Our current model of church is worship-first. The centerpiece of congregational life is the weekly service. We gather everyone up on Sunday for worship, and then try to push them into midweek activities where the real disciple making is supposed to take place.
What happens? Relatively few participate. The most committed members are already exhausted from volunteering on Sunday. The marginal attendees don’t show up. And worst of all, many midweek offerings aren’t really disciplemaking at all. They’re simply mini church services, complete with music and a message. Or they’re Bible studies that further reinforce the idea that Christianity is something you learn in a class, rather than something you live out in community.
Why don’t we disciple? We’re so busy with our programming there’s simply not enough energy left for the intense, life-on-life disciplemaking Jesus and Paul modeled for us. As I wrote in Why Men Hate Going to Church, the church is one of the best places to hide from the dangerous mission God has for you.
So here are the questions I’ve been grappling with: is it possible to organize Christians in such a way that personal disciple making is no longer an add-on program, but rather the core activity of the church? Can we create a church model that’s simpler and more effective at discipling people? Can we do away with everything that’s not disciple making and call what remains a church?
If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, please do so by starting here.
Let me say again that I am NOT calling for the elimination of the existing congregational model of church. There will always be a place for weekly public worship services that are open to all. Public preaching has been around since the time of Christ and will always be needed, particularly for evangelism. Ministry programs will continue to help many come closer to Jesus.
However, fewer than half the self-proclaimed Christians in America are actively involved in a local congregation. Most of these Christians went to church at one point but no longer do so. We tend to dismiss these non-churchgoers as “backsliders” and “carnal Christians.” Some undoubtedly are. But I believe there are many who would begin following Jesus in earnest if only they were personally discipled.
The same is true for many churchgoing Christians who have gone cold. The key to their revival is to be sharpened by another believer (Proverbs 27:17).
It comes down to this: If you plant corn you’ll raise corn. If you plant beans you’ll raise beans. And if you plant a worship service, you’ll raise worshippers.
So how can we plant a church that will raise disciples?
Last week I presented a model I call Men’s League. Right now Men’s League is only a theory, but I’m anxious to try it in a local church, or in cooperation with a church planting organization. If you know of a group of church planting innovators that is willing to think WAY outside the box, please put me into contact with them.
While Men’s League will never replace the existing congregational model, it does present several advantages:
- It eliminates the top two areas of conflict and dissatisfaction in church: preaching and music. Christians love to argue over the songs and the sermons. Men’s League is not stage-driven, so you give people two less things to complain about.
- It’s much cheaper than establishing a traditional plant. Men’s League will never need a building, since we don’t assemble en masse on Sundays. It won’t need staff since we don’t do “programs” per se. (We enter into agreements with traditional congregations to provide these services and make a donation).
- It restores husbands as priests of their homes. Let’s be real – the spiritual leader of most homes is the pastor. Or the youth leader. Husbands sit idly by as a team of professionals ministers to their families. But Men’s League forces a man to step up, since the League does not provide any direct ministry to women and children. Laymen are the only conduit through which ministry flows.
- It will identify hidden leaders who are currently sidelined. There are tens of thousands of men who want to lead a church and make disciples, but they are not preachers. But with Men’s League any three men who want to make disciples can plant a church and fulfill Christ’s command – no seminary degree required.
- It will provide a means of paying disciple makers. Under the current model of church preachers and musicians get paid; almost everyone else has to volunteer or raise support. The Men’s League’s economic model could provide regular income to the commissioners to compensate them for their leadership.
- It will create permanent, non-destructive teams for men to bond with. In traditional churches we constantly assemble teams and then tear them apart. But in Men’s League you and your coaches stick together as long as the league endures. And there’s no need to gather mission teams to work on projects – your men are already organized for mission.
- Deep male relationships become common. A study of highly committed churchmen found that more than half did not have a close male friend. Recent statistics have shown a sharp increase in isolation and suicide among middle age men. But in Men’s League every man has two leaders and one companion. You can’t become isolated even if you try.
- The League could provide a secondary revenue source to existing congregations. Men’s Leagues will need meeting space for their once-a-month “Lord’s Supper” gatherings. Their obvious hosts are existing churches. The Leagues can pay rent and benefit these churches’ bottom lines.
- Men will want in. Scarcity creates value. Since we only admit men to the League once a year, you may actually have a waiting list of men wanting to get in.
- It’s success or failure does not depend on one man. Today’s churches are built on the character, work ethic and preaching ability of one man. If the senior pastor falls, the church often falls. But Men’s League should be better equipped to survive a moral failure because it’s built on a honeycomb of male relationships.
- Memorable teaching. Studies have shown that more than 90% of churchgoers cannot recall the topic of the sermon within 24 hours of hearing it. Men’s League involves a man’s entire body in the discipling/teaching experience.
- It’s persecution proof. If heavy persecution comes, Men’s League would be the perfect underground model of church. There’s no building; no phone number, no Web site, and nothing to trace. It’s portable, inexpensive, and functions perfectly under the radar.
So, is Men’s League a church planting model or is it a men’s ministry model? It’s both.
Most of all, it’s a support structure that provides personal coaching and compelling teaching to a limited number of men. It’s invitational rather than attractional. And it’s firmly rooted in the gospel of Luke.
I’m anxious to find a church or church planting organization that will work with me on the prototype. Heck, I’ll leave Alaska if I have to in order to get this off the ground.
Is there anyone out there willing to commit to this vision? Who’s with me?