In 2000, my wife, Alison, and I began serving in marriage discipleship when our church asked us to start a Sunday school class for newlywed couples. In our first gathering, four couples attended. Four years later, we were offering five marriage classes with a combined attendance of 120 couples. People often asked, “What is the key to your success?” My response was always, “We ask God to show up each week, and we prepare for Him to show up.”
And that was a valid answer—prayer and preparation were essential elements of our ministry. So was intentionally mentoring future class leaders. But 15 years later, I can also identify something else we did that increased our chance of success.
From the start, we offered the material through the primary delivery method that our church already supported and that people already participated in: small groups.
Our church had a paid staff member responsible for small groups, and he had support staff helping him. Our church provided meeting space, childcare, announcements, and training for small-group leaders. Church leaders continually encouraged people to attend the small groups. Inadvertently we had aligned our marriage ministry to be supported by the church’s organizational and operational philosophy.
And the reason for the overwhelming participation we experienced was that 92 percent of our church’s weekend attendees already participated in a small group. We did not struggle to get people to attend a marriage small group because we already had high participation in groups overall. We simply brought the marriage content to where attendees were already gathering.
This was not a calculated and intentional approach on our part at first, but once we noticed the trend and realized its effectiveness, we made it an essential part of our ministry plan.
Choosing the right delivery method
Generally, churches offer biblical teaching to members through three primary delivery methods: large groups, small groups, and one-to-one ministry. As a leader, you probably tend to deliver content through the method you are most comfortable with. But to improve your chance of success in discipleship, whether it is with men, women, or couples, you may need to use a delivery method other than the one you prefer. Here are two principles to consider when deciding what method to use:
1. Look at where your church can offer organizational support. How is your church organized? What staff, volunteers, and systems are already in place to support a large-group gathering? Probably all three, as most churches have at least one large-group gathering a week—the worship service. The pastor prepares to preach, and volunteers or other staff prepare the space, manage the lights and sound, and provide music. A communications support system posts the times and location and gives general information about what to expect in these large-group gatherings.
Does your church offer Sunday school classes or church- or home-based small groups? Then you have the staff, volunteers, and systems in place to support discipleship in small groups.
Does your church support discipleship in the context of one-to-one settings such as mentoring or counseling? Then you can modify your content to work in the one-to-one setting.
The point is, use the organization you already have in place for your discipleship.
2. Look at where your church already has good attendee participation. Do your small groups or Sunday school classes have strong attendance? Then you’ll want to find some practical and biblical small-group materials for them to use on the topic of discipleship you want to offer. If worship services receive the highest attendance, then you’ll want to include messages about the content you want to deliver in your preaching.
Participation can go beyond the walls of the church as well. Are members active on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media can be used to deliver bite-sized content for personal consumption. Take the content they need for improving their spiritual lives to where they already hang out.
Do you have struggling ministries? Are your classes not well attended? Look closely at the organization of your church and your attendee participation. How closely do your efforts match up? If they don’t, consider making adjustments that will increase the support of your church organization and the participation of attendees.
Surprised it’s that simple? These principles aren’t rocket science, but they are often overlooked.