Solutions to the problems that would otherwise reduce the ability for discipleship to occur in small and large churches.
Small Churches – Out of the dozens of churches that I have attended in both northern Illinois and southern Illinois some patterns can be identified for explaining why small churches remain small. The most basic reason that small churches remain small is that they usually get involved in long term socializing over decades instead of genuine discipleship. Often the discipleship group is nothing more than an early morning Sunday school that contains the core people involved in the success of the Church. The core group of people cannot grow beyond seven to twelve people and manage to say together for a long period of time because of both church politics and because the interaction of the group can generate to much noise as the numbers increase.
For a small church the Sunday school is often a place that ministers will discuss their Sunday morning message at in order to get interaction prior to giving the message at the pulpit after Sunday school. Often members that do not attend Sunday school but do attend worship are people that receive no other involvement in Christianity except for a morning message. Usually when children from the parents in the Sunday school get numerous, a second Sunday school for children is created. If new people enter the Sunday school and interact with it, then often in many places they will be given the ‘cold shoulder’ of the Sunday school as these people will eventually drop out as they realize that they are not welcome. Overall, a small church almost always stays small because Sunday schools are the center of discipleship for the entire church, and newcomers are often a threat to the social structure that would develop over decades of interaction.
When a small church Sunday school uses church material, the material selected is usually from the authors in the denomination that represent the church in writing about how to live or how to be spiritual. Sometimes small churches will use books from outside the denomination that are popular literature involving autobiographies of faith and books that try to put a new perspective on the spiritual growth element of Christianity. Overall, unfortunately new literature is usually always introduced into a Sunday school when church leaders realize that the group is not functioning the way that they envision it should.
From the experience that I have had from attending over a dozen churches, I have learned that many churches are by invitation only. Some churches have so much wealth from generations of members that they see new people attending as a threat to all the inheritance that the church has, and this is especially the case with churches that have large endowments. Overall, in the many pristine large church buildings constructed over a hundred years ago often a very small group of people are in the church that are the few descendants of the people that stated the church, and these people rarely would share their church with anyone except their families.
Large Churches – In several of the large churches that I have attended that have hundreds of members usually the church will have several Sunday schools (or small groups) that all have about seven to twelve members at the most. Large churches usually do not have members that know the names of all the other members, and beyond the small groups or Sunday schools people most do not know each other. Overall, large churches usually benefit the most from professional pastors, but in many cases the members of a large church never arrive at the development of the pastor.
Often that pastor of a large church will teach principles and rules to live by as the focus of the church message. Members of large churches are often held back from developing to the extent of the senior pastor by the pastor imposing all the rules of faith and practices without ever explaining how his message come about or what the reasons are for what the pastor has to say. In order for the pastor of a large church to keep his job he may feel that he has to eliminate the competition, keep the members back from having his same understanding, and produce members that have good Christian qualities about themselves. Unfortunately, many of the large churches are filled with members that have something like a ‘third grade’ theology in their simple faith, but they lack any prospect of ever arriving at the next level of development.
The main reason why small churches often have more developed Christian members than larger churches is because the members of small churches can be freer to express themselves and gain feedback from leaders. The reason why large churches usually differ from small churches is that competing ideas among members can cause church leaders to get fired or be paid less money. As a result of the severity of the effects of large churches having conflicts of ideas (if people start having good ideas), often members are produced in large churches like clones or robots.
Solutions to Church Problems – The best method that I have encountered for operating a Church is to have Sunday schools teach on a subject chosen by a person chosen to teach the Sunday school for the day. Members could have a list of all the Sunday school teachers and subjects for the week, and then members can select the Sunday school that they would like to attend based upon who is teaching that Sunday and based upon what the subject is. After all the Sunday school sessions had ended, members would have a time to interact with other members in a big room as people discuss issues with each other.
After about an hour of full church interaction, a service is conducted by the senior pastor. After the confrontational service that convicts everyone of sin, members are then encouraged to stand in line in order to give a theological rebuke to the pastor so that he can consider how he should or should not change his views. After all the members get into a large bible rebuking confrontation with each other, then varies members that are chosen for the week will invite a certain number of other members into their homes for lunch. After members go to the homes of other members to eat and talk for some time, then families are left alone of a few hours at their homes. Later in the Sunday nighttime everyone comes back to church in order to have prayer and hymns. After church, everyone talks a little and then goes home in order to go to bed for the night.
The discipleship in this model, that I will call the busy church model, happens from intensive interactions with other people in the church all throughout a Sunday. Churches that use this model often have very wealthy members, and the relationships between members would almost always extend into business, into sports teams, and into school. In the busy church model what usually happens is that poor people (like those that live in a room in someone’s house or a dorm) are often looked down upon because they cannot contribute the resources necessary for providing for others. In the busy church model members have to be very sociable in order to last in the church for any length of time. If members can last in the busy church model without being forced out by others, then it works very well for creating disciples as long as people are passionate about Christ.
Three methods exist for forming churches by way of the busy church model, and all cause discipleship. The first method is for evangelists to go throughout the surrounding community and approach people with questions about who Jesus is, and these questions will help the evangelist identify how they can help the person receiving evangelism. The method of starting conversations about Jesus with strangers in the community can give evangelists ideas for how to fit the person being evangelized into the congregation, and the evangelist can offer suggestions as to how the person might fit. The second method for evangelism is to have a public place that the evangelist addresses the public at, and at this place the evangelist makes highly insulting remarks at people like John the Baptist would as he then ropes people into going to church with him. The third method for evangelism is to have a group of Christians from the church go out into the community and talk about Christ together in various public places, and then rope people that overhear the message into conversation that could get people to go to church. Overall, all three methods involve the evangelist gaining disciples for the busy church out of people that are unknown by the evangelist, and then once the evangelist gets people to take back to church then he can train them to reach the level they need to be at in order to interact with everyone else.
As the busy church increases to about one hundred twenty members, then it needs to open a new church building and divide is efforts in order to prevent from becoming so big that it is filled full of lots of strangers. I have worked out a model (that I have called the New Jerusalem model) for accompanying the busy church model as I have worked it out through a decade of scripture study. The model would involve a set of offices such that almost every member could have a church office and could advance in a way that parallels scripture and that centers around blood atonement, and the theory behind advancement is that the woman that anointed the feet of Jesus would have been brought up by Jesus to anoint his head as well. Overall, I got close to finishing the New Jerusalem model completely for a church that I was trying to develop in Iowa City, Iowa as I tried to envision how temple worship occurs in heaven and how the worshipers are advanced or demoted based upon service. The structure that I developed gave extensive reading of the prophets and Revelation for its foundation in modeling heaven on earth, and it focused on every member being a member of a kingdom of priests that all make intercession and collective constitute the body of Christ.
Although Barna uses lots of science like methodology to turn a church into something resembling a school, he nevertheless has a very good point in saying, “One of the practices I witness in every highly effective church I study is that they borrow great ideas from every place they find them.” (Barna, 157) The work of the busy church model is to constantly improve faith and ideas through a structure that constantly challenges everything and that brings the best ideas and the worst problems into the hands of people that can work with them. The New Jerusalem model is similar but rewards services of humility as it focuses on greater offices being obtained by greater acts of ‘foot washing’. The New Jerusalem model is like the busy church model with the exception that instead of focusing on the development of greater and greater ideas instead it focuses on greater and greater intercession.
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2001.