The way forward can be found in ministry basics—telling people about Jesus, helping them feel at home in your church, and disciplining them in the faith.
D. Scott Hildreth
Our churches are in a season of recovery. Some are recovering better than others, but no church is unaffected by the multiple crises of the past several years. As church leaders contemplate the way forward, research shows it may not be as complicated as we think.
This Lifeway Research study provides hope for churches of all sizes and financial situations. The key to long-term growth and recovery can be found in ministry basics—telling people about Jesus, helping them feel at home in your church, and disciplining them in the faith.
As ministry leaders, it is tempting to seek newer, flashier, or more creative solutions. But church health indicators simply point us back to the basics.
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 (CSB)
Before Jesus’s ascension, He left His followers this Great Commission. The context of our ministries may have changed through the years, but the basic ministry philosophy has not.
1. Bring the lost into the faith
Some have debated the meaning of Jesus’s commission to “go.” Is it a command to leave where you are, or is it a challenge to live faithfully as you are going about your daily life? No matter which side of this debate you land on, the truth that none of us can ignore is that Jesus is passing the responsibility of evangelism to His followers. The Great Commission begins with the challenge to introduce those who are not Christians to Jesus. Making disciples begins with outreach.“Church programs and creative ministries remain important, but one of the primary paths forward remains the basic ministry of evangelism.” — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
Even the most casual glimpse at our contemporary ministry landscape reveals we are surrounded by people who do not know Jesus. We see this represented in the number of former church members or attendees who have not returned to worship and in the growing number of people who indicate no religious affiliation.
Church programs and creative ministries remain important, but one of the primary paths forward remains the basic ministry of evangelism. If the crises of the past couple of years have done anything for us, they have exposed the reality of lostness at our doorstep. They have also highlighted the need for hope that is found in the gospel.
2. Teach people what it means to be a Christian
In the Great Commission, Jesus tells His followers disciple-making involves teaching people to obey Christian doctrine. Not only do recent crises remind us about the need for evangelism, but they also expose the need for our church members to understand what it means to live out their Christian faith. The research shows churches grow as people engage in small group Bible study and their commitment to outreach and service increases.“As church leaders minister in this current context, we need to concentrate our teaching on obedience and Christian living.” — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
I remember multiple conversations with people who wondered, “When will we get back to normal?” My typical response has been, “Do you really think God allowed all of this to happen so we could go back? I think it is better to ask: ‘God, what are you teaching us and how can we be more faithful in the coming days?’”
As church leaders minister in this current context, we need to concentrate our teaching on obedience and Christian living. It feels basic, but the basics are what we need to build stronger churches.
3. Create a community of faith
A third element of Jesus’s commission includes the importance of community, “baptizing… in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….”
In all Christian traditions, baptism is the entry into the church. People assimilating into the church is another indicator of church growth, according to the research cited above. People who feel at home are more likely to serve and are also more likely to experience the life change that happens when a small group gathers to study the Bible and share in life’s challenges."Church growth and health should never outgrow the basic instructions of the Great Commission.” — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
Famed football coach Vince Lombardi is reputed to have gathered his players for a pre-season speech. He opened the talk with five words that have found themselves in the annals of football lore: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
Lombardi seems to have known there is a tendency to complexity, but we must always be ready to go back to the basics. Our way forward may include new programs and ministries. But research reminds us that church growth and health should never outgrow the basic instructions of the Great Commission. Let’s not over-complicate the path to recovery.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
D. Scott Hildreth
Scott serves as Associate Professor of Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Together on God’s Mission and the co-author of Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out. Both books are published by B&H Academic.
Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out
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