by Bill Wilks
In today's culture, should churches do Sunday morning Bible study classes or discipleship groups throughout the week? This is an important question to consider. In the sports movie, "Radio," James Robert "Radio" Kennedy was a young mentally-disabled man living alone with his mother in Anderson, South Carolina. He developed a special relationship with Coach Harold Jones who invited Radio to assist with the T. L. Hanna High School football team.
In a humorous scene, Coach Jones and Radio were having lunch at a local diner. A waitress showed them a dessert menu and suggested a couple of her favorites. Coach Jones and the waitress shared a laugh when Radio promptly replied, "I'll take both." In response to the question raised above, I agree with Radio. My reply is that "I'll take both." I think both are vital to the mission of the church.
THE CASE FOR SUNDAY MORNING BIBLE STUDY CLASSES
Some churches still call them Sunday School classes, while others use more modern terms like Life Groups or Bible Fellowships. Regardless of what you call them, a Sunday morning program of small group Bible study classes can be very valuable to a church's mission. For our purpose, let's call them Life Groups.
Life Groups are small to medium sized groups for all ages that meet weekly on Sunday mornings. As a congregation grows larger, Life Groups are how it can maintain a small environment for personal ministry. By connecting with others in a Life Group, people will build relationships that can last a lifetime.
In a Life Group, there is a high level of community that is built between believers as they fellowship, pray, and study the Bible together. The "care ministry" of these groups becomes a church's most organized and effective process of caring for its members. When anyone in the group has a need, the other members are the first responders to provide loving support and prayer.
The "care ministry" of Life Groups becomes a church's most organized and effective process of caring for its members. When anyone in the group has a need, the other members are the first responders to provide loving support and prayer.
Another advantage of Sunday morning Life Groups is that they are for all ages, from preschoolers to senior adults. By meeting at the same time and place every week, it makes it easy for Bible study to be a total family experience, which can be invaluable for younger children in their formative years.
In the church that I pastor, the first place we seek to connect new people is in a Life Group. Individuals and families who connect with others in a Life Group are more likely to find a sense of belonging and begin the process of spiritual growth. Their level of commitment to the total ministry of the church tends to be much deeper than those who only attend our worship services.
On the other hand, many churches today are experiencing similar challenges in their Life Group Ministry. A few years ago, my wife and I hosted a ministry booth at a large pastor's conference in Florida. As people stopped by our booth, we asked over a hundred pastors one main question. We asked, "Is there any ministry in your church that is organically multiplying?" To our surprise, not one of them said that any ministry in their church was truly multiplying.
Hey Nashville, we have a problem. For most churches, their largest and most funded ministry program is not multiplying. Though I'm certain there are exceptions, most Sunday morning Bible study classes don't want to multiply. The depth of community that is built within a class creates a natural resistance to multiplication. Classes prefer to grow larger and stick together. Over time, this causes classes to become inwardly focused and stagnant. A stagnant ministry is a malignant ministry. Unless your church is sitting in the midst of a population boom, it's unlikely to see growth, which is the case for most. The tiny percent that are growing is usually dew to transfer growth from believers who are "swapping churches."
THE CASE FOR D-GROUPS THAT MEET THROUGHOUT THE WEEK
Genuine disciple-making is different from Life Group Ministry. While Sunday School is a wonderful program of the church, true disciple-making is not a program. It's a lifestyle. Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Clearly, this was no call to participate in a program. It was an invitation to become a disciple who would learn to make other disciples.
As a way of life, Jesus invested His time in training common people to become disciple makers. And after three years of personal training, He commanded them to go and do what He had trained them to do. The Great Commission of the church was and still is to "Go make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-20).
The crystal clear mission of every church is to make disciples who make disciples. This was the key to the rapid spiritual and numerical growth of the early church. Jesus didn't teach His disciples how to add; He taught them how to multiply. And multiply they did. With no church buildings, they grew more rapidly than we ever have with our fine facilities. If today's church wants to reestablish itself as a powerful force on earth for the kingdom of God, it must reignite the disciple-making movement of these early disciples.
Jesus didn't teach His disciples how to add; He taught them how to multiply. And multiply they did. With no church buildings, they grew more rapidly than we ever have with our fine facilities. If today's church wants to reestablish itself as a powerful force on earth for the kingdom of God, it must reignite the disciple-making movement of these early disciples.
This is why, in the words of Radio, "I'll take both." I believe that both Sunday morning Bible study classes and small Discipleship Groups are vital to the health and mission of the church. Most people who visit a church come seeking biblical community. A fully graded Sunday School is a great place for them to find this. Initially, they may not be ready for the higher level of accountability that comes from participating in a D-Group. However, your Sunday morning Bible study classes are a great place to fish for people to connect in a D-Group where they can intentionally learn to make disciples who make disciples.
THE CASE FOR WHY YOU SHOULD DO BOTH
In conclusion, if you have a strong Sunday morning Bible study program, I would not encourage you to begin another rival "program." However, I would strongly encourage you to begin equipping your people for a "lifestyle" of disciple-making. This would not compete with your Sunday School, but would complement it, and in many ways, it would complete its mission.
Certainly, this will require great intentionality. First, you must develop a plan to equip your people to be personal disciple makers. Then, you must empower them to begin D-Groups of three to five people that can meet anytime and anywhere. The single focus of these groups is on intentional disciple-making, which includes the three-fold purpose of: 1) growing in spiritual maturity, 2) serving in missional ministry, and 3) reproducing disciple makers.
In effect, this would place at the core of your Sunday School program a well trained group of disciple-making people. One Sunday School class could have as many as five or six people who are intentional disciple makers leading multiple D-Groups outside with walls of the church. This would pump fresh new life into every class. Revitalization would replace stagnation as the people in your classes recover an outward focus and renewed passion for the Great Commission.
In time, your Sunday morning Bible study classes would have no choice but to multiply as a result of the disciple-making movement taking place at the core of every class. The multiplication of D-Groups resulting in the multiplication of Life Groups would equal great kingdom growth.
Would you like to see a genuine disciple-making movement at the core of your church? Do you have a plan for equipping your people to be personal disciple makers? As pastors, our job is to preach the Word of God and to equip our people for the work of ministry. It's time for us to do our job! We must equip our people for the most important work of ministry and train them for a lifestyle of disciple-making.
I would love to help with this. As a pastor of over 35 years, God has given me a passion for personal disciple-making. This passion led me to be the founder of D-Life. D-Life exists to equip common people to be Christ-like disciple makers. Through D-Life, my wife, Rondie, and I have traveled extensively to train thousands of believers how to make disciples who make disciples. D-Life is the most intentional, personal, and reproducible process I know for teaching ordinary disciples to be fishers of men.
Rondie and I would be excited to come and lead D-Life training for your ministry. We would also love for you to attend one of our upcoming D-Life training events. For a list of our next five D-Life training events click here.
Please leave your comments or questions below. I would love to hear from you.
Dr. Bill Wilks, has a passion for equipping common people to be Christ-like disciple makers. Bill and his wife, Rondie, have traveled extensively to train thousands of believers how to make disciples who make disciples. Bill and Rondie live near Trussville, AL, where he serves as Lead Pastor of NorthPark Church and Founder of D-Life.
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