I’ve seen it or heard about it too many times. Someone new comes into an already overcrowded Sunday School class or small group only to feel overwhelmed and left out. Their chances of pushing through aren’t high. If they’re an introvert, they won’t feel like it’s worth the effort. If they’re an extrovert, they may fight a bit, but will eventually feel unneeded. Discipleship sacrificed because of either a push for numbers or a lack of trained, confident leaders.
The Problem with Numbers
When we think about growth, our natural tendency is to think about getting larger, and rightly so. Babies grow into adults. Seeds grow into plants. Attendance growth means a greater number of people. Sales growth means you’re making more money.
Because of what growth is, we naturally have a bigger is better mentality in the church landscape. Why wouldn’t we want as many people as possible attending our churches and hearing the gospel? This seems right. Why not have a bigger Sunday school class or small group? It looks great to have a large church that people are excited about, plus more people means more money to help keep the lights on and to be able to do even more outreach, right?
What if it’s time to rethink our strategy? I’m not saying that having more people is bad, but are we looking at these people under our care as numbers or disciples? Are we concerned with them filling seats or their spiritual growth and maturity? It often helps to remind ourselves that Jesus’ command in the Great Commission was to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20 (italics mine).
Can we do this effectively just through preaching on the Lord’s Day? Can we do this effectively in overstuffed Sunday School classes or small groups where an introvert like me would be perfectly content to not fight to speak up or, even worse, leave?
I want to make the case for a mental shift. It’s time to grow smaller. What do I mean by that? To effectively follow Jesus’ commands of making disciples, we need to scale down and concentrate our efforts on the few rather the many. To grow in discipleship, we need to shrink in number. We’ve all heard the leadership principle of Jesus having 12 (disciples), pouring more into three (Peter, James, and John), and having a focus of one (Peter). I’m advocating that this should not just be for our leadership anymore.
It Starts With You
Thankfully, this isn’t a complicated process. You can look at it as a pyramid where you’re on top. You know at least one person who has potential and needs discipled, maybe you know more. Begin discipling two or three other people with the intent that they will reproduce what you’re doing together with other people in your church. These discipleship groups are in essence miniature, more concentrated small groups. As you send them out to become disciplers, you can either keep meeting together or start afresh with new people.
You are both following Jesus’ command to make disciples as well as training new leaders for your church. You are also loving your people and giving them the confidence they need to follow Jesus’ commands. Why haven’t we started this sooner?
If we want to follow these Great Commission commands, we have to grow smaller. Disciples aren’t made from hearing sermons and sitting in Sunday School classes or small groups. They’re made from doing life together, bearing one another’s burdens, and getting to dig together into the hard parts of life. For people to become mature disciples of Christ, we have to give more time, energy, and attention to the one rather than the many.