From Unchurched to Disciple: the dynamic of discipleship

The continuum of commitment and membership in the Church looks like this:

The Unchurched.  According to survey research, “none” is the fastest growing religion in America.  We should not be surprised.  People who have not truly given their lives to Christ and accepted His salvation have no reason to come to church when society no longer values religion and other, more entertaining things (like sports, vacationing, or sleeping in) compete for their attention.  Their kids don’t know God from the “Great Spaghetti Monster.”  This is a huge opportunity – these are the people Christ told us to love, baptize, and evangelize, because there is no salvation or life outside of Him and it is His will that all be saved!  All it takes is an invitation and love from a friend or family-member to transform many of the Unchurched into… 

Pentecost Icon by Michael Kapeluck

Pentecost Icon by Michael Kapeluck

The Consumer-Spectator.  These people come to church and support its activities when it fits into their schedule.  They are neither committed nor reliable; their participation is contingent on what else is going on around them and how much they like the services, the priest, the people, the board, etc., and how much they are getting out of being there (comparing that to how much they could get out of staying home, going on vacation, doing sports, sleeping in, etc). These people – whom we all love! – contribute very little to the life and mission of the parish, but take up a lot of space on most parish roles.  This is a huge opportunity – these are the people Christ told us to love and evangelize, because there is no salvation or life outside of Him and it is His will that all be saved!   All it takes is the right ministry opportunity and love to transform many Consumer-Spectators into…

The Consumer-Participant.  These people come to church most Sundays (but skip almost every other service, to include Feast Days) and support at least one ministry of the church.  They donate at least enough to the church to satisfy the minimum obligation of membership and are generous to those causes they hold dear.  They are reliable in doing the things that they enjoy within the parish… but often have unhealthy attitudes (to include ownership, guilt, and power) towards their own service and passive aggressive attitudes towards the people and ministries they do not like/support.  A parish with a majority of this kind of members can appear healthy in good times, but will turn on itself in times of trouble, decline, or growth.  These “luke-warm” Christians present a huge opportunity!  All it takes is some good examples, encouragement, and love to transform many consumer-participants into…

The Disciple of Christ.  These members try to order their schedules around worship and ministry and their budgets around proportional giving – regardless of what is going on in the parish or the surrounding culture for no other reason than their love of God.  They have given their life to Christ and emulate Him and His saints in their worship, their support of one another, their patience/charity towards everyone (even their enemies… and especially their priest and others within the parish!), and their sacrifice.  They find the good in others and enjoy helping them find joy in Christ and a place to serve and minister within the parish so that they, too, can become disciples!

Conclusion.  The healthy parish is organized to continually move people from “Unchurched” and “Consumer – Spectators” to the categories of participant and disciple.  Like a siphon, once this begins, it sustains itself and overflows with joy!  The ordinary worldly parish actually works against the “discipleship” of all but a few parish leaders.  The status quo such parishes (and their leaders) preserve is not one worth preserving!

To learn how to re-organize your parish into a healthy disciple-focused parish, see Bill Marianis’ Stewardship Calling!

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