From revivalism to management

Evangelism was the focus of American Christians for the past 150 years during the great revival and holiness movements and great awakenings. There were great outdoor campaigns aimed at bringing people to Christ. The Holiness movement published thousands of books and held hundreds of prayer meetings mostly by lay people. Evangelism and Holiness were everywhere in society. Some towns even closed their jails because all the criminals had become Christians. By 1900 the population to Church ration in the USA was 1 to 74. Most were beautiful small churches.

In 1909 there was a revolution in management by Frederick W. Taylor. This revolution systematized business and had a great influence on the thinking of all American’s about the “most efficient way” to solve problems. Christian believers naturally applied this thinking to the process of personal evangelism leading to the new Birth and to the process of a believer becoming entirely sanctified. For an American, if a good system was applied the problem could be solved.

Evangelism systems
Small Church in Ohio

Through the first half of the 1900’s the question gradually became “how to present the Gospel to a person who was not yet saved?” Especially from the 1950’s to the 1990’s the focus was on having a pattern memorized to repeat to a person who was not yet a Christian. Examples of these are “The Roman Road,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “Evangelism Explosion” with D. James Kennedy and Dr. Chic Shaver’s adaption of “Evangelism Explosion.” At times these presentations were detailed and at times simple but with all of them the focus was on moving a person from unbelieving to believing. In a mainly Christian culture with large numbers of shared stories these were powerful and helpful.  The systems built on the stories that were common in the culture at the time. Many came to Christ with these methods. Many are following Christ because of these system, but now we are loosing the shared stories. Today many families have not gone to church for two or three generations. They have never heard many of the Bible stories! Whatever happened to evangelism today? 

Small church challenges

The simple systems methods for evangelism have always had challenges. As a pastor I was exposed to many patterns for evangelism. Over and over I tried train my congregation in some evangelism method to bring people to Christ. The methods rarely seemed to fit. Trying to memorize a pattern and get people to actually implement it is very difficult in a small beautiful church.

There are many reasons but most of the people attending a small church don’t know how to use these simple systems with the close friends and family. They know few strangers in the small town. In the urban setting those “strangers” could be dangerous.  Whatever happened to evangelism?  Many believers could not understand how to apply it in their context.  When I present the gospel, (use a simple system), to my family and they don’t respond. What do I do now? 

From Evangelism to Discipleship

Whatever happened to evangelism?  The Mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations. Church leaders have generally moved from using the term “evangelism” to using “discipleship.” Both of these are deeply Biblical concepts. I believe we are making a mistake by dropping the term “evangelism.” These are two distinct types of work though they blend with each other.

Jesus did both public evangelism and discipleship. Jesus started his ministry preaching alone and used a very SIMPLE sticky phrase. Matthew 4:17 “Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (WEB). This simple sticky phrase built on John’s message and pointed to the new hope Jesus was giving. It was easy to share in a village. Jesus preaching would be the big news event of the day. For those who listened it was easy to repeat “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Likely there was a vigorous supper discussion about the preacher. Villages like to talk about strangers. This is clearly Evangelism. The presentation of Good News to those who have not heard it yet. Jesus, our example, shows that this is important.  In some ways we can follow His example. 

Jesus selected his first disciples after a few months. He began to teach them by example. They followed him, living where he lived and listening to his teaching both in public and in private. They watched Jesus heal thousands of people and cast out hundreds of demons. Their faith was increased by what they heard, saw and experienced over several months. They talked with each other about what he taught. Soon he was giving them various responsibilities for the ministry. He sent them out on their own two by two. He finally left and the whole work was in their hands. This is clearly discipleship, the molding of character and the development of ministry in another person.

Evangelism = proclaiming the good news to a not yet believer in Jesus.
Discipleship = Accountable conversations urging each other to full spiritual obedience to Christ.

How does this work in the small church?

We think deeply about our local church culture.

What stories do we tell? What kinds of victories do we celebrate? What do I hear people talking about? What kind of testimonies do they give?

The small church actually has an advantage in this process since everyone knows everyone else.  We need to leverage that advantage by building a culture of spiritual accountability. It is possible for every Christian to help anyone saint or sinner to move closer to Christ. The hostile person can become less hostile. The sinful can be encouraged with hope. Believers can pray for hurting people. Honest business and work practices set an example. If we overhear these stories from many in the congregation, and often hear public testimonies about them, we have a discipleship culture. If we rarely overhear these stories or testimonies we have work to do.

Discipleship is independent of church size or structure.

How to make cultural improvements

If we need to improve our culture, the best place to start is with the most spiritual people in the congregation. Help them to begin to tell the stories each week of their spiritual interactions with others. Share your stories with them, your failures and successes. How did either of you help someone toward Christ this week or this month?

The goal is making the spiritual progress of others and ourselves a congregation wide topic of conversation and celebration.  Culture is made by the stories we tell to each other which create a world view.  By using stories we can help people understand the subtle change in focus (from system to culture).  We give them a new picture of how they can engage in fruitful conversations.  We tell stories of how these kinds of actions help people come to Christ.

We are the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. So that wherever we go – Christ goes. We are literally the hands and feet of Christ. So we are able to be bold with wisdom for Christ with all the people we are already meeting on a regular basis. We also don’t need to be responsible for their whole response to Christ. We just need to help everyone move one step closer.

How do you see the relationship between Evangelism and Discipleship?

Space invaders in the Church!

Not little green men but imported false expectations.

Expectations that small beautiful churches fail to meet.

Expectations that frustrate our mission and our focus.

A cultural contextualization that becomes a syncretism. 

The false idea that a disciple is a person who watches others present the Gospel and Worship.  Attendance = Discipleship. 


We feel like failures. For many small beautiful church pastors Sunday is heartbreaking. We come to the building each week and feel like we have failed.  We have no idea how to meet these culture driven entertainment expectations with the resources of a small church.  The music person did not show up.  The sound system did not work. Our sermon seems flat to the few people in front of us.  We feel like failures because we are trying to live up to the wrong expectations. I hope to relieve you of some guilt and help you find a good focus.  You are not a failure to Christ!


Church = Entertainment NOT

The entertainment expectation is one of the greatest FALSE challenges we face in small churches. Producing quality entertainment is challenging for every size church and is nearly impossible to sustain in the small beautiful church. Entertainment is hard. It takes skill, equipment, long long practice, and a setting that is difficult to ensure in a small church. It needs several people  highly skilled in lighting, sound, music, video, and power point. Sermons need to be excellent orations. Power points just right.

Today, Covid 19, we need to learn to do all this online! We have to learn all the skills of photography and videography and meet the expectations that the essence of the Gospel can be condensed into a video format. Something people will watch but don’t take action on in their lives.  We are being forced into an online medium and most of us struggle with that, especially the small beautiful church.  The pastor is being challenged to become an expert in all these areas because in the small beautiful church the ministry of most believers is in their full time work.  They don’t have extra energy and the time to become skilled in these technical areas. If they are skilled they don’t have the time to apply that skill for the local church.

I want to be clear here.   Using media skills is fine.  Even small beautiful churches can have a significant online presence if a pastor is skilled enough or has enough time to develop it.   The question is how to turn online presence into true discipleship leading to obedience?

Alien Focus

The main problem is not that entertainment is difficult but that the entertainment FOCUS is alien to the purpose of the Body of Christ.  Entertainment aims to move our emotions.  It hopes to change our attitudes and perhaps actions by appealing to our emotions.  Entertainment is always temporary.   Emotions might feel good or bad but a focus on emotion leaves out thought and action. 

An entertainment focus is clearly taking over a church when the congregation hardly participates in worship. That wrong focus can be seen in constant praise for the presentation.  Many churches are setting up as concert halls.   We also see a major financial investment at times.   None of this is wrong of itself, but when it becomes a substitute for obedience it becomes a subtle form of cultural syncretism that blends the Christian message with the drive to make everything entertaining, everything about an emotional response to “worship,” we feel good because we have been to Church. 

We see a wrong focus when we worry more about the quality of the coffee and the type of instruments than we do about the quality of the saints.   An obedient church asks questions about obedience in their leadership meetings.  An entertainment church asks questions about equipment and presentation in their leadership meetings.  

Jesus said where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in the midst. This means that Jesus’ expectation for what we do when we gather as Christians is possible with two or three people.  Does our small beautiful church meet Jesus’ expectations? 

Obedience is the Goal

Jesus expectation is for us to encourage each other to obedience. That is the actual command in Matthew 28:20 “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded.”   The idea behind “observe” is to “keep the commandments” Matthew 19:17; “guidelines to follow” Matthew 23:3; “keep a close eye one to keep a prisoner from escaping,” Matthew 27:36 & 54, 28:4.  “Observe” in Matthew 28:20 clearly means to teach a person to obey everything Jesus has commanded.  

Keep in Step with the Spirit

How do we meet Jesus’ expectations? Keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

Step out of the entertainment trap.
Step into an atmosphere of obedience.

Obedience brings deep joy – and real emotion as we heal from our sins.

Change your own mind first.

Study the real purpose of the Body of Christ – to make saints into the image of Christ.

Examine the methods Christ used as he started ministry. How did he help the first disciples to obey?

Examine the methods Paul used as he started new churches. How did Paul and his team set the example of obedience for their new churches?

What level of technical expertise is really needed to meet the expectations of Christ for this small beautiful church?

If I use social media how do I do more than present an idea?  How do I encourage accountability?

Start small

This is a beautiful small church! If you change the perspective of one other Godly receptive person, you have moved a large percentage of the congregation.

Teach what you learned in step one to the most Godly and open person you know.

Pray with them about how to refocus the congregation.

Now you are two!

After a few weeks start again with another very receptive person and have the first Godly believer also personally teach a second Godly prayerful person.

Now you are 4!

Then the second believer can teach another as well.

Now you are 8!

This is multiplication. Each believer is responsible for the mission of Christ.

Aim for 30%

Aim to reach about 30% of your worship attendance with the message of the purpose of the congregation.  The whole congregation’s attitude will change when we change the perspective of about 30% of the most receptive in the congregation. With 20 in worship this means just 6 people, with 50 the means just 15 people.  These few people thinking and acting differently will change the whole atmosphere. 

Corporate Worship

Move toward a focus on Corporate worship more than presentation.
Allow those with strong skill to use and express it with great joy! Corporate worship is one of the key parts of the Body.  We are commanded to gather together.  We are commanded to not forsake that gathering.   Gathering as believers gives us an opportunity to exercise our spiritual gifts together with other believers.   All Christians have a spiritual gift.  This gift is not the same as a skill.  It is a special ability to help others walk with Christ in some way.  Some can sing, some can testify, some can read scripture, others can tell us how we are out of line with what Christ wants.  Some can pray for physical healing and God heals us.  Others have words of wisdom that help us see how God is at work in the world.  Exercising our spiritual gifts gives us deep joy.  The joy of a spiritual gift is far better than any excitement from entertainment.  The greatest joy comes from sharing Christ with others. 

Celebrate obedience rather than skill.

When we celebrate the obedience of those exercising their spiritual gifts, the congregation learns that all can participate in worship together.  We should emphasize to those with skill that they are to lead the whole body to participate as a whole body.  Their skill should encourage others to join in.  Teach people to say “Amen” to an act of obedience.   Publicly praise obedience to the body of believers.  Often we praise music, but we do not praise scripture reading, or a clear testimony of costly obedience to Christ while at work.   We should equally praise (or not) all aspects of worship.   Just two people could do a dramatic Scripture reading.

Use a wide range of Worship activities

Use a wide range of elements for corporate worship and involve as many people as possible, balancing the time between the elements. 

Prayer, (all kinds)


Scripture reading

Corporate singing

Selected testimonies that emphasize current spiritual growth and obedience.


Small group responses to the sermon

Encourage Creativity in each of these so that people express Joy! 

Make sure that obedience is the focus of all aspects of worship. What is the obedient response we are looking for from each element of worship? The more the Pastor can identify obedience in worship the more the congregation will be able to identify obedience.

Have a wonderful Resurrection Sunday!


About 15 years ago the Church of the Nazarene adopted a beautiful mission statement

“To Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations”

Today, most churches use the discipleship meme. How do small beautiful churches disciple? In this overview we will look at why we do what we do in discipleship. Later we will expand the how to’s so that pastors and leaders in small churches have practical concepts and tools to move forward. Discipleship in a small church seems difficult but Small beautiful churches CAN disciple well. This is an important contribution to the whole body of Christ. Jesus made disciples and commands us to make disciples. We can obey that command even with a few people (where two or three are gathered). Paul made disciples and his example has some aspect of all three frameworks. Both Jesus and Paul worked with very limited resources as they started.


Today there are many different definitions for discipleship which mostly fit into three main frameworks.

Education – a disciple is a believer who knows stuff. Sunday School
Structure – a disciple is a person following the right structure or organizational form. G-12
Obedience – a disciple is a person who is obedient to Christ’s commands. Real Life Discipleship.

Each framework above focuses a problem and assumes that the other two aspects will be taken care of when the framework is correct. So that we assume if a person is properly educated they will learn to obey Christ and fix harmful structures. We assume that if a person is in a right (love your neighbor) structure the structure will help them obey Christ and learn what is necessary for that. If a person is obedient to Christ they will learn what is necessary to live as a fully obedient Christian and repair harmful structures.

The framework we adopt to make disciples shows what we think is THE sin of all of humanity. The framework addresses that problem (sin). The other two aspects grow out of the frame.

So the discipleship question today is what is the real essential problem (sin) and what is simply a tool to help or a good result of using the framework?

Let’s look at these three frameworks.

1. Education.

Education assumes the basic problem with people is that they lack understanding or skill. (Ignorance is sin). If they know enough they will do right. So the framework uses curriculum focused on understanding Scripture, or understanding psychology, or sociology, or finance. We hope that education will help people obey Christ. We hope that education will help us deal with bad structures and put in their place structures that love our neighbor as ourself. The problem with an educational framework is that knowledge (by itself) does not transform. Knowledge is NOT righteousness. We are not judged in the end by what we know. This was the Gnostic heresy. James is clear about this when he says that the devils believe there is one God and they tremble. The devils know perfectly but the devils don’t obey. Not only this but Education is not universal. It can be helpful to a Christian but many Christians have never had access to education. If something is not universal it cannot be what Jesus is commanding.

2. Structure

Structure assumes that the basic problem with people is that they are in a bad system. (The system is sin). The relationships we participate in are causing us to sin. Perhaps we are not accountable enough. Perhaps we are not organized enough to make sure we do what is right. It is true that accountability helps us avoid sin. It is true that accountability is helpful for reaching others for Christ. But structure does not deal with the inner motivation of a person. Why does someone conform to a system or structure? Are they always motivated by loving obedience or can pride, acceptance, the fear of others, or a sense of self-righteousness motivate them? If a right structure is what we need – why did the Nation of Israel continue to sin after Yahweh gave them his commands? There is no better stBuddist Pagoda Myanmarructure than the law of God. Also various cultures around the world and through time have used an amazing range of ways to organize themselves. If structure were what made us holy we would see some cultures that are structure d “correctly” becoming saints because of that structure. From scripture and history we see that the Apostle Paul structured churches using a team of Elders and Deacons without a lead pastor. The Apostle John structured churches with a lead pastor. These two inspired Apostles of Christ used different structures to accomplish the mission of Christ. Structures cannot change the heart of a person.

3. Obedience.

The obedience framework assumes that the problem with people is choosing to disobey God, or choosing to go their own way. (Disobedience to God is sin). Jesus says “if you love me you will keep my commands.” For Jesus, obedience is the evidence of love. It means that our external actions are in line with our internal motivation and that our internal motivation is in line with our external actions. Obedience to Christ’s commands includes all our internal attitudes as well as our external actions.

Obedience requires some knowledge. We need to know what Christ wants from us. We need to know how to apply love to our neighbor. The better our theology the easier it is to obey correctly. Bad (wrong or evil) theology often leads to wrong actions.

Obedience requires some structure – husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. The Church is the body of Christ. Deacons are appointed to a congregation. Pastors are ordained into the ministry by the laying on of hands. There is always structure to the Church.

Obedience to Christ’s commands is possible across all cultures and societies. Obedience is universally possible.

This is why all discipleship should focus obedience. “Teaching them to obey all I have commanded you..” Jesus did NOT say “Teaching them to understand all I have commanded you.” Jesus did not say “Teaching them to organize themselves correctly.”  Discipleship in a small church is obedience to Christ.  Simple obedience. 

Methods discipleship in a small church.

Education resources

Sunday School curriculum.

There are many of these and they are normally expensive for a small church.
You can find the latest prices for a good curriculum at the Foundry publishing.
You can also find a good curriculum from the Wesleyan Church at
The costs for these depend on the number of classes, students, grade level and teachers you have. They can be from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars a year.


It is also possible for the small church to train teachers to use the Bible itself for it’s curriculum. The stories and resources there can be used by a teacher to help saints grow in Christ. This is a low cost way to approach education but requires training teachers how to use the Bible well. I recommend this approach for most small churches.
The internet has vast amounts of materials but many of these are wrong or actually hostile to a Wesleyan Arminian perspective. I will suggest good free educational materials in the coming blogs.
Each of these materials assumes that you have a structure to deliver an educational curriculum. You will need places to put the students, teachers and some type of accountability system. For a very small church these educational structures can be challenging. Many churches of 100 people still struggle to deliver a Sunday School on a regular basis. I will suggest practical solutions in the days to come.


G-12 and similar approaches. I do not recommend this approach but it is good to understand the approach and why, especially in Latin America, it has been popular.
This is a cell church structure that focuses on high accountability through personal development.
It seems to model after Jesus approach of selecting 12 men to disciple.
The basic approach is found at this site
The approach builds on John Wesley’s use of class meetings and band meetings with high spiritual accountability and constant leadership development.
It structures everyone into a single accountability structure so that the person at the top of the structure becomes the spiritual leader for ALL those under them. This can be very abusive since everyone is encouraged to confess sin to their leader. Those confessions can be manipulated.
If used carefully with limits and restrictions it can be a useful tool.


The focus here is freedom from sin or obedience to Christ’s commands. The method is personal and group accountability.  Discipleship in a small church makes sure that all the members, attenders and contacts are growing in obedience to Christ.  All people go through stages from pre-believer to new believer to mature believer. It is possible to finish the discipleship process and move into being a part of the mutual body of believers. It is possible to be a full grown Christian.
Jim Putnam is an excellent example of this approach. His book “Real Life Discipleship” explains the concepts well.
The goal for discipleship in a small church is to help a person move from a sinner to a fully sanctified saint. Form small groups that have a life span and that are designed to help everyone see their own sins and faults and overcome them.
The actual situation of each person is dealt with.  We use structures that help people obey without becoming manipulative, or abusive – (both are sins). So that structures are flexible.  Educational curriculum is used as a point of development for the person and for the body. But this development is understood to be separate from the discipleship process. Entire Sanctification and a mature Christian walk are promised and hopeful for every Christian.

We will explore the types of actions a pastor needs to take in our next posts. How do we institute discipleship as obedience in a small congregation?