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A Scalable Model for Making Disciples in Small Churches

“The New Testament is the only model we need!” There, I went ahead and said that for you. It’s out of the way. For those pastors and church leaders who highly value the New Testament AND actually want to accomplish something meaningful, read on …

Every church follows a model. Most of the church leaders who criticize following a model follow a model that tends to criticize models. Follow that? There are traditional models with an age-graded Sunday School, a morning worship service, evening worship service and a midweek prayer meeting, plus some other programs. W.A. Criswell (one of my biggest heroes) was a pioneer in this model in the 1940s. Back then, grading ministries by age was innovative.

Other churches follow the “simple church” model. They have weekend worship, small groups and that’s about it. The ministry and mission is carried out by the groups and the individuals in them. It works well for those who do it right. There are also house churches, and still a few quarter-time churches that only have a pastor once per month. There’s the Amish and Mennonite model—very community-centric. You get the picture.

We started planting Grace Hills in the summer of 2011 and launched in January of 2012. Since the beginning, we’ve experienced slow and steady growth. We’ve never had a quarter of a million dollars to spend on advertising, so we’ve never done any. The new people who show up come because of relationships, word-of-mouth and social media. So to what do I attribute our growth so far? Well, to please the “New Testament is all we need!” crowd, God is responsible. We affirm His sovereignty, the Spirit’s work and the fruit of the Word of God. But here’s a reality check … tons of Bible-believing, Christ-honoring churches are dying. Maybe it’s the model?

Before I reveal our model, let me explain the concept. A “model” is simply a paradigm or framework through which we accomplish the work of the ministry. And yes, the New Testament is our primary model. Jesus sent the apostles in the book of Acts to launch a movement that started in Jerusalem. Within a decade, churches were all over the place, being led by people who were considered apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists (see Eph. 4:11), and their responsibility was to equip the whole body for the work of the ministry (see Eph. 4:12).

We learn from the New Testament how to make disciples like Jesus did, how to handle church messes like Paul did, and how to go about the work of missions the way the church at Antioch did. And plenty more. But God didn’t stop working at the end of Acts 28. He has continued to move and work and bless churches for two millennia.

In 1998, I ran across a book titled The Purpose Driven Church, which changed the way I thought about church. It’s an 18-year-old book now, so people either have the assumption that it’s outdated or that it’s new-fangled. I’ve met plenty of people on both sides. But the book provided a model, a paradigm, a framework through which our church could accomplish ministry in a scalable way. It’s not a book about how to build a megachurch. It’s actually a book about how to make disciples.

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Brandon Cox is Lead Pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for Pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In his spare time, he offers consultation to church leaders about communication, branding, and social media. He and his wife, Angie, live with their two awesome kids in Bentonville, Arkansas.