Coach and playerIn High School I had two kinds of instructors: professors and coaches.

Most of the day I sat under professors. These teachers stood in front of the classroom and “professed” knowledge about a particular subject: history, math, English, etc. I was expected to absorb that knowledge by sitting, listening, and taking notes.

But for one hour of the day I transitioned to gym class, under the tutelage of coaches. It was learning – but of a different kind. The emphasis was on the physical rather than the verbal. It was about doing rather than thinking.

The coaches took a different approach. They challenged us physically. They ridiculed us when we failed to work hard. They meted out discipline, and the paddle was never far from their hands.

It was interesting to watch the boys transform as they walked into the locker room. Many who were bored in class came alive in gym – or in after school sports. The professorial model simply didn’t reach these young men the way the coaching model did. (Of course, certain boys were quite comfortable in class and disliked gym. These boys grew up and became writers 😉

Now, to my point: America has 330,000 churches. Every one of these churches is built on a professorial model.

Every Sunday we gather in a classroom with chairs pointed at a stage. We sing a few songs, and then a teacher steps forward to “profess” knowledge about God. We’re expected to sit, listen and take notes. Then based on this talk, our lives are supposed to change.

The professorial model has been dominant in Christianity since the Reformation – and its roots go back to the conversion of Constantine in 312 AD. We’ve all grown up in it. We can’t imagine church any other way.

Before 312, the church was built on a coaching model. Small groups of believers carried out physical service to God, learning as they went. Teaching took place in homes, life-on-life. Professing (or preaching) was mainly an evangelistic tool targeted at unbelievers.

But since the Reformation, professing has become the main way we transmit the faith to believers. The sermon is how we evangelize, how we train, how we encourage, and how we admonish the flock. It’s the centerpiece of Protestant worship – and truth be told, the cornerstone of Western faith practice. The fortunes of congregations rise and fall based on the quality of the professor and his preaching.

Many churches realize that weekly sermons are not making many disciples. So they offer additional opportunities for more indepth study. Problem is, these midweek classes and Bible studies are also professorial in nature. Very few churches offer any sort of activity-oriented coaching.

So this is the reality in almost every church: professing is the dog – and coaching is the tail.

Why do we do so little coaching?

  • We’ve tried – and failed. Many churches have offered midweek ministries that are more active in nature, but they’ve experienced low participation. Blame this on a generation of Christians who have been trained to see weekly worship as the minimum requirement of their faith. Like many people they’re extremely busy and don’t have any more time to devote to the church.
  • A lack of energy. The staff (particularly the pastor) end up pouring so much energy into the Sunday worship experience there’s little energy left for active disciple making.
  • Coaching is costly. The worship service drives attendance, growth and giving. All other ministries divert resources from this key growth engine.
  • A lack of coaches. Spiritually mature individuals are often hard to find and identify. Many are already busy volunteering within the existing Sunday morning ministry machine and can’t add anything else to their schedules.
  • It’s risky. It’s a lot safer to preach sermons than to get people out in the community having adventures. We can control what happens in a worship service, but once we depart the sanctuary anything can happen.
  • It’s inefficient. A single sermon can reach multitudes, but coaching occurs one-on-one or in small groups.

I’m not saying we should do away with our professorial, preaching-and-music church services. There will always be a demand for public worship. While I agree with much of what Frank Viola and George Barna say about the pagan roots of our modern, stage-driven worship services, they’re not going away any time soon.

But what if there were an alternative way of organizing a church? Is there were a way to plant a church where coaching is the dog and professing is tail? What if we could build a congregation from the ground up with a coaching-first mentality? Could such a model reach the millions of men who are interested in God but who do not find him in our professorial worship services?

Said another way: there are 330,000 places in America for the professorial learners to find God. We’re planting 4,000 more every year. Yet the majority of men relate better to a coaching model. Is there even one church in America that’s built around their needs? Such churches were common in the first three centuries AD – could they be resurrected today?

I’ll crack that nut in my next blog post. I’ll show you how Jesus built such an organization, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In the meantime, if you have an idea for how we could get more coaching into the church (and get more people to participate in it) please comment below, or leave your ideas on our Facebook page.