Over ten years ago, I worked closely with Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer to evaluate the research behind Transformational Church—a book that came from a massive study across many churches where we sought to discover characteristics that God was using in the churches to bring about transformation in the lives of the people they served. One of the characteristics in churches seeing significant transformation was “relational intentionality,” which meant the church nurtured people in a purposeful manner. Relational and intentional. Caring while scaling. Shepherding and strategic.
A church needs a flock strategy and a sheep strategy, with the conviction that healthy ministries are both shepherding and strategic.
Flock: Your overarching discipleship strategy
Many have said that mission is what an organization exists to accomplish, and strategy is how the organization accomplishes it. The church’s mission has been given to us by Jesus—to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Because the mission is so important, church leaders must think wisely about how to fulfill the mission in their context.
Think discipleship process over programs.
John Wesley invented Methodism as he had a method for how he made disciples. He not only gathered people for worship, he moved them to groups, and then to places of service, while ensuring leaders were trained and cared for through circuit riders. He thought about the process for discipleship—not just one program within a process.
Don’t let your programs boss your discipleship process around; your programs must work for your discipleship process. Programs are merely tools along your discipleship process, so instead of merely offering a bunch of programs, design a process for spiritual maturation that guides everything your church does. Doing so helps the team understand the goal of worship services, groups, and ministries, and how everything fits together. Once you have a designed process, have the discipline to say “no” to what falls outside of it.
Don’t equate or separate transformation and assimilation.
When you have a discipleship process such as moving people from gatherings to groups to living on mission, you must be careful not to equate assimilation with transformation. People can go to all the stuff and still not be changed. Ultimately God is the One who transforms, and the strategy is merely a tool to help put people in environments where transformation is likely to occur—where the Word is taught, where community is built, and where people serve. At the same time, you design your process with transformation of the flock as the intent, or there is no point.
Sheep: Your strategy for each person at important moments in their journey
Ministry leaders are commanded to shepherd God’s flock among us until Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, returns (1 Peter 5:2, 4). As church leaders care for the flock, they must also have a strategy for each sheep—particularly at important moments in each person’s maturation. Those important moments require intentional processes and relational people.
Design intentional processes of care for important moments.
Ensure there is a process or system of care for each person when the person takes a new step or a next step within the church (how the person receives shepherding when the person is a first-time guest, becomes a new believer, signs up for a group for the first time, expresses interest in serving for the first time, gives for the first time, goes on a mission trip for the first time, etc.). These are important moments in a person’s journey, and each person will benefit from intentional and relational care.
Provide relational people to shepherd people during those moments.
A process or an email workflow is insufficient. When we stand before Jesus and give an account, surely we don’t want to say, “We sent an email to people who said they wanted to follow You.” Processes are important for scaling, but people shepherd others, not processes. Processes are helpful, but people make disciples—not processes. Thus it is important to provide sheep with godly leaders for the important moments or steps in their journey with Christ.
Max Depree said, “Leadership is like third grade: it means repeating the significant things.” Wise leaders teach, remind, celebrate, and evaluate the important things over and over again. A church’s flock and sheep strategy are surely worth the ongoing investment for ministry leadership teams.