George Barna, in his 2001 book, Growing True Disciples, provides some helpful challenges for churches considering Christian education.
At the Barna Group website, you’ll find details on the book and an excerpt from the first chapter.
Here’s part of what George has to say…
What if we were to change our standards? Suppose we were to de-emphasize attendance statistics, square footage and income figures in favor of a commitment to depth and authenticity in discipleship? We would redefine â€œsuccessâ€ in our churches to include:
- Congregants who worship not just on Sundays but every day of the week; not just in the sanctuary but wherever they are
- Constant efforts by the laity to discover new insights into their faith and to convert that information into personal application
- Complete submission to the Holy Spirit in both decision-making and behavior
- Hearts that are sensitive to sin and wounded every time we do something that offends God
- Individuals who joyfully share their resources â€“ time, money, skills, information, relationships, possessions â€“ with those in need, especially those who share a love of Christ and a commitment to His people
- A deep commitment to building a lasting and life-changing community among those who profess Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord
- Demonstrating selfless compassion toward those in need of emotional, physical,financial or spiritual assistance
- Engagement in â€œorganic evangelismâ€ â€“ the process of sharing oneâ€™s faith in Christ in very natural and unforced ways, based on relationships with the recipients of the information and supported by lifestyle modeling
- People who live differently than the norm because of their faith, leading lives that conform to the dictates of Scripture without cutting corners or trying to interpret biblical passages for personal comfort or advantage
- A church body that projects (and lives up to) an image of being loving, caring, focused and clear-minded in its pursuit of the ways of God.
- Individuals who are continually linked to God through prayer and meditation, as if they were â€œonlineâ€ 24 hours a day with the ultimate spiritual power
- Believers who take the initiative to use their gifts, skills and training for the benefit of their church, without having to be cajoled into serving
Why would these outcomes constitute â€œsuccess?â€ Because churches would be made up of true disciples, not members; churches would be bolstered by the efforts of the lay ministers with the paid professionals facilitating rather than initiating and leading those efforts.
George is concerned that most Christians do not name discipleship or making disciples as a core part of their life goals. He suggests that to do something about this, local churches need to:
- Shift from a program-driven ministry to a people-driven ministry
- Change from emphasis on building consensus to building character
- De-emphasize recalling Bible stories, emphasize applying Bible principles
- Move from a concern about quantity (people, programs, square footage, dollars) to a concern about quality (commitment, wisdom, relationships, values, lifestyle)
- Retool developmental ministry efforts from being unrelated and haphazard to being intentional and strategic
- Replace ministry designed to pass on knowledge to efforts intended to facilitate holistic ministry
- Alter peopleâ€™s focus from engaging in the optimal feel-good activities to absolute commitment to personal growth, ministry and authenticity in their faith.