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The disciple crisis (and what churches are doing about it)

Local examples of personal investment with far-reaching returns

There was a time was when the cutting edge of church life revolved around outreach programmes to reach the lost and increase the kingdom of God. Today, many churches are seeking to build deeper Christians who are true disciples of Jesus, and finding that the evangelism takes care of itself.

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Some of these Australian churches are taking their cues from American pastor and church planter Mike Breen. Author of Building a Discipling Culture, Breen believes there has been a discipleship crisis in the Western church.

“If we made disciples like Jesus made them, we wouldn’t have a problem finding leaders or seeing new people come to faith.” – Mike Breen

“Many Christians may come to a worship service, join a small group or even tithe, but few have the kind of transformed lives we read about in Scripture,” he writes in Building a Discipling Culture.

“If we made disciples like Jesus made them, we wouldn’t have a problem finding leaders or seeing new people come to faith.”

While Breen trumpets a discipleship crisis in the Western church, there also are examples of Christian communities around Australia fostering the kinds of followers of Jesus who develop leadership skills or encourage faith in others. 

“We fully believe in being a church Monday to Saturday” – Tara Conradt, Cornerstone Church

Eternity doesn’t claim to know which churches are doing this best, but here are a few examples from around the country:

• “We fully believe in being a church Monday to Saturday,” says Tara Conradt, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Perth’s northern suburbs. Located in an industrial area of Perth, the church does not attract passing traffic but draws people to it through its involvement in a range of community projects. This allows Sunday services to be an opportunity for members to have a real and meaningful encounter with Jesus, rather than aiming to be “seeker-friendly.”

“… It definitely translates into people experiencing the kingdom of God and the influence of Jesus on their lives.” — Graeme Anderson, Northside Baptist

• Rather than being a church serving the community, Northside Baptist in Crows Nest, on Sydney’s North Shore, seeks to be a hub bringing the community together to serve the community together. “That doesn’t necessarily translate into church growth, but it definitely translates into people experiencing the kingdom of God and the influence of Jesus on their lives,” says lead pastor Graeme Anderson.

The church has a dedicated community ministry called Love Crows Nest that runs three key activities – a monthly breakfast, a community garden and “help” teams to meet various needs in the community.

“They can just come and be part of a family.” — Ric Burrell, Strong Nation church

• Strong Nation church, which meets in three locations in western and northern Sydney, runs family dinners through the week, called ‘Oikos’ (Greek for household). There are about ten Oikos with anywhere from 40 to 70 people that meet in various houses and at church. They aim to function like an extended family.

“It actually helps us to develop disciples better; I think people have got to learn how to belong before they can learn to be a disciple,” says senior pastor Ric Burrell. He says church members are more comfortable sharing their faith because they’re just inviting friends to dinner. “We also find it’s a great opportunity to invite people who aren’t believers along and they can just come and be part of a family,” he says.

• The mission statement of Kingdomcity Church is “connecting and empowering people to bring the reality of God to their world.” Started in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 and Perth in 2008 by Mark Varughese, it now covers churches in six countries in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Middle East with a total of 17,000 worshippers. “My wife is a Westerner who’s lived in Asia most of her life and I’m an Asian who’s lived in the Western world most of my life, so our whole DNA makeup was hard-wired for cross cultural ministry,” Varughese says.

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