Making disciples is at the core of who we are as Nazarenes. Director of Evangelism for the USA/Canada Region (Mark Bane - MB) shares ways we can put this emphasis into practice.
HT: How do you see the ministry of Evangelism and New Church Development impacting the USA/Canada Region?
MB: My predecessor, Bill Wiesman, helped us implement a strong emphasis upon church planting that we are continuing to pursue. My team and I have continued that emphasis through the development of new curriculum for church planting and church development that travels all over the region to share with districts and with local churches.
We really believe that planting new churches is vital for the future of the USA/Canada region. We see this as not just another program, but as part of the ongoing mission of the church in our region and worldwide. Moving into new areas and helping revitalize areas through the planting of new churches is part of the call to make disciples in all nations.
HT: What are some keys to the success of new church development?
MB: The good news is that we are planting more churches in the USA/Canada region than we have in decades. The downside is that we have also closed many churches in the last few decades. And, only about 68% of new church plants succeed in the long run. So, the work of planting new churches, personal evangelism, and one-on-one discipleship has to be ongoing.
We cannot see these efforts as trends or as short-term emphases. They must be the mindset of the church. Churches and districts who are engaging their communities, training disciples and disciple-makers, and planting churches, are growing. Those who are not engaging in these elements of ministry are not. It is as simple as that.
HT: In your training sessions, you often address life cycles in local churches. Talk about that a bit.
MB: It’s true that most churches have a life cycle of growth and then decline. The declining years of a church actually last the longest, so we have many churches that are in a declining part of their cycle for years at a time. This is often reflected in our statistics and effectiveness.
Being in decline does not mean that a church has to die, though some do. It does mean, though, that in order for a church to experience renewal, often something revolutionary has to happen: either a radical change in leadership, a renewed commitment to discipleship, a willingness to plant or assist in planting a new church, or something of that nature that stretches the church toward a new vision.
HT: What thoughts do you have for churches that are experiencing decline and discouragement?
MB: I think a fresh focus on prayer is crucial, and I think this must go hand in hand with a renewed emphasis upon evangelism and the formation of new Christians. For most in our region, that means committing to spending a few hours per week purposefully cultivating relationships with lost people.
Even in my current assignment, which requires a great deal of travel, I am part of a church plant in the inner city. So, when I am in town, I commit to a few hours a day of intentional interaction with lost or unchurched people in our community along with mentoring and discipling new Christians. I ask my staff to commit at least one hour per week to interacting with lost people.
These three aspects—prayer, evangelism, and discipleship—are the church’s mission. Everything else is meant to accommodate this work.
HT: What hinders this process in most churches?
MB: Often, we are afraid. We are better at talking about prayer and discipleship than we are at praying and actually spending the time making disciples. Our churches are often living off of the disciples made by our predecessors. We must move away from simply “recycling” disciples. We must make new disciples.
Most of us know that even one new convert or one new family can change an entire church! However, it is frightening and even countercultural to engage people who are not like us and just spend time loving them. And, when we do make the time for this kind of interaction, it can be even more frightening to broach the subject of our relationship with Christ. However, we must take these risks, and it must become part of the church’s mission again if we are to see a positive change in church life, both in the USA/Canada Region and elsewhere.
HT: What are the basics of making disciples?
MB: It begins with prayer and continues with simply taking the time. It is very easy in our setting for other things—even important church matters—to occupy more of our time than actually going out, letting our light shine, and making disciples. It’s a matter of priorities.
If I really believe that lost people would be better off with Jesus in their lives, then that should motivate me to at least try to share good news with people and love them into the Kingdom as best I can. If that is our priority, then every board meeting on every level of church life should include ways to pray for the lost, pray for new disciples, and to give updates on how each of us is seeking to make disciples in our community.
We must begin to intentionally sow seeds so that God can help us with a new harvest.
My prayer is that this mindset becomes contagious in all churches, since making disciples is something that, regardless of our gifts, every single believer is called to do.
Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2019