Think back to your first visit to a new church. Did you like it? Did you come back? Did anyone notice you? Likely the way you experienced the church directly impacted your decision to stay, how quickly to get involved and how you connected with others. Critical. Hold onto that thought. Now consider a church you have been at for years or comments people who have been present for many years make. Do you think or hear comments along these lines: How do I grow deeper? I wish we studied the bible more. It just doesn’t feel as fresh.
How do you meet the needs of both? Should we?
Churches tend to answer in two opposing ways biblically. Either, our mission is to reach people no one is reaching, so we will put everything into our marketing, first impressions, and assimilation. Or, the answer is to disciple the believers present and spend staff, building, and programming resources on Christians who make up the body of Christ.
This doesn’t have to be a tension. Sure, I realize there is a tension to manage in the middle of this, but it is always easier to take shots at the other churches than understand what is going on. Pointing to the mega churches and saying they overspend on assimilation, but neglect discipleship is not helpful. Or, excusing good first impressions with a holier than thou attitude of focusing on the bible and discipleship simply creates sideways energy from the focus of the great commission.
Regardless of church size, the Great Commission of Matthew 28 applies. We are to BOTH reach out radically to our neighbors and deepen the loving heart transformation of Christians in our care as churches. Both are biblical. Pick your passage and preach!
My observation has been we often confuse terms. Let me clarify. I believe a lot of what we call a discipleship path is actually just the start of discipleship and would be more properly labeled an assimilation process. Moving the online viewer or parking lot guest through to a great Sunday experience into a 4-week Growth Track or 8-week Starting Point class is all assimilation. Have a plan for this!
However, assimilation is only the start. This is where discipleship intentionality really kicks in. What is your plan? How will people who have assimilated into the regular rhythm of your gatherings be discipled to be a transformative loving Christ-like force in their neighborhoods, workplaces and families? Isn’t this why we drove into that new parking lot and pushed through awkward conversations with a group of strangers? We believed in the power of God’s people living in love and unity. Church. Isn’t it why we join staff? This isn’t a get-rich scheme, this is letting the gospel take its full effect on our hearts, relationships, cities, and church. Assimilation and discipleship are clearly seen in the Great Commission.
Q. How would I define assimilation? Discipleship? How do they relate?
Q. Who can I ask to get honest feedback about how we are doing in both areas?
Q. How can seeing both these areas as necessary be helpful when talking with guests or long-time members?