Discipling People not Data

Every day I help churches take a look at how they are managed.  One of the common situations I run into is a large church being shepherded by a small paid staff.  The staff normally represents less than 5% of the total congregation, and much of the staff is focused on administrative support, not pastoral care.  What ends up happening is there are a handful of people shepherding and discipling hundreds, if not thousands, of congregants.

Data-Based Discipleship

We have become dependent on data management systems to keep up with the task of leading a church.  Interaction points with the church become areas where we can mine data.  A new family checks their children in for the first time, our system is flagged, and we reach out to welcome them.  Someone gives for the first time, the system tells us, and we can reach out to thank them.  We track attendance, phone calls, giving, and participation in whatever way we can to ensure that people are involved with the church. Likewise, when someone steps out of these patterns (hasn’t checked kids in to Sunday school, stopped attending a meeting, isn’t giving regularly, etc.) we send out the response team to get that person back in fellowship.  The illusion in all this is that discipleship is happening, when it's really only reactive administration.  You are discipling data, not people.

Looking to Christ

When I look at Jesus, I see something different.  Jesus has changed the lives of many (and continues to every day), but he drastically changed the lives of twelve men in his time of active ministry.  He worked with them, lived with them, traveled with them, and prepared them to go out and be his representatives; he discipled them.  He didn’t need a data management system to know what was going on with the twelve because they were a part of his everyday life.

Our churches have been influenced by corporations, business models, organizational structures, and technology.   They tell us to maximize time, create an efficient management team, and to put systems in place that allow us to manage people through the data they create.  Out of “necessity” we have created a system that is manageable by a few.  At the heart, though, church needs to be based on people making disciples, and making disciples, as Jesus practiced it, isn’t as simple as data-management.  In a church of 1000, there should be 100 pastors actively discipling people (I figure, if Christ really poured into twelve, then ten is a good maximum for us to attempt).  Let our churches not be about management, but discipleship.

Changing the Course 

What if we made it known that if you are worshiping here, we expect you to grow, to lead at some point in the future, and to live out the great commission.  Let relationships manage church growth.  Empower the church to be the church by equipping them with teaching that challenges them to grow, tools that allow them to interact, opportunities to live it out, and the authority needed to lead on their own.  Then challenge them to go and make disciples.

Jesus, with the power and wisdom available to God, humbled himself to become a man and live with people on a daily basis, and he radically changed the lives of a few in a sacrificial, all-encompassing way.  His ministry was an example to us: focus on a few and change their lives so that they can take the message to others.

As for me I'm going to follow Jesus here, because frankly I like people more than data anyway.

David Dietrich1 Comment