes a reproducible disciple-maker by necessitating natural gospel conversations. One of my favorite movie scenes is from The Princess Bride. Inigo Montoya is frustratingly waiting for Wesley to climb the Cliffs of Insanity. As soon as Wesley is to ascend to the top, Inigo will challenge him to a sword duel. The entertainment happens when Wesley reaches the top and sits down to take a rock out of his boot.
Inigo Montoya impatiently prods him, “You don’t by any chance have six fingers on your left hand?”
Wesley humorously responds, “Do you always begin conversations this way?”
A very funny scene, but the church has been so methodically programmed to think in “Christianese,” or to “complete the sale,” that it has forgotten how to have natural gospel conversations—church planters are no different. The first words from planters’ mouths should not be, “Are you saved?” A question the unreached world has no concept.
Discipleship begins with natural gospel conversations—not at a person’s conversion.
Jesus called his twelve followers, disciples. These men did not have illumination, nor were they regenerated. As well, understanding and applying the gospel doesn’t make a person a disciple, either. Clearly, Peter had the gospel all wrong (Gal. 2:11) and no one would reject his disciple “credentials.”
As the church planter continues to work an anchor trade, knowing the Mars Hill, and engaging in natural gospel conversations, true relationships form—which in turn, establish life-on-life disciple-making. From life-on-life formulations, an ekklesia is formed.
Think about the two processes. There is a distinct difference between gathering, establishing, launching, outreach, and then discipleship programs—with anchor trade, Mars Hill, gospel conversations, disciple-making, and ekklesia. One is backward, and the other is in Great Commission order.
Knowing these two processes, the question for you becomes: which will you choose? Let’s just admit—making disciple-makers is difficult and tedious. It’s not glamorous or fun. It is pull over, down to earth, nitty-gritty, go through the trunk, find the car-jack, and greasy lug wrench-get-the-hands-dirty-tire-changing application.
Disciple-making is real life-on-life Christ living. But, if the church is looking for healthy multiplicative reproducibility, starting at relationships is imperative.
Are you a disciple-maker? A church planter? A revitalizer? Pastor? Missionary? or maybe just an early church geek?
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be listing some of the books that I’ve read. Most of them will have the same theme—reproducible disciple-making (my passion), but they all derive from a different aspect and have a different purpose.
I know that several of the books that I list will be academic in nature—but they’re excellent resources, while yet others are extremely practical and may seem to not have much depth. In all, they work well together and I’m sure that you can glean from them.
If you don’t see a particular book, don’t worry, I have over 500 books regarding missiology, discipleship, and church planting. But, feel free to ask me—maybe I’ll post it next.
Here, are ten books—not in any specific order of importance, but ones that I find edifying.
Hastings, Ross. Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.
Ross Hastings has served as a pastor and professor of pastoral theology. I truly love this book—one of my all-time favorites! Hastings provides thoroughly academic work—always footnoted and cited—yet highly captivating. His book reflects upon the character of God and his mission on earth. There’s a working thesis that correlates with John’s Great Commission (Jn. 20:19–23) that Hastings utilizes as the focal point. The book is divided into two parts: (1) discovering and (2) disseminating the shalom of God, through the Church, to the world.
Missional God, Missional Church is (in my opinion) a must-read for anyone interested in missiology and the revitalization of the Western church. For Hastings, the missional church’s identity in Christ becomes more revealed when sharing the Trinitarian presence. He analyzes the importance of John 20:19–23 in a Christocentric engagement within daily worship, liturgy, and practices, as they relate to how the church incarnates within a diverse Western culture—that is something the modern church needs.
One thing I love about Hastings’ book is its refreshing and comprehensive approach to missional cultural engagement of the Great Commission, NOT deriving from the Matthean gospel, but from the Apostle John—very insightful and illuminating.
Hull, Bill. Conversion & Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
If you’ve read any books on discipleship, you’ve come across Bill Hull’s work. Hull has authored several well-written books regarding the topic of discipleship; add Conversion & Discipleship, the newest of Hull’s books to that list.
Hull does a remarkable job in illustrating the dilemma facing evangelicalism regarding the aspects of “completed conversion and a salvation-culture,” compared to disciple-making and gospel-culture. Why is this important? Because the modern church has neglect disciple-making by replacing it with a once saved always saved ideology causing apathy. From page one, Hull compares the varied views of the gospel and how each f them will determine the disciple’s worldview.
For Hull, a false view of the gospel will not develop disciples. He establishes a gospel-centered thesis for making disciples—I love that! Conversion & Discipleshipoverflows with biblical insight, rich theological examination, ecclesiological dilemmas, spiritual formational applications, and personal accounts. This may be Hull’s best-written book on discipleship.
McGowan, Andrew, B. Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.
Well, this is another academic piece, but I really enjoyed it.
It’s been stated that if you want to know the future then look back at the past. Andrew McGowan, president, and dean of Berkley Divinity provides a transparent picture of the early church’s construction, practices, and worship, helping you gain a fresh perspective of orthodox Christianity.
McGowan writes about the ritual lifestyle of early Christian communal faith, spiritual development, and sacramental practices—something that I’m somewhat of a nerd about. But, Ancient Christian Worship offers a comprehensive researched and thought-provoking book with excellent insight into biblical and extra-biblical works.
McGowan’s contextual attention toward Greco-Roman, Roman, and Judaic culture surrounding the Eucharist was well established. Ancient Christian Worship would not be considered a light read or probably desirable for a new believer, but it is one worthy for scholarly research or greater early church understanding.
Newbigin, Lesslie. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Ok, seriously, what can we say about anything of Newbigin’s?
Lesslie Newbigin has been credited with being one of the greatest missiologists of the twentieth century—indeed. The books that Newbigin wrote still have an impact and application upon today’s culture and missional life.
Newbigin’s book was first published in 1978 and has been revised, but the thesis concerning the mission of the Church being an “Open Secret,” has not. The Open Secretmay seem prophetic to the modern reader as if Newbigin had revelation concerning the Church’s enculturation and decline–I believe he did.
But, I also love the Trinitarian depth, theological exploration, missiological truths, and practical experience—they are beyond impressive. Any person engaging or contemplating vocational or bi-vocational church planting would do himself or herself a favor, by reading Newbigin’s Open Secret.
Ogden, Greg. Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2003.
This is a decent book, not the best, but still very edifying. To write his book, Ogden utilizes his involvement as the director of the doctoral program of Fuller Seminary and his pastoral experience. He illustrates how Jesus and Paul utilized discipleship as transforming and empowering agents of people and the church.
Exposing today’s weak manner in which churches engage discipleship, Ogden provides biblical solutions to assist in fruitful multiplication. I thought Ogden’s book was well developed, reflective, and very practical, but it’s not a “one size fits all” band-aid to correct years of church disciple-making neglect. For Ogden, discipleship and transformation take patience and time and occur best in sharing life.
Schnabel, Eckard, J. Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
This two-volume work is by far one of my all-time favorites. In actuality, I think I love anything written by Schnabel—his work is very thorough. Schnabel teaches New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has been a missionary to the Philippines and Germany. This exhaustive and immensely in-depth academic work make Early Christian Mission a must-have resource for any serious student of Christian history.
Jesus and the Twelve(vol. 1) contains over nine hundred pages expounding upon the early Jewish Christ-following movements into pagan societies and their missionary practices. Leaving nothing out, Schnabel’s work includes illustrations, a multitude of scholarly resources, biblical exegesis, cultural hermeneutics, theological analysis, first-century missionary strategies, and more.
Schnabel’s work becomes an excellent resource for information, background, and understanding of early Christian mission.
Watson, David, and Paul Watson. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.
Contagious Disciple Making won’t be considered a comfortable read. The Father and son duo, David and Paul Watson, analyze the differences between contextualization and understanding culture, teaching doctrine and Great Commission obedience, and the importance of making disciples, not converts.
The Watsons do create an easily readable format, but if you’re a traditionalist, be forewarned, their hard-hitting emphasis on thinking outside of traditional practices may cause your blood to boil.
Far from the classic style of classroom discipleship models, Contagious Disciple Making will stretch your understanding of mission with practical experiences of church planting movements and perspectives. Overall, the Watsons’ book illuminated me for innovation and development of new and extant methodologies concerning the goal of making disciples—but really good for parachuting church planters.
Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991.
AWESOME! This is the all-time best book regarding the theology of mission—but, be prepared, it is NOT an easy read. This book even comes with a manual on how to read it! The picture shows a yellow cover, mine is purple, so it may be different, but the content is the same.
But, Transforming Mission has become one of the most popular books concerning mission. David Bosch was a missiologist and professor at the University of South Africa. Bosch’s book illustrates the shifts within the ecclesiastical mission throughout the centuries. He identifies the dilemma of postmodernism and the paradigm shift that needs to—or must—occur.
Bosch expertly explains how to see and engage the mission during the shift. For Bosch, Christian mission transforms the realities of everyday life that surround it. Bosch’s in-depth biblical, theological, and ecclesiological understanding of the Great Commission makes Transforming Mission a bank vault of knowledge. With nearly six hundred scholarly pages of research, Bosch’s book should be on every church planter’s library shelf—I’m not kidding.
Green, Michael. Evangelism in the Early Church. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.
I think this book has also become one of my favorites, but once again, I’m an early church nerd.
Michael Green is not some academic push-over, he has served as the senior professor of research at Oxford University’s Wycliffe Hall. Green has also published several books illustrating his knowledge regarding the early church—yet, I think this is his best work.
Green revisits the early church and the secularized relativistic and pluralist society it lived within. He addressed how the modern church would benefit to engage the first-century church’s evangelistic fervor. For Green, the modern church lives when it sacrifices itself and it grows when it gives itself away.
In this revised edition, Green examines the transforming power of the gospel. As well, Green validates his points with hundreds of footnotes from scholarly sources—that’s the real deal. With multiple mentions concerning the early church’s baptismal rite and the Great Commission, Green’s work can be beneficial to revitalizers, planters, and disciple-makers.
McClung, Floyd. Basic Discipleship. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1992.
Ok, I threw this one if the pile. It’s not one of my favorites, but it is well written. Floyd McClung has published over fourteen books. He founded All Nations, a church movement that engages disciple-making, leadership training, and church planting—so, he’s got the clout.
Plus, this isn’t McClung’s first go around regarding discipleship. I will admit, Basic Discipleship far exceeds anything ordinary, for this reason, do not expect the basic definition of discipleship. McClung challenges the aspect of obedient discipleship and an enacted Christ-centered faith. A consistent theme of Christ’s Lordship over life, seeking God through humility, and the compassion of others, reveals Basic Discipleship as an edifying tool for spiritual formation and Great Commission living. Disciple-maker…put this book in your quiver.
Last week I attended and lead an equipping lab at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme this year is Heromaker—based off of Dave Ferguson’s new book. At first glance one may assume that Hero-maker is only a marketing angle for book sales—to the contrary. A hero-maker is a multiplier, a reproducible disciple-maker, a mentor, coach, and/or a person who invests their time, resources, and life, to see others grow in Christian maturity. The leaders at the conference stressed that they were not the heroes, but hero-makers—desiring to see others become leaders in engaging and growing in the Christ-life.
But, let me clarify something I recently read—there’s a misconception regarding the definition of Hero-maker—as if the conference were promoting “superheroes” or creating prideful people—that’s far from the truth and even farther from what I experienced. I saw dedicated individuals humbly pouring out their time and life—selflessly. The main reason I wanted to write this article was to point out three things that I observed—and they’re all very encouraging.
Exponential was sold out—10,000 people jam-packed into the First Baptist Church of Orlando. There were numerous Spirit-filled speakers on the main stage, not to mention the numerous breakout equipping labs. One thing that I loved, I didn’t see dry ice vapor-clouds, hear thumping music, and bump into hipsters. I networked and met with a myriad of believers, differing denominational leaders, and church planters—each demonstrating a kingdom-minded attitude.
With nearly every person that I met, there was a sense of urgency in reaching the lostness of their communities—worldwide. With each story I heard, people pouring their hearts out about the lostness within their community and desiring to see their churches engage mission. There were seriously devoted believers seeking practical ways to reach the lost.
But, another beautiful aspect concerning a conference such as Exponential—it’s not merely North America, or a specific denomination—it’s global and multi-denominational; not to mention, multi-diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Everyone is working together for the common goal of reaching the unreached—to engage lostness. This one thing gave me confidence in the universal Church.
So many times, we hear dismal numbers of failure, church decline, and the ever increasing amount of closed doors—but Exponential was different. It was a breath of fresh air—Spirit-filled air—breathed out through the lives of the many who attended.
My doctoral work was in reproducible disciple-making, explicitly for church planters to reach new converts. I studied and researched ecclesiastical history and what went wrong and what was done right. I studied and research many contemporary discipleship models. I studied and researched small groups, immersion groups, home groups, community groups, and all kinds of missional gatherings. I researched a few North American church planting organizations, too. I also studied and read nearly every book written in the last 100 years, pertaining to discipleship.
I mention that because I was excited to see what was happening at Exponential. While the organization that I’m the director, New Breed, plants churches via reproducible disciple-making, most do not—at least that was part of my doctoral findings. Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged about the state of the current church—until I hit Exponential.
At the conference, there was a sincere ground swell of thousands of people and leaders dedicated to seeing things change—not for the sake of change, but to see Christ exalted and the church engaged in making disciple-makers. There were speakers who were championing the small church, movements, and innovation—all within the realm of re-discovering disciple-making.
While I wished that I could report everything was awesome and smelled like roses—that’s not altogether the truth. I was able to see one thing that I didn’t like—namely, empire building. There are some organizations which are not team players—they’re focused on their own agendas—but, be relieved, I want to help you navigate toward kingdom-minded opportunities.
If you’re like me—a networker, mobilizer, and catalyst type, who yearns to see people grow in Christ and communities reached—then your best opportunity to collaborate is with the smaller organizations. The larger ones may not give you the time of day, nor be invested in true collaboration. It is what it is.
However, I can’t speak for every large organization—but I can say that the smaller ones are hungry for working together, sharing secrets and models, and seeing Christ magnified at any expense—even if it means sharing inside information which may be utilized and adapted by another organization.
The fact is, the smaller organizations are not in it for money—or better stated—they don’t have an overhead to payout. Most of them have passionate volunteer staff—they have a vision they believe in and are committed to see God bring it to fruition. As I stated, I’m the Director of New Breed, but when I met with Patrick O’Connell from New Thing, he was as excited to connecting as I was—even though we both serve in like capacities. I saw this of enthusiasm time and time again.
The smaller organizations seem to be more kingdom-minded because they are collaborative—working with other believers to reach the ends of the earth. Needless to say, I met some fantastic people and would encourage you, if you’re seeking collaboration and encouragement—attend of the next upcoming Exponential conference (www.exponential.org).
If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.
Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.
Demographics & Exegeting Culture
Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.
If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.
So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.
Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.
Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.
Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.
Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?
Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.
Demographics & Spiritual Pulse
Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.
I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.
Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.
If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.
Demographics & Sermon Delivery
Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.
Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.
As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.
There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.
Tools for How to find demographics:
Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00
Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us
Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org