By Tess Schoonhoven
People choose comfortability.
This reality often plagues the church and breaks down efforts to have lasting and effective discipleship groups.
In a recent episode of the Making Disciples podcast, Robby Gallaty and Chris Swain begin to answer the question, why do some discipleship groups not work?
Gallaty and Swain offer two factors that may render some discipleship groups ineffective.
Culture can overpower any amount of strong strategy, implementation and projected outcomes because it defines the attitude of the church congregation.
“If you don’t change the culture, you’re going to have momentary change, but people always flow and ebb back to what they know which is a non-discipleship, transaction, decisionistic culture,” Gallaty says.
The culture of a church body is set by the things the leadership elevates and celebrates. If numbers, finances, giving and attendance are the only things publicly praised, the congregation will develop an attitude that only views success through the lens of numbers, Gallaty says.
And culture, he adds, can be changed with words.
“The things you highlight—the wins you celebrate—are what your people will replicate,” Gallaty says.
If, for example, a leader publicly celebrates high financial giving, he says, “You’ll create a culture that if you have a dip in the giving your people are going to say ‘wow we’re not being very effective pastor, something’s wrong with the church.’ The only person to blame for programming your people to think that way, sadly is [leaders].”
Church leaders should start by evaluating how their congregation is gauging success because of the things they celebrate.
Gallaty says that changing culture does not happen overnight, so patience is vital.
“Young leaders suffer from two problems. They overestimate what God can do in the short time. And they underestimate what God can do over the long haul,” Gallaty says.
While seeking to transform a church’s culture into one that values discipleship, leaders should realize they’re in a marathon race and go at their own healthy pace for the long term.
“It’s not a class you take,” Gallaty says, “it becomes the course of your life.”
When people do enter discipleship groups, the bonds formed are so close that it can be difficult to break apart, multiply, and expand the work of building others up.
But, Gallaty says, leaders in discipleship groups must make a covenant on the front end that the group will exist for a set amount of time and at the end of that time the group members will go forth and train, lead and disciple others.
The goal is to facilitate a group where the group learns and grows and is accountable but in such a way that gives them a forward-looking vision, Gallaty says.
Gallaty challenges church leaders to stop trying to please everyone in the congregation, and to make decisions that give people what they need, not just what they want.
Ultimately, he says, it’s incumbent upon leaders to emphasize discipleship groups as the best way to cultivate an intimate and accountable community that is reproducible down the road, investing in others for the glory of God.
To hear more from Gallaty on church discipleship, visit the Making Disciples podcast website.
TESS SCHOONHOVEN (@TessSchoonhoven) recently interned with Facts & Trends and a recent graduate of California Baptist University.