June 20, 2024
This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Church planting

Editor’s note: David and Kathy North planted multiple churches with TEAM for 33 years in various-sized cities in the Philippines. David is currently the Church Planting Coordinator for TEAM’s international network of church planters and disciple makers. The Norths are involved in Coaching, Training, Mentoring and encouraging front line workers. These blog posts were copied with permission from TEAM’s Church Planting Blog, Go and Plant.

A bigger front door

A Filipino pastor came in to lead the church we had just planted. Immediately he started an Evangelism Training program, involving as many of the church people as possible. I remember several things he said at that training. One was that “you have to have a bigger front door than your back door.” He said that every church will lose people along the way out the back door. Some will get work elsewhere, some will fall away, some will die and so on. So if you aren’t doing evangelism and bringing new people in continually, eventually the church will shrink and die. He also said that his primary discipleship tool was “Evangelism Explosion” for discipling his church members. Through the Evangelism Explosion equipping workshops, he showed them how to pray, memorize Scripture, trust the Holy Spirit, and join God on mission.

I experienced some of this attrition in my planting of churches. I would begin with all my efforts focused on connecting with the lost and sharing the Gospel. As people came to Christ, my time became limited to discipling the saved and gathering the church. But then I would realize that the ministry wasn’t growing anymore because I was focused on teaching and discipling the new believers rather than on reaching the lost.

Training new believers for evangelism

The solution is that part of discipleship has to be equipping the new disciples to become fellow soul winners. We must enable them to win and disciple new believers who will win and disciple new believers and so on.

At one stage I had designed a great discipleship process for all the members of the church. But after a while no one was moving through the phases of the process. This was a big wake-up call for me. The disciple-making process of a church or church plant has to start with evangelism. Then evangelism has to continue in parallel to the discipling and training of believers.

Jesus’s Mission

Jesus has a mission, “I will build my church…” and He has given us our part in that mission. Jesus used various words to emphasize various aspects of the work we are to do in helping build His church. He used terms like “go,” “sent,” “fishers of men,” “into the world,” “be my witnesses,” “you are the light of the world,” and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey….” The Great Commission is really a compelling statement that summarizes all these commands and lets us know the main thing we are to do.

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus is at work building His church, gathering together a people for His own possession. He invites us to work alongside Him with His authority and with His presence. The main command here is “make disciples” as we go into the whole world. “Baptizing” and “teaching” obedience to Christ are what we do with these new disciples. So “making disciples” starts with what we would normally call evangelism and continues with what we call discipleship.

Making Disciples = Evangelism + Baptism + Discipleship

Evangelism is the process that leads people toward Christ and into faith and grace. Baptism signifies this momentous transition from lost to saved (Luke 15:24), from darkness to light (Eph 5:8). This transition is from not being God’s people to being part of God’s own people (Rom 9:25). The shift is from being under judgment to being free from condemnation (Jn 3:18), from being dead to being alive in Christ (Eph 2:4,5), and from not being His disciples to being His disciples. It is a once for all transition. 

Discipleship is the new disciple’s lifelong process of learning to follow and obey Christ in everything. The Bible never uses the term “discipleship.” This has been our word to describe our life of growing as followers or disciples of Jesus. The term the Bible uses is “making disciples.” Every time this combination of words is used in the Bible, it refers to taking non-disciples and bringing them to Christ so that by faith they become new disciples. So, obedience to the Great Commission begins with the lost, the non-disciples.1 See also a related blog post on this blog: Keeping Evangelism and Discipleship Together.

A lot of churches and missionaries are working hard at their “discipleship” programs and set up community groups, leadership classes, new believer classes, etc. But they have no plan for reaching the lost in the community.

Pushing the Boundaries of Lostness

It’s also easy for missionaries to get drawn into ministries of maintaining the church and so lose the passion to keep pushing the boundaries of lostness for Christ’s sake. This doesn’t mean that every TEAM worker’s primary ministry is directly reaching the lost. But all our ministries are significantly connected to intentionally reaching the lost. We may be on a team that has a great plan for reaching the lost, and we understand that our role on the team is part of that big picture. We know how we fit into that purpose of joining Christ in that mission. 

Here are some examples. We may be organizing the church’s small group ministry. But we will want to incorporate a time to pray or plan for each individual’s personal outreach into the small group meetings.

Evangelism in children’s ministry

We may be setting up the children’s ministry, and we will want to be sure that the children are hearing the Gospel clearly. As part of our ministry, we may also plan on ways we can reach out with our children’s workers to the children of the neighborhood. Furthermore, we can teach the children how to share the wordless book or the Gospel bracelet. We would have a plan of what to do when an unbelieving family brings their kids to Sunday School. What will our steps be to use that opportunity? How can we make that family feel especially welcome and loved?

Evangelism and theological education

We might be teaching in a Bible School. In this context, we will look for ways to help our students prepare to lead their churches to reach the lost neighborhoods of their towns and cities. We can demonstrate to the students that the whole story of the Bible is that of God seeking and saving the lost to make them His own. This was also the focus of Jesus’s ministry with His disciples. From the beginning, he told them that their discipleship was to prepare them to be “fishers of men.” When he had finished the training phase, he turned to the cross to complete his mission of salvation. Then after his resurrection, he capped his time of discipling them by telling them to now go fish: “Go and make disciples.”

Some questions for personal reflection:

  • How are you connected to winning the lost?
  • What do you need to do to realign your ministry so that you are part of “pushing the boundaries of lostness?”
  • How is the church you are planting equipping the believers to reach the lost around them?
  • How can you keep this passion for evangelism alive in the new church?
  • As you plan the year’s ministry direction and goals, how will you keep the evangelism fires burning?

This blog post was originally posted to the TEAM church planting blog at Disciple-Making Starts with the Lost (goandplant.com).

Series Navigation<< Abiding in Christ – Laying the Right FoundationMake Disciples: What Kind of Disciples? >>

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