What are the Great Commission building blocks and transferrable principles for seeing your church lead a movement of Christ followers?
In March of this year, two pastors from Michigan and Florida made the trek to Manila to check out our church. Soon into their visit, they expressed their amazement at the way we did church, particularly intrigued by this idea of being one church with multiple services in multiple sites and with multiple preachers.
“We haven’t seen a church model like this one,” they told me. “In the United States, the typical multisite model broadcasts one preacher to multiple sites.” They were also quick to point out that they didn’t believe one model was better than the other. I can only agree.
But they specifically wanted to know and understand how one church does 94 weekend services in 15 locations with 51 lead pastors preaching and with approximately 65,000 in attendance. In their own words: “It’s worth the trip and a two-week stay to observe.”
As both men sat in my office I told them, “When people come to observe our church, they often focus on learning our curricula, methods, systems and processes. They think that by copying these, they’ll get our same results.”
I could tell my words had puzzled them.
I continued: “The problem with focusing on methods, models, systems and processes is that all of these things are subject to change depending on your nation, city and even the size and season of your church.”
“So what should we focus on?” they asked.
“Pay close attention to the culture of discipleship our church lives by,” I said, affirming their decision to come. “Culture cannot be learned from a book, a seminar or a podcast; it needs to be experienced.”
Our church, Victory Church in Manila, was planted 28 years ago. Steve Murrell, the founder, is an American missionary who wisely built by creating a culture of discipleship, which for the last 12 years has caused the church to grow at an annual average rate of between 22 percent and 26 percent. During our earlier years, the church had growth spurts of up to 40 percent, even 60 percent. And all of it—our past and current growth—has happened in healthy ways.
In my opinion, Steve’s most significant accomplishment lies in that the church continues to grow, even though he has transitioned out of the church’s day-to-day operations and now spends most of his time traveling in the United States and around the world to oversee other churches. Steve is a master at empowering leaders. Leaders like me, who are responsible for overseeing the church, can walk into one of our services, and no one would have any clue as to who I am because I only do two services in one of our locations. It testifies to a strong culture that has empowered multiple layers of leaders. I attribute that to the discipleship culture Steve and our leadership team have built.
Values + Vision + Language (over time) = Culture
What is culture? Loosely defined, I think of culture as something people do without thinking. Consider any culture—American, French, corporate, family or church. All consist of things the people in that culture do without thinking. For example, Americans don’t think twice about watching Sunday-afternoon football. It’s part of their culture. The French don’t debate over whether they’ll have wine for dinner. Apple executives make no bones about the value of simplicity in design and the need for excellence. Think of your own family and the things you do without thinking. Now imagine a church that doesn’t think about evangelizing people to turn them into disciples but just does it because it’s part of their culture.
All too often, churches build by focusing on mission, vision, system or process. These things in and by themselves aren’t bad. However, culture is the more powerful change agent because people will do it without thinking twice. It’s just the way they do life.
Whether it’s American, French, Apple’s, your family’s or your church’s, culture emanates from what we value, which inevitably becomes the way we see life (vision). When communicated consistently over time, what we value becomes the culture of that people group. Like all other cultures, Filipino culture is shaped by what the people value, how they see life (vision) and their language. Done over time, these factors eventually shape their culture, or the way they do life.
So shaping culture starts with what we value. When I say “values,” I’m not talking about the slogans or taglines we print on church bulletins or the words we post on the walls. Values are simply the things that are most important. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
That’s why values are the starting point; they emanate from the heart. I’m convinced that all of the decisions we make knowingly or unknowingly are based on what we value. Consider the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the things you do. These things shape our culture. We do them and spend money or time on them because we value them more than we value other things.
At the end of the day, life is a series of value exchanges. When Christians don’t read their Bibles or involve themselves with kingdom activities, they have traded these values for something they value more.
Herein lies the role of leadership: to clearly define what is valuable; to cause these values to form the way members see life (their vision); and to relentlessly communicate these values in as many ways possible.
But instead, we often go after instant results—focusing on systems, processes and programs. We don’t want to build on culture because that takes time. What we don’t often realize is that even when we take this “immediate gratification” approach, we’re still building a culture—one that’s based on instant results.
The Power of a Discipleship Culture
Our visitors commonly ask, “How much staff does it take to run a church of this size?” They’re often surprised to learn it’s less than 400—less than half a percent of the number of people who attend our services. It’s a telling illustration of the power of discipleship. In our experience, because the church is full of disciples, we don’t struggle with volunteer shortages for kid’s ministry, worship leading, ushering, administrative services and other activities. And from this pool of disciples, we are able to raise up future church planters, missionaries and pastors.
Disciples have clear values and don’t need coaxing, intimidation or manipulation to get them to serve. They willingly give of themselves to the work of ministry. They do it because it is valuable to them. It’s their culture. Even more amazing is how discipleship happens at every level of the church.
I recently heard a story about how a 12-year-old girl who serves in our kids’ ministry engaged her next-door neighbor. In time, the girl invited her neighbor to church and also took the responsibility of making her friend a follower of Christ. After her friend received the Lord, she invited her parents to come. Initially, they were reluctant, but they eventually came and are now members of the church. Her father has become a follower of Christ who now makes disciples.
Then there’s the story of a businessman in the city who heard of an opportunity to play his beloved instrument during our Sunday worship. After signing up as a volunteer, he was asked if he had gone through “One to One” with anyone—our starting point for engaging visitors that eventually leads into a small group and the rest of the discipleship process. Today, he plays on Sundays and he, too, makes disciples.
Our church has thousands of similar stories of discipleship. The point I’m trying to make here is that stories like these happen just as a part of our church’s culture. While these two stories centered on Sunday morning, the majority of them take place in the course of people’s day-to-day lives.
Now imagine if your church had a culture of discipleship and that every year 20 percent to 25 percent of these disciples made disciples. At this growth rate, your church could double every 3 1/2 years. This is the power of discipleship.
Developing a Discipleship Culture
Over the last five years we’ve all heard the discussion about Western Christianity’s decline. I tend to think that even as cultural, popular Christianity wanes, a burgeoning of true Christianity is happening—the kind that makes disciples. But to see this growing shift expand, we need to make changes. As I said earlier, the starting point is a change in values among leaders and members because values deal with the heart. As long as we value comfort and convenience, money and materials over our relationship with God and people, nothing much will change.
I like how Kevin York, the executive director of Every Nation Ministries (the churchmovement I’m privileged to be a part of), fleshes out the discipleship and values connection: “As long as you aim for your values, you will most likely hit your vision, mission and programs.”
He explains that having discipleship as our main value allowed us to come up with the right vision, mission and programs. Many discipleship ventures fizzle out in churches and among Christians because they are vision-based, mission-focused and program-driven rather than centered on values.
It’s from our values that we glean the appropriate principles and processes. Let me give you a few examples:
● Financial principles are based on monetary and gold values.
● Corporate principles are based on their founders’ and boards’ values.
● Marketing principles are shaped by customer values.
● Christian principles are founded on what God values.
So what does God value?
Four Values and Four Principles
1) God values people. He values them so much He would leave the 99 who are safe and healthy to go after a single one who is lost.
2) Clearly, Jesus is the Father’s highest value. Sending Christ to us was His way of telling us we are valuable—so valuable that He gave us what was most valuable to Him.
3) God also values ministry. Jesus says that the Father was like a man who found a treasure in a field. Because He so valued it, He sold everything He had so He could buy the field. In the same chapter, Jesus says that the field in this parable was the world. (See Matt. 13:44.) We see how God values ministry to a lost and dying world.
4) Finally, God values the passing of each day. To Him, each day is an invitation to receive His forgiveness and mercy. His mercies are indeed new every morning. Each day is an opportunity to repent from one’s wayward ways and turn to God and become His follower.
Church leaders who are clear about what God values can then apply the following corresponding principles to make disciples.
And because every day is a valuable opportunity to reach people with the gospel, we must empower all believers to go and make disciples.
Structure Follows Culture
Knowing that creating a discipleship culture is and should be our church’s first priority, it’s vital to understand that structure follows culture. You could say that culture is the wine, and structure is the wineskin. Or that culture is the electricity and structure is the wires and cables the electricity flows through so that it functions effectively and efficiently. Structure allows the culture to be reproduced. This is where organization, systems and processes come in; they work together to achieve the values.
When I start to really examine our church and how it functions, I’m always intrigued by how we’ve managed to build a culture that led to the principles of discipleship, which in turn have become the very same process we focus on as we make disciples. Our members clearly know that 1) we must all engage our families and friends with the intent of making them followers of Christ; 2) we must establish them in the foundation of Christ; 3) we have designed training and equipping programs to make them confident and competent as ministers; 4) they are empowered as the Holy Spirit works in their lives to go and make disciples each and every day.
The following articles in this issue will focus on these four principles of discipleship. Every Nation Co-founder Rice Broocks shares on the importance of engaging culture and community with an emphasis on reaching the next generation. Dale Evrist, senior pastor of NewSong Christian Fellowship in Brentwood, Tenn., writes on what it means to establish believers in the foundation of Christ. Every Nation Founder Steve Murrell explains the importance of equipping every believer to minister. And finally, Perimeter Church’s Randy Pope shares his own experience of leading a church that has empowered its people to make disciples.
It is my hope and prayer that this issue will inspire all of us to evaluate our churches, define our values and build churches based on a culture of discipleship.