The series are set up to accommodate 26-28 studies every year for 4 years.
Phase 1 we suggest offering two starting times in a year (Fall and Winter), however the second time we offer it we only cover the first 13 weeks. It is good to have at least 2 groups each year so that the groups can mix a little for Phase 2 and future phases.
We typically close off each group after three weeks to new guests for a variety of reasons:
After 3 weeks they will have missed essential concepts and it is probably best to start with the next start-up.
After three weeks the group is starting to gel and feel comfortable with one another. If you keep adding new faces it will be difficult to establish a sense of relational safety within the group, which we feel is important for building deeper community.
We recommend that everyone starts at Phase 1 whether they are a retired pastor or a skeptic walking in from the street. There are numerous reasons for this.
It puts everyone on the same page.
People never know as much as they think they know.
Many people who thought they were Christians discover they were not.
Everyone learns how to present the gospel to their friends.
Skeptics need to be around other believers where they can see spirituality modelled and applied.
Believers need to be around skeptics to hear afresh their questions and perspectives.
Everyone learns something in each phase no matter how long they have been saved.
This policy means we don’t have to keep guessing which phase the person should really be in, especially when people think they should be in a higher phase than they ought to be.
Everyone who initially felt insulted by starting at Phase 1 said afterward it was the best thing they could have done.
Everyone needs to be able to teach the content to others.
Transitioning churches to become focussed on discipleship can sometimes be more of a challenge than what we would expect. Despite the fact it is the one thing Christ commanded the church to do, it has often dropped completely off the radar.
Below are some suggestions to help churches become more focussed on discipleship.
1) Create godly tension
What we mean by this is, help people see what they are missing by not being discipled so that they long for it. The first step to creating change is to create thirst for change. You will know you are ready when they demand more discipleship. Great concept, but how do you do that?
a) teach about Jesus’ strategy to develop spiritual maturity in uneducated fishermen and tradesmen within three years, to the point they became competent spiritual leaders and world changers.
b) We found a Spiritual Journey Survey accomplished huge strides in creating a spiritual discontent. Actually, it provoked downright anger. People were frustrated to see how little they had actually moved forward in so many years. But we didn’t leave them hanging there, we then offered a solution to help them move forward with tangible goals.
Using the Spiritual Journey Survey:
We hand the survey to the entire congregation and have them fill it out in the service.
Once they are done we ask them to look at the various phases and determine which column has all the boxes checked in either the the 3rd or 4th check boxes (For the Most Part & Absolutely). If all the statements in Phase 1 have the 3rd or 4th boxes checked, then they move on to Phase 2 level. If there are still checks in the 1st or 2nd boxes,then they are still in that phase. The phase they would place themselves in is the earliest phase that does not have all the statements checked in the 3rd or 4th boxes.
We ask them to indicate on the sheet, which phase they are in and then also how long they have been walking with Christ.
After the surveys are handed back in we then explain that Jesus essentially moved his disciples through Phase 1 in 3months, Phase 2 in 9 months and Phase 3 in two years. Jesus ascended into Heaven as they began Phase 4. Three years and they were ready to serve as leaders of the church.
We found that most Christians place themselves in Phase 2 regardless of how long they have been following Christ and for many they get disturbed by this fact. But what it does is create a thirst to be further along in their spiritual journey.
DISCLAIMER: This survey is a man-made, artificial evaluation that does not truly indicate one’s spiritual maturity and some people will loudly state that (especially if they ranked poorly). Some people will also rank themselves much higher than they really should. However, it is effective at helping people start to see what they don’t know and where they are still unequipped.
The following week we provide a summary of where the congregation stands and then lay out a plan to help interested people move forward. When we applied this to our church, 70% of the congregation signed up. Keep in mind, these were people who had no prior small group or discipleship experience.
2) Start small
You may not have 70% of your congregation sign up immediately, but that is okay. Start with those who are seriously interested and grow from there. Some people will want to see evidence of effectiveness before they sign up.
If other small groups already exist and are defiant of change, let them be. Those groups will eventually fade away with time. Focus all your future energy on discipling people and creating Kingdom of God influencers.
Look for gifted teachers who after going through the first series, might be able to teach that content to a new group.
The studies are designed for discussion. A typical Sunday School setting will probably not work well. Look for a warm relaxed environment where there can be sharing, prayer, and conversation. We typically design the studies to last 2 hours (including life sharing and prayer). There will always be a tension between how much time the Shepherd gets and how much time the Teacher gets.