An important note: This conversation is not meant to invalidate the local Church. Just put it into perspective as it relates to spiritual transformation strategies of a community.


“We have to know what we want and why we want it, before we can know if we are getting the results.”


l. Church Assimilation: “The task of moving people from an awareness of your church to attendance at your church to active membership in your church”. -Rick Warren

This area is one of the most talked about subjects in staff meetings. How to get them into the building and keep them from going out the back door. So much of our efforts go to this. We usually don’t realize how much effort physically and mentally we put into it.

What we measure the most is where we spend most of our time. Look closely at this one. Are we working to move people from an awareness of our church to attendance at our church to active membership in our church? If so, Church assimilation is what we are training our staff and congregation to do also. Like our kids, we tell them to do one thing but they end up doing what we do. Most discipleship (membership) 101 classes and volunteerism are infused with assimilation into the local church as the main product, yet isn’t our intended goal to create fully devoted followers of Jesus ?

Good Assimilation is usually seen as a sign of a healthy church. What is the final product though?. It’s exciting to see active members talking about their church, spending time volunteering, recruiting, and “fellowshipping”, yet how much discipleship is really going on? If we promote small groups, consider this. Churches that do small groups usually have a tendency to duplicate what a church ministry does and talks about. Events, attendance, teachings and so on.

The average local church attendance is 300 people or less, in a community of 250,000 or more. Everyday more of these Churches pass into obscurity or being merged into the larger, more successful churches. A larger, more functional church may be attracting more people, but when it comes to spiritual transformation of a community it’s like a couple ants trying to eat an elephant. It is something we rarely are successful at.

OK, Thanks a lot. I feel great now. I’m really inspired. I know all this already! Tell me something new. What do I do?

Keep reading. It’s so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. I probably didn’t want to see it because it’s more messy. The veneer of ministry would fall from my shoulders and I would stand exposed. Looks like I was wearing my sunday clothes instead of my work clothes.


ll. Spiritual transformation:

“Dramatic changes in purpose, attitudes, behavior and lifestyle, characterized by actions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that reflect a commitment and obedience to Jesus Christ.”

The local Church is still a viable ministry vehicle. It normally functions like a clipper ship that is constantly recruiting passengers to become sailors who end up spending their time fixing the holes in the sails instead of rescuing people. We watch as sailors jump ship to find a better one somewhere else. It’s inadvertantly become a competition of who’s got the better ship just to keep people in it. Of course, there are those who just jump back in the water and start rescuing people.

The sailors who jump in to rescue people in the dark stormy waters are usually looked at as disobedient, undisciplined in the fine art of rescuing. The sailors looking for a different ship are too occupied to rescue the drowning people around them.

When the captain decides to jump in to rescue someone, more will join him in the water and use any means neccesary to rescue victims. The rest of the crew either stay on the ship, look for a new ship or look for a new captain. Why? It’s because the majority of sailors became highly skilled in caring for the ship and never learned how to swim.

Here it is. Are we discipling people to fix and build ships so we can build more ships, or are we rescuing people using any means neccesary to get them to shore as quickly as possible?


What do I do?

Discipleship 101: Matthew 9:37 The harvest is….

You can’t harvest a field unless your out in it. The more people are trained to work in the field with you the greater the abundance of the harvest will be.

“Train them in the field, not in the barn

It is the field where transformation and discipleship take place. The more knowledgeable we are about the field we work in, the more wisdom we will have about what the barn should look like when it’s time to build it. The barn protects the harvest. It does not bring it in. The “Church” (followers of Jesus) bring it into the barn after it has been harvested not before.

We who are the most qualified laborers and planters (Pastors, teachers and leaders) should not be living in the barn, but working in the field side by side showing people how it’s done. This is where we need to be spending most of our time. This is what discipleship is.

Ok, Sounds good in theory, but where’s the proof.


Examples of rescuers who put on their work clothes and went into the field.

Scott and Julie Schuler – Who opened their wealthy suburban home to many young people who were hurting and invested their lives with them every day for three years. 90% of these young people are now in the field doing the same thing all over the world. You’ll never know them or see their names in lights.

David Williamson: A pastor of a little struggling church who read the words “the Church is not where you go, but who you are”, took it to heart and is now influencing more change outside of his Church than in it. He now knows where his congregation is. He has a small band of believers following him into the field where they are. You may one day hear about him. He is like many Pastors who are beginning to walk into the field and touch the harvest they have been talking about for so long.

Franklin Graham: Samaritans Purse. He turned down a chance at celebrity status to go to where the harvest was. He has influenced more people outside the pulpit then he could ever do in it.

Dr. Bob Pierce, World vision: An international Christian relief and development organization working to promote the well being of all people – especially children. World Vision offers material, emotional, social and spiritual support to 100 million people in 96 countries.

The Dream Center in Los Angeles: ….. “In the first four years of the Dream Center’s establishment, prostitution and gang violence dropped 73%, the homicide rate dropped 28%, and rape dropped 53%. The mayor and city council have publicly acknowledged the dramatic impact of the Dream Center and praise it’s efforts”. With over 150 active ministries reaching out at all times of the day and night, thousands of hurting people in Los Angeles now have a way of hope.

Bill Bright: Campus Crusade for Christ: This is one of the most influential ministries in the history of the United States and possibly the world. It would make a good case study. More Churches today have benefited from this man’s work than most church leaders realize. All because one ordinary man sold out to Jesus, made a little booklet and went into the harvest field. If one man can do that to the world think what a little band of people can do in your community.

One of the many Ministries associated with Campus Crusade For Christ is…

The JESUS Film Project®
Showing “JESUS” to everyone in the world in his or her native tongue. Over 5.4 billion people have viewed the film.

Look across the borders and across the sea’s and hear the amazing stories of millions becoming followers of Jesus. Whole tribes, governments and people groups becoming followers of Jesus even at the threat of death, transforming from darkness to into light. The Church is growing in all forms and shapes by believers of all walks of life, side by side in the field.


Lets end this dialog with this.

Someone who is truly transformed gravitates to where the need is greatest.

Those who want to be transformed are usually assimilated into a group (Church) of some kind. It is what they will end up replicating that we should measure.

OK, Are we ready to see the elephant in the room and see things for what they are?

Church assimilation vs Spiritual transformation

What are we discipling people to do?

Do the majority of Churches in America focus most of their time, effort and teaching, to assimilating people to function effectively in a church environment, instead of creating disciples of Jesus to facilitate spiritual transformation effectively in the world they live in?

Important note.

I have never met a pastor who’s main goals were to see how many people they can get to fill the seats or salivate at the thought of the offering plates full of money. Pastors are people who want to see lives transformed, yet most of the operational environments they do ministry in require as the main focus developing healthy numbers of people in the seats and adequate finances to pay the bills .

As oxygen is essential to our ability to live, numbers are essential for most ministry organizational structures to function properly. The structure will whither and die without healthy numbers.

Most of our time, effort and messages are used to create healthy numbers. We usually don’t notice it because we are just to busy to really pay attention to it. The risks associated with paying attention to this fact is usually too frightening and sobering to bring to the surface and face it head on. When we try to find the balance, the pressure is just to great to do what needs to be done. The risk for ignoring it is greater because over time our ministrys become ineffectual, less adaptive and irrelevant to the communities around us.

The community is the biggest casualty because even if a church grows it usually does not create the kind of spiritual transformation a community needs. We keep working to prop up the wind only to find we have holes in our sails. To often good pastors end up looking for greener pastures or end up leaving the ministry all together.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know the truth of this and know many more scenarios that go along with it. In the back of our mind it sits like a caged animal wanting to get out. It gets rationalized and drowned out with the busy activity of our doing “ministry. We need our churches, but must accept the limitations inherent with such structures in order for the whole Church to become healthy.

Once in a while a ministry leader who has been successful in ministry begins to put the pieces together and take positive action. They end up becoming more influential and transformational to more people than they ever dreamed of. Their actions cause transformational shifts in the functionality of the culture they are embedded in. They achieve far more than they were ever able to do within the structure they once worked in. I am convinced this can happen on a grand scale if we change the way we think. Our limited church structures will become healthier because of it. History gives us the proof we need.

Let me get personal for a moment.

One reason I never became a pastor in a Church because I felt I could do more without the restraints of having to be an administrator and a manager. I continued to spend time helping churches attract and assimilate people to do kingdom work. I realized to my behest that most of my accomplishments were based on church assimilation vs spiritual transformational ministry even though that was not my intent. Assimilating people into the Church so they could be properly discipled to do kingdom work proved to be a false assumption in most cases.

I began measuring church assimilation results and how they correlated with spiritual movements and community transformation change. I also began looking at the Church from a global perspective and it blew me away. I realized the error that I along with almost everyone reading this has or is making. We are discipling people to be church assimilation experts vs spiritual transformers. That needs to change.

In part 3 we will clarify our definitions of Church assimilation and Spiritual transformation (discipleship)

to be continued.


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