A Colorado pastor takes a look at what transformational discipleship can look like in a small church.
By Jeff Allen
While we often hear stories about big companies, the reality is that the majority of businesses—99 percent, in fact—are small. The same is true for churches. Megachurches might get most of the press, but small churches can accomplish a lot.
I am grateful to be called to serve as a pastor of a small church that is engaging in the big mission of the kingdom of God.
Making disciples or building the church?
It was early in the fall of 2012. School was about to start, and the schedule was ramping up for the fall programming launch at Faith Community Church (RCA) in Littleton, Colorado, where I pastor. My wife, Elyse, and I had just returned from a much-needed sabbatical after seven years of ministry. We returned rested but with a bit of hesitation at what lay before us.
Prior to the sabbatical, I had attended a 3DM discipleship and mission workshop that caused me to reevaluate our church’s priorities. 3DM is a movement of churches and leaders that is “putting discipleship and mission back into the hands of everyday people.”
The statement from that workshop that really challenged me was this: “If you build the church, sometimes you get disciples. When you make disciples, you always get the church.”
That phrase hit me in the heart and brought me back to the root of my calling into ministry—to make disciples who make disciples.
When I returned from sabbatical and started sorting through a host of congregational situations, the challenge brought by the workshop was heavy on my heart. I sensed that God was inviting me and the Faith Community leadership to enter a new season of deep personal transformation. Specifically, God was calling us to be disciples who make disciples as a part of a small church on a big mission.
As we prepared to enter this new season as a church, we completed our third Natural Church Development assessment, which evaluates a congregation’s health. While our assessment scores were good, we recognized that worship had been a battleground throughout our history. More specifically, it was a spiritual stronghold and a battleground of the heart. So after months of prayer, discussion, and tears, we made an intentional decision to focus on personal transformation and disciple-making, to reshape our worship time, and to celebrate that we are a small church on a big mission.
In this new season, we moved through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to eventually accept the truth that change was necessary and that it would lead our small church to look and live differently. We acknowledged that moving to a disciple-making culture might prompt people to leave and that budgets might get tight. And, as we obediently followed God’s call, we knew that other challenges might arise that we couldn’t even begin to imagine.
A culture of discipleship
Four years later and we’ve seen some big changes. Not in size, but definitely in the way we live as a family on mission. We are living into a “culture of discipleship,” where every person is living the gospel every day.
Maybe you have heard of the 80–20 rule, where 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Not so at Faith. We are blessed that, as a small church, we generally see 80 percent of the people living out the gospel every day in countless ways. Our people are taking discipleship seriously, not just so they can grow, but so they can live out mission in the community.
We really are a small church on a big mission, and we are seeing and celebrating the amazing movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst in a number of ways.
First, Faith has supported three Denver-area church plants in various ways—through prayer, people power, finances, and physical space. One of these, CenterPoint in Englewood, led by Dave Cheadle, was featured in the fall 2014 issue of RCA Today. We are blessed to partner with Dave in this ministry. Most recently, Faith has developed a partnership with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in the planting of Apex Church, which meets in our own building. Apex is reaching out to a new demographic in Littleton—“people who are not into church.”
We have also partnered locally with 26 other churches to launch Love INC of Littleton, a community ministry organization. One of our members, Kathryn Roy, is the executive director. Four of Love INC’s ministries are either run by members or are housed at our church. Our church does everything from caring for seniors to distributing diapers to families below the poverty line.
Faith is blessed to play a part in the Severe Weather Shelter Network—a collaborative effort involving 23 partner churches from eight denominations, as well as local social service agencies and parachurch ministries. Commissioned pastor Lynn Ann Huizingh has taken the lead in this ministry of outreach to homeless people. Her leadership team has developed a time-sensitive process that involves over 450 volunteers. When the weather is severe, the network mobilizes to open up churches and provide transportation, food, and sleeping quarters for those in need.
And through the Spirit, a disciple-making movement is emerging along Colorado’s Front Range region, with Faith playing a big role. It uses the resources of 3DM and has been recently affirmed as a Kingdom Enterprise Zone, a joint partnership between the RCA and CRC focused on planting and strengthening churches. We celebrate that this disciple-making movement is cross-denominational, involving disciples and leaders who are Missouri Synod Lutherans, Assemblies of God, Anglicans, and Methodists, to name a few.
As I reflect on these big changes, I celebrate the humility and willingness of this place called Faith to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Has the journey been easy? Nope. Did people leave and did the budget get tight? Yes indeed. Has God been faithful and has the journey been fruitful? Absolutely—beyond expectations.
Jeff Allen is senior pastor of Faith Community Church (RCA) in Littleton, Colorado.
Curious about the 3DM process and other disciple-making opportunities? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank God for faithful disciples in small churches who are doing big work for the kingdom.
Support the planting of more churches by donating at www.rca.org/give/multiply.