Looking for Leaders: Gaining by Losing

The first time I had the (dis)pleasure of reading anything written by the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein I realized very quickly that I was in far over my head. After finishing a dense introduction written by famed contrarian Bertrand Russel, I timidly opened my notebook, bracing for what was to come. What I found was jarring:

1. The world is everything that is the case. 

Okay, this isn’t so bad. What’s next?

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not things.

My head bobbed underwater.

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and these being all the facts.

*Gulp*

This was going to be a long night, and I knew it. The path that was laid out before me was pretty clear: 11 more pages of Wittgenstein and I would be done with my homework for the weekend.

And yet, I, still to this day, have yet to complete this assignment. I was in over my head then, and I still am today. My understanding of Wittgenstein was cloudy at best that week, and if not for a study guide prepared by a gracious instructor, I would remember exactly nothing that I read.

I felt this same way as I was starting out in ministry. I knew, or at least thought I did, what needed to be done. Ministry was for Christians and my job was to gather them. That’s why we hosted multiple mid-sized gatherings, multiple small groups, countless discipleship meetings, and even Church on Sunday morning! My assumption was that the best ministries were really good at gathering and keeping Christians together.  But even so, the means and strategies to doing that were hazy at best, and I was now leading this ministry.

So here was the de facto goals checklist I developed to help me:

  1. Go get the Christians – they’re good.
  2. Christian “leaders” are even better. Find lots of those.
  3. Discipleship (whatever that is) is what we need to do.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.

These goals didn’t work. At first, it was nice to see people gathered together with a common faith. We heard lots of people talking about being refreshed after our gatherings.

But soon, people stopped showing up with as much regularity. Leaders started losing motivation to serve. We stopped seeing new faces and stopped our growth trajectory.

All that I could do was to ask, “What happened?”

Expecting much, amounting to little

“You expected much, but then it amounted to little. When you brought the harvest to your house, I ruined it. Why?” This is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts. “Because My house still lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house.” (Haggai 1:9)

At one of our staff meetings, our lead pastor drew our attention as a staff to Haggai 1. His question was simple: what are you doing that you think is good, but ultimately doesn’t show fruit or reveal God to people?

I immediately began to think about some of the plateauing we were seeing. As I began asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the places we had gone wrong, He began to show me that the lack of numerical growth mirrored the lack of growth in faith and trust in not only our leaders but for me as well.

Talk about a humbling moment!

In this passage, the people of Israel were doing things that resembled worship of God, but God didn’t see it that way. He saw through their ‘going through the motions,’ even if they were well-intentioned.

This was certainly true for me at that moment. I failed to seek God’s heart for my city and campus and was left with a lot of what I thought we should do. So I began searching the Scriptures for God’s heart for His people’s ministry.

Go, therefore, and make disciples

I returned to a familiar passage:

The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always,to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

Theologians call this famous passage the Great Commission because Jesus sends His disciples into the world with a clear mission: go and make more disciples. He commands them to multiply! In fact, Jesus does this a few times throughout His ministry. The early church does it. I began to see this theme all over the New Testament.

As I read more, the Holy Spirit began to convict me of a new definition of what successful discipleship looks like. I started out asking questions like, “how many people am I discipling?” and “how many people came to ________ event?” While I believe there are helpful questions, they are insufficient to paint the whole picture of discipleship.

I think that the Great Commission redefines our discipleship question as, “how many people am I sending out?” Obedience to what Jesus commands in Matt. 28:16-20 results in more people being sent out on mission to make more disciples. It follows, then, we should be measuring our sending capacity, not merely our storage capacity.

By merely asking how many are coming, we were only concerned with the space in our spiritual storage container. It was no different than buying different storage bins at the local store. But by measuring our capacity for continuing the mission of Christ, we changed what we cared about. We began to value starting new small groups, not just swelling our current ones. We began to value sharing the Gospel, not just number of salvations.

In so many words, we began to value faithfulness to Christ over fruitfulness for Christ.

Gaining by Losing

One of the most helpful texts for us as a ministry team was the book Gaining by Losing by J.D. Greear. Greear is the lead pastor at The Summit Church in North Carolina. In Gaining by Losing, Greear does a masterful job of unpacking the Scriptures which reveal God’s heart for discipleship multiplication. I would highly suggest that text as a starting point for anyone who is interested in this conversation about leadership development. You can head on over to heartsandmindsbooks.com/order to get a copy.

I want to share with you a few different metrics we started using in order to keep our attention on the right things. It really is true that you value what you measure. We tried to focus on the things we could control, not just what we wanted to see.

For example, we wanted to see more people coming to faith. But the truth is that you or I can’t do a darn thing in willing someone to saving faith in Christ. In this case, simply measuring how many people came to faith wasn’t a good metric. But we can effectively measure how many times we are sharing the Gospel. That seemed like a better thing to measure because, as the Apostle Paul says, “how can someone believe if that have not heard of [Jesus]?” So we started measuring the number of Gospel conversations we were having as a ministry.

The result of us paying attention to this particular behavior meant that we were thinking and talking about it more, holding each other accountable to those behaviors, and praying about it more. We saw more people come to faith in one year than the previous 3 combined!

Let me be clear, I don’t think that it was anything that we did or didn’t do which lead to those people coming to faith. But I do believe that we discovered a clearer picture of God’s heart for the lost and out of obedience tried to align our will with what we believed the Scriptures were saying. In other words, it was all God and we had the privilege of seeing it because we were paying attention to it.

Below are a few things we started to keep track of. We tried to keep track of the behaviors that would lead to change, not just the change itself. Keep in mind that if you don’t measure anything, your deficiencies don’t go away and you’re just ignoring them. The Gospel allows us to admit failure because of Christ’s victory on the Cross. This allows us to start from a posture of repentance instead of pride.

  • Gospel Presentations, not just conversations – measure the number of times we share the Gospel, not just folks we see make decisions to follow Jesus.
  • Leaders who participated in small group leadership training, not just the number of small groups – Measure the number of folks you train, not just the existing groups.
  • Percentage of congregation tithing, not just the dollar amount – what percentage of our people are attempting to be faithful with their finances, not just how much money is coming in.
  • Leaders being sent, not just number attending – measure the number of leaders saying yes to serving and starting ministry, not just the number of people we have coming.

I hope these are some helpful thoughts. What would you add? What did I miss?

Looking for Leaders: Starting the Conversation

The past two weeks we’ve been looking at leadership in ministry and what we can do about it. I’ve attempted to convince you that leadership is necessary for fulfilling the mission of God. I’ve also tried to make the case that the best leaders are homegrown.

But today, I’d like to get really practical; I want leaders, but I don’t know how to start that relationship. So how do we start?

The Awkward Conversation

As I was starting out in ministry, the folks that were mentoring me started talking about developing leadership. Before those conversations, I had never heard much about developing ministry leadership in my church outside of potentially going to seminary. So I had very little grid for my own ministry leadership, let alone calling others to leadership.

My memory of the very first time I invited a student to be a part of a ministry team is pretty strong, mostly because I was terrified! I had just started discipling this student — we’ll call him Brandon — a few weeks prior to the conversation, but it was clear that this young man was mature beyond his year. Everyone that met him knew that he loved Jesus and was serious about the Gospel. But we sat down to lunch that day I couldn’t help but feel some anxiety. I was sitting face to face not just with this student, but my own insecurity and fear of being rejected, our leadership team failing or making the wrong decision.

I swallowed hard, and asked a question: “Have you ever thought about leadership?

Brandon’s face told me more than his words ever could — he was shocked! In the ensuing conversation, we talked about what leadership could look like, what we hoped for our ministry, and how we each could serve Jesus through our church and campus ministry. I had no idea that things would go the direction they did. To this day, not only is this student one of the best leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with but is a dear friend with a bevy of shared memories. It all started with an awkward conversation.

The past two weeks I’ve tried to make clear that there are certain things which are good indicators of potential ministry leadership, chief among them a love for Christ, a willingness to serve, and a humble heart. Those seem to be the easy things to identify a person. So why was it so hard for me to invite Brandon to serve in that capacity? And why was he shocked when I did invite him?

I’d like to suggest that he had never experienced a church culture where growth and leadership were common and talked about. He never thought of himself as a leader, because before that point he had always seen himself as a spectator. When I called Brandon to get off the sidelines and into the game something clicked for him. He began to realize that he had a role to play in the Kingdom of Heaven. He eventually accepted that call and began a growth spurt that God is still using to this day. I’m so glad we dove into what to me had been projected as a really awkward conversation, and I know that he is as well.

The Call of the Kingdom

I think Brandon’s story is more typical than many of us know. I think this because this is exactly how we see Jesus operate with his leadership team. In Matthew 4 Jesus calls two sets of brothers, Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John. Both sibling sets receive the same call in very similar ways: “follow Jesus, and He will make you into fishers of men.”

Charles Spurgeon commentated on this passage in a sermon called “How to Become Fishers of Men:

That is exactly what Christ did; and when we are brought low in the sight of God by a sense of our own unworthiness, we may feel encouraged to follow Jesus because of what he can make us.

Spurgeon compels his audience to trust not in their own ability to perform, rather the same power which raised Christ from the dead in order to become fishers of men.

Jesus took plain, sinful, arrogant, prideful, broken, hurting, ill-equipped, and incompetent men and turned them into the leadership of the vehicle of the Gospel through two words — follow me. I believe that we can claim that same promise.

If you think back to the story I shared earlier, specifically to the things which were barriers to me calling Brandon, you’ll find that they all were anti-Gospel. Jesus speaks to things like fear, anxiety, and pride, and assures us that we find rest from our strivings in Him.

For us, that means that the work of developing leaders begins in faith. It specifically means that we must choose to believe that the same power which raised Christ from the dead is strong and competent enough to turn us into fishers of men.

Exchanging our Awkward

Meditating on these truths helped me to overcome those fears and gave me confidence that the Holy Spirit was already at work in the hearts and minds of those around me. It emboldened me to begin inviting those around me to follow Jesus in a more serious role. I gave me the desire to overcome the awkward conversation, and press into what could be a life-changing decision for that person. I now look forward to exchanging the awkward for partnership.

Here are a few practical tips that I’ve found which made that conversation a little less awkward and a little more productive:

  • Pray – We would try to begin the process by praying that God would show us who He wants to lead His work. As people came to mind, we would pray that God would make it clear to us and to them what role He has for them to play in His story.
  • Affirm their gifts and talents – We want to encourage people that they have gifts and talents which God has given them to serve the church (Eph. 4). This is not the time for constructive feedback, that can come later. Be sure to state what you believe would make them a good fit for the role you’re inquiring about.
  • Invite them to something specific – Most people need some help envisioning what they would actually be doing. So call that person to a specific role, a specific task, or a specific set of expectations. Whatever it is, be as clear as possible about what you are calling them to.
  • Cast the vision – Use that conversation as an opportunity to cast part of your ministry or church’s vision for the work they are being called to. People want to know that the energy and time they’re giving up are going to matter to the mission.
  • Give them time to respond – Make the ask, but then give them a few days or a week to think and pray about it. If their time and energy matter, then we want them to count the cost of what it will take to serve faithfully. This is another good reason to call them to something specific.
  • Consider giving the role a time-duration – We’ve found that giving students a duration to the role they are being called to is helpful. It allows them to give their full time and attention during that time, but also allows them to opt out and change expectations if necessary.
  • Offer to help equip them – Some folks are willing but lack some of the confidence and skills necessary to serve effectively. We have found that when we offer to train someone they are more likely to accept because they feel more assured that they won’t fail.

What do you think? Did I miss any sure-fire tips for starting the conversation? How have you seen God show up in these conversations? Thanks for reading, and be sure to let me know the answers to these questions or as a few below.

Looking for Leaders: Building Through the Draft

Last week we talked about the real need that many ministries and churches face when attempting to raise up leaders. While I touched on it briefly, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts about new leadership potential, and what hasn’t worked for me.

Drafting vs. Free Agency

Most people know that I’m a massive ice hockey fan. I have been from a young age. Summers are usually tough for the sport of ice hockey because very few professional leagues play during the summer, so I have to get my hockey fixes through YouTube or by playing some video games.

The lone bright spot for July comes on July 1st, known to the hockey world as the first day of free agency. This is when the calendar year flips for NHL contracts, leaving many players without a contract agreement. This allows them to freely negotiate with any team in the league for any amount of salary within the bargaining rules. Each year, there are a few big-name players whose contracts expire and as a result hit the open market to cash in on their skills. Likewise, teams all over the league covet these players and often over-pay the “market value” for what these players is. Teams that do this usually end up spending too much, rendering them unable to retain the players they have developed through the entry draft. This usually results in the competitive level of those teams being relatively short.

By contrast, teams that choose to build through the draft over several years are able to retain their young, skilled players because they don’t make as much money, have an affinity towards the city they play in, and likely raise the talent on the team with other young players together. These teams are usually competitive for years and years. This strategy is far more difficult, because you need successful organization, rather than one General Manager who can pull off big trades. You need coaches who are proven, scouts with a vision, a development program that isn’t prideful, and a city behind all of that to root for and support the organization.

I see many similarities between developing leaders and building a successful hockey organization. Most – if not all – ministry leaders don’t have to be told about why their job or ministries matter. They have said ‘Yes!’ to those roles because they care, and they want to see Jesus’ name magnified. But many also try to land the free agent when it comes to finding leaders. They’re looking for the big name summer ‘Free Agent’ who will fix everything. Regretfully, I don’t know that those types of people exist.

Building Through the Draft

I believe that the Biblical model for raising up new leaders is to ‘build through the draft.’ Jesus models for us what it means to invest through ministry multiplication when it comes to raising up leaders. Ministry multiplication occurs when called disciples begin to see themselves as actors in the mission of God rather than spectators watching things unfold. In other words, Ministry multiplication is a natural overflow of highly intentional discipleship from believer to believer, where both engage in a mutual pursuit of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

When I was starting out I had it in my head that the best leaders for my ministry would be college students who already loved Jesus, had a firm grasp on leveraging their gifts for the church and the Kingdom, were leading others to faith already, and really didn’t need me. I was really looking for people who could do was I was called to teach them to do. Graciously, God brought us a number of students who had some of those things figured out, and we began to see some good things happen. But eventually, we hit a wall because new folks stopped coming back, our students were less joyful, and our “discipleship” meetings were the same problems we rehashed this time last year with very little growth in that time. It felt like someone threw a switch from “Good” to “Bad” and somehow everything stopped working like it was supposed to.

So what happened?

I don’t know that I ever had a firm grasp on how to build a culture of discipleship, but it was coming to bear that I hadn’t.

So we went back to the basics. We started asking questions about what leadership was and wasn’t, and we found that as a ministry had to re-learn a little of what it meant to a people faithfully pursuing Christ together. We reformed and tightened up our preaching and worship to make sure that it preaches Christ crucified and nothing else. We reformed our small groups by equipping our leaders to disciple their friends and group-mates. We changed what we asked about during our discipleship meetings. We started to build a support system for younger and newer Christians and non-Christians to grow. We wanted to make it easy and clear for students to figure out what their pathway could be.

As we did that, we saw more student engagement, more discipleship, more first-time faith professions, more small groups, and more energy. Our students started to get excited about ministering to their peers. This type of community is infectious and curious to the people who observe. I also believe that it’s incredibly attractive to the contemporary mind.

Infrastructure

Perhaps you’re realizing that the first thing you need to do is to start thinking about what type of culture your faith community supports. I believe that this is the perfect place to start when you’re thinking about raising up new leaders. Here are a few questions to help you get started:

  • What are the action points people who attend our ministry are usually called to?
  • What does someone who is “engaged” in our community look like? How can we tell?
  • How does someone move from “attender” to “leader?”
  • What does a leader in our ministry look like?
  • What are you as a leader actively doing to foster discipleship?
  • What are the things we’re doing to equip people for ministry? Are they working?

These are only a few questions we could ask. What do you think? Is there anything I missed? Let me know!

Looking for Leaders: Starting the Search

Inside the college ministry sphere, there is a ton of talk about student leaders. Sometimes that talk is praise; I hear things like, “Our leadership team are ROCK STARS! They get it.” Many times, however, I hear deep laments. “They just don’t get it,” or, “I wish I had some leaders!”

But I know that this isn’t just a problem for campus ministry staff. I’ve been in enough churches and heard the same refrain enough times to know that seemingly everyone is looking for more and better leaders.

I get why. Many ministry staff – church or campus – are overwhelmed, anxious, and discouraged. They feel like – and sometimes are – doing everything that their ministry needs to function to the point where they don’t feel like they could take a vacation if they wanted to. They are worried about people leaving their church because things aren’t going according to the grand vision they had in their heads. Add to that the perceived veneer of highly ‘successful’ churches who have like 4,247 leaders. It’s easy to feel the pressure to find and develop ministry leaders.

Although all of those are very valid and practical reasons, I’d like to suggest that the real reason to find and develop leaders is much, much different. I believe the church and its ministries need leaders because that’s how Jesus did it.

Sure, but Jesus was the Son of God so of course He had people who would follow him.

Right you are, but I believe that Jesus sends His Church into the world to do more than run good-looking ministries. Jesus sends His bride into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to open all that He has commanded. These are Jesus’ parting words according to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 (18-20).

Before we move on, disciples are definitely more than leaders. Entire volumes have been written to espouse what a disciple is an is not, so I’ll let you research that on your own. I know, in practice and theory, that leadership is included in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

How do I know? Because the Apostle Paul implores his disciple, Timothy, to, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:1-2) I take this to mean that Paul wants Timothy, as an act of obedience to Jesus and fulfillment of the Great Commission, to pass along what Timothy has received from Paul – namely the Gospel of Christ Jesus. I don’t believe that this is a particular call only for Timothy. I believe that you and I have received the message of the Gospel because people like Timothy passed along the Gospel.

That means that we, as hearers of the Gospel, are responsible for passing along the Gospel. The Christian’s call is to make disciples by baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach faithful obedience to all of what Christ has commanded.

Looking for Leaders

But what should I look for?

Great question. In looking for leaders, I use a four-variable grid to assess a person’s potential. Before I share those, I’d like to say that just because someone isn’t currently qualified for leadership, that they will never be qualified for leadership. There are plenty of legitimate reasons that it would be unwise for someone to be in ministry leadership. Here is the grid I’m looking at to help assess a person’s leadership potential:

 

  • Knowledge – Does this person have a firm understanding of and belief in Christ and His Gospel? Do they have a hunger for the Scriptures and for prayer? Knowledge can be taught and is one of the easier deficiencies to overcome.
  • Skills – Is this person competent in the basics of Christian leadership (articulating the Gospel, meeting a stranger, leading in prayer, serving behind-the-scenes, leading a small group, preaching a sermon) Not all of these need to be present for someone to be a leader. A person’s willingness and humility to learn are traits that make superb leaders.
  • Character – Does this person have a desire to continue the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven? Are they currently serving/ministering to their spheres of influence? It’s impossible to completely assess a person’s motivations, but its usually pretty obvious when someone’s motivations are not Christ-centered. In my experience, the true and full desire to see Christ magnified comes only through the Holy Spirit.
  • Stage – Is it wise for this person to lead given their current life-stage? Some people are good fits for all of the above criteria but are supremely busy. Sometimes the most gracious thing we can do is to say, “no” for someone who is already over-extended.

Now what?

Now it’s time to start your search! If you’re asking these types of questions, I’m willing to be that your church or ministry doesn’t have a leadership development pipeline. So how do you go about doing that? Here are some really practical things you can do today to start identifying leaders God is beginning to raise up around you.

  1. Invite those you’re leading to begin serving. Some people are really eager to begin serving and leading but don’t know how to start. A simple invitation to help you do something might be all they need to take the plunge into leadership.
  2. Identify those that show up early and stay late after. People that show up early to help setup or stay late to help clean up are already thinking about what they can do to help. That means they already putting their time and talent into action to serve the Kingdom. Maybe they’re ready for a little more responsibility. You won’t know until you ask.
  3. Who are those you’re leading talking about (in a good way)? Do you hear someone’s name come up somewhat frequently for good reasons? Are your people singing anyone’s praises? Maybe they’re seeing the fruits of leadership in someone else you never noticed.
  4. Who has asked you to help lead or serve? I find that people are often eager to lead or serve wherever their help is needed. Sometimes, people approach you looking to serve. In believing the best about them, give them an opportunity to serve and to fail. The Gospel allows us to fail with the right motives.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making four more posts about identifying new leaders. Do you have any thoughts or questions? Anything you would want to add or omit? Let me know at mswanson@ccojubilee.org or in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.

4 Threads of Good Follow-Up

This is it!

All over the country, campus ministries are launching their ministry seasons through first-week outreach. They spend loads of hours and energy trying to meet new students that descend on their campuses during the first few weeks of class. Our ministry would spend months before hand prepping and praying for this first week of class.

I remember a few years ago being really excited about the number of students we had met and the amount of contact info that was exchanged. It was the most contacts we had ever gotten, and God was clearly on the move!

but…

…it never really translated to significant growth in our ministry. Week after week of our mid-week gathering went by and we wondered where all of the students we had met had gone. We debated, scratched our heads, and came up empty for explanations.

We knew we had done the follow up with these contacts, but they never panned out. Then we started to ask about the quality of our follow up, and it was like someone switched a light on.

Aha! 

Maybe we hadn’t done as well as we had thought in following up with our list of contacts. We then started to define what good follow up looked like, and trained our leaders about how to do it.

Good follow up is Timely 

The best follow up happens the same day. If we receive contact info from someone, our goal is to contact them that same day to invite them to something else we have going on, whether its a small group, social event, church, or to coffee. We found that during the first week of class students are more willing to respond to an invitation right away before they get busy with the rest of the semester. So take advantage of that time!

Good follow up is Personal

At our church, first-time visitors that give us their contact info receive an email from our lead pastor as a welcome and thank-you for coming to the church. While that’s (mostly) appreciated, we found that the most effective follow up is personalized from someone that actually made a connection with the contact. We instituted a rule that if you receive a contact card from someone, the leader or volunteer that received the card puts their own name on the back so they personally can follow up with that person. It makes that person feel more important, and like they aren’t just another number in a system.

Good follow up is Warm

The younger generations are experts at sniffing out when someone is merely going through the motions. It’s one of the things I love about my generation, but it’s also a double-edged sword. “Not being authentic” usually is the quickest way to shut down conversation with a millennial. So we coach our student leaders to be sincere when they follow up with someone. We want to communicate the love Christ has for them, even if it’s just by thanking them for stopping by our involvement fair table, checking out our tie-dye station, or just meeting them.

Good follow up is Pointed

While it is really good to be timely, personal, and warm in our follow up, we need to make sure to finish with an invitation. This is an exercise in trusting God’s provision for us; by inviting the most unlikely student to interact with us again, we are choosing to trust that Jesus’ words are true in Luke 10:2. Jesus says that the “harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers.” By inviting a student to anything, we are living into that promise from Jesus. We found that we need to make it easy for our students to invite by putting all of our events in one place.

What do you think? What makes up good follow up? 

4 Ways to Spot a New-Comer (and how to engage them)

Most churches and ministries I come across have a desire to see new people get involved and engaged in their community. It starts with Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18), but often falls flat when it comes to execution. Many leadership teams hit a wall when it comes to even identifying the new people visiting their worship gathering.

Because of that, I wanted to give you some helpful thoughts about how to identify new folks visiting your gatherings and a few ways to respond to them

#1 - The "deer-in-the-headlights"

This is perhaps the most easily identifiable person because they wear their feelings on their sleeve. This is the person who looks around as if a child entering a massive library for the first time: reverent, awe-filled, and confused. They don’t know where to go or what to do, but they’re (usually) excited to be there. You can usually find these people in or near the entryway of your site. They might be under- or over-dressed, depending on your culture.

The easiest way to engage this person is to talk to them and to ask them questions. Most often, this type of person is excited to be with you, but they simply don’t know where to go or what to do. Ask them if they’re new and introduce yourself; see if they have any questions. Ask them if they’d like to sit with you, stick with them for the remainder of their time at your event, try to exchange contact info, and follow up immediately! They will be more likely to return in the future.

#2 - The "covert operative"

This person is usually quite shy, and is probably least likely to seek out information. They don’t talk to anyone as they come in, they seat themselves quickly, are polite so as not to raise suspicion, and leave as quickly as they came. They might be skeptical of your church or your faith, just checking out your church, or are really shy.

If the covert operative isn’t going to seek out information on their own to get plugged in, that means we have to give it to them! This is why each gathering should have a very simple next-steps invitation anyone can opt in for. Some other options are to include a brief greeting time during your worship service (we’ve found that asking a specific question is most effective and least awkward) to allow people to connect. Try to establish a one-on-one connection with this person, but don’t be offended if it takes them a few gathering to warm up.

#3 - The “checking things out”

This person is the one who is really just trying to check out who Jesus is and who you are in light of Him. They want to know if and how faith changes people, and maybe if your church has the answers to their questions. They may or may not have a history with faith, but want to know if yours is a safe place they can ask questions. They want to know if they can trust you.

Some of the checking things out people will come right out and say that they’re just effectively window shopping. But that’s uncommon because they don’t want to out themselves as not the in-group. You have to get to know them and their story before they trust you enough to share their questions. This is why we make it a practice of following up with every new person by sharing the Gospel with them, believer or not. That way, we don’t assume anyone about anyone and we get to communicate what we’re about!

#4 - The “ready to go”

This is the person who wants to get plugged into the life of your church or ministry as soon as possible. They’re often transplants from somewhere else and looking for a “solid” community to join. They want to know that you love Jesus and other people, preach the Gospel according to the Bible, and that they can fit in. They’re want to dive deep quickly.

The people who are ready to go are often the people we’re secretly hoping everyone who walks through our front doors. But we have to be careful not to simply throw them in the deep end. We want them to learn about who we are collectively in light of the Gospel. The goal for these folks is to get them plugged into a small group and service during corporate worship, then to shepherd them towards membership. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Don’t be afraid to share your church or ministry’s vision with them early on!

There are plenty more types of people we encounter each week, but here were a few of the more common types. What do you think?

5 Takeaways from Building a Discipling Culture for Campus Ministers

Last year, my team was stuck having the same conversations about our ministry week after week during our staff meetings. We were making efforts to invest in students but weren’t seeing those efforts poured out from student leaders to other students. I asked around was recommended a book called Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen. I picked up a copy and read it. It completely changed the way I looked at discipleship for my campus ministry context.

We took away lesson after lesson from the book and conversations about it, but here are 5 larger lessons we’re still learning and implementing today.

#1 – Culture isn’t quick, so be strategic with your investments. 

When I started the book, I was looking for a silver bullet to fix our discipleship problem. That is the exact opposite of what I found from the book. Building a culture takes a significant time investment. It’s often said that Jesus spent tens of thousands of hours with the 12 in order to prepare them to continue the work He started. We aren’t immune to the reality that to build a healthy discipleship culture, we need to make significant investments.

As I’ve tried to faithfully invest in student leaders, I’ve found that you must be strategic about the students in which you invest. Whatever trajectory you set them on now will be felt months, semesters, and years from now in both your ministry and the churches they will call home. If you start with the wrong ideas or people, it’ll take even longer to change the flagship that is your ministry culture.

#2 – Teach values, not tactics. 

Building a Discipling Culture places a huge emphasis on replicating the DNA of the Gospel and your church’s response to it through smaller units called Huddles. Different churches call them different things, but the essence of the huddles it to teach those you are leading to value the right things over doing the right stuff. If you’re only teaching people to run a certain play (as opposed to responding to a certain defensive scheme), they’ll only know how to run that play. Equipping for life-long, life-deep, and life-wide ministry requires that we pass along what to love and how to think, rather than simply what to do.

#3 – People (read, students) are hungry for discipleship.

There’s a parallel in support raising that you, “don’t say no for anyone.” After reading Breen’s book, I realized that I was saying no for lots of students who appeared to be disinterested or unwilling. Some of our best leaders have simply been waiting for the tap on the shoulder, and that could have come earlier if I hadn’t said no for them.

But building a culture of discipleship means building a culture of invitation. There’s too much here to unpack in this post, but remember that discipleship starts with an invitation. We have to start by assuming that there are people in our ministries and churches right now that want to grow and lead, and are merely waiting for a tap on the shoulder.

#4 – Become okay with failure. Be more okay with grace.

Failure in an inevitable and essential part of growth. I realized about halfway through Breen’s book that one of my expectations was that student leaders should have it all figured out before they qualified to be a leader. While there certainly are leadership qualities (desire, charisma, warmth, humility, personal holiness) which leaders require, we have to model and call people towards leading well. People still learning any skill will fail, so give your leaders the ability to “fail small” and learn as they grow.

Two things that we have to keep in mind when using failure as a learning tool. The first is that our failures (or successes) do not define us. Only the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ does. The second is that we need to celebrate success early and often. A little encouragement goes a long way.

#5 – Vision, Vision, and more Vision.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “vision leaks,” meaning that over time people naturally forget the end they’re working towards. I do it, you do it, everyone does it. So as you work towards building a discipling culture, we have to be creative about the ways we share our vision. Everything we do must be attached to it, otherwise the requests you have of the people you’re leading become burdensome. People are looking to make meaningful contributions wherever they are. Sometimes we have to help them see how they are already doing that.

I hope that these thoughts are helpful. If you have ready the book, I would love to hear your thoughts below. Or if you’d like to discuss further, please reach out to me at mswanson@ccojubilee.

For the Sake of the Program

I’ve been recently reading Community by Brad House, a book about how (the former) Mars Hill Church did small groups. As Wellspring Church works towards our first launch team meetings, I find myself more and more convicted that genuine and attractive community is vital to the health and growth of any church.

In a chapter discussing ownership and how to build it into the culture of your church, House laments about the over-programming of the church:

Seriously, what is left for the disciple of Christ to do…We spend our whole lives creating ministries to serve people and then complain that they want to be served.

If found it a bit ironic that as I prepare to lead a group of folks in shaping how Wellspring seeks to build intentional community, my first thoughts have usually been about building programming to accomplish this goal. I think, “write curriculums, create classes, invite leaders, send disciples…” all of which are good thoughts. But at the end of the day all of these things fall short of what the Gospel calls us to.

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi, “My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (1:20) Of this passage, Oswald Chambers writes, “It is an absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will at that point. An undue amount of thought and consideration for ourselves is what keeps us from making that decision, although we cover it up with the pretense that it is others we are considering.” (My Utmost for His Highest)

This morning, these two sentiments collided for me. The desire to make and send more disciples is easily built on the desire to produce, or, more fundamentally, to do the right thing for God. While that is not a bad desire, the hope to earning the praise of God through works of my own hands is the exact antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s words smack us in the face with a radical devotion to a person who has very publicly and freely given the greatest gift of all time. Out of sheer gratitude, Paul submits everything he is to God in order for others to experience the very thing he is living in.

For me, my tendency towards over-programming is a tendency towards proving that I can do it to God. If I can design the right system, I can show God how good I am. That stands in stark contrast to Paul’s devotion and gratitude. While it might begin with a work of the Holy Spirit, I often try to finish by the works of my hands.

So this morning, I am repenting of my works and asking that God would guide our groups by His grace alone. I’m also asking God to help me move away from over-programming and to live a life out of gratitude for the Glory of the cross of Christ.