Congregational Paralysis: Driving Discipleship with Clear Communication

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 211

“…if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8

We often find pastors and church leaders lamenting the lack of engagement by their congregations.Here are just a few of the reasons we hear:

  • They’re just apathetic.
  • They don’t prioritize church.
  • Kids activities take up all their time.
  • Both parents work and there is just no time left for church.
  • We’ve tried different things and nothing seems to work.

What we frequently find is a lack of clarity around what the church truly expects of it’s members and a lack of intentionality in it’s discipleship activities. Churches that are not thriving often look similar – a few Sunday School classes that are mostly filled with people that have been there a long time. There are a couple of small groups from a few years ago when they launched. Some of the younger families attend them. Wednesday night programming attendance is sparse, the same group of volunteers do most things, and there is very little outreach happening in the city.

This is a church that may do well with a comprehensive revitalization process, but today we’re just looking at improving the church’s intentionality and clarity.

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Discipleship is not one thing you do, it’s everything you do.

The term “discipleship” is often used to describe the church’s most prominent activity outside of the Sunday worship time. Sunday school, bible study, adult bible fellowship, small groups, home groups, community groups, and lots of other creative names for similar things. With too few exceptions, these ministries continue as they have for a long time because of just that – they’ve been around for a long time. Sometimes they’re fine and sometimes they could be improved. The issue is that there is no intentionality in the outcome that is being pursued. We talked about this last week in Episode 210. It’s a mindset shift, and it matters.

The church that makes holistic discipleship its focus is the church that asks tough questions of itself continuously. It is always challenging itself to optimize its efforts and maximize its results. It’s Great Commission focused and relentlessly pursuing a vision that propels it into Gospel-centered risky territory; out-of-comfort-zone spaces; trial and error and change and trial again.

Everything is not discipleship.

No matter how long an activity has been around it still may not be productive at making or maturing disciples. There are no participation trophies for ineffective ministries, and taking up people’s time is not a value. There are key things in scripture that propel people towards maturity. At pentecost, the church exploded. God, in an unfathomable stroke of sovereignty, prepared a scene for His church to grow from about 120 to over 3,000 in a moment. They immediately began acting in a way that only the Holy Spirit could enable. Let’s examine Acts 2:41-47:

Worship – they were in awe of the things God was doing and they gave Him praise.

Fellowship – they were devoted not only to life lived in close support of one another, but also to the sum of their parts as the church and the power of what they could do collectively.

Prayer – they centered on seeking God in all things.

Generosity – they gave of their possessions and of themselves to support the needs of others.

Biblical Instruction – they were taught by the apostles for transformation, not just knowledge.

Evangelism – transformed lives in word and deed enabled Gospel expansion that resulted in the Lord adding to their number.

Imagine someone in your church that you would hold up as dedicated to the Lord and mature in their faith. I’m willing to bet they are an active worshiper. They are probably in fellowship with other believers or always seeking relationships to give and receive for growth. They are prayerful and seek God constantly. They give generously and are always willing to help. They know God’s Word and are always pursuing greater understanding and application. And they don’t hide their light under a basket.

As pastors and leaders, should we not desire this for all who are under our care? How will we do this?

Effective discipleship has a methodology.

If we truly value the activities that the Holy Spirit led the first-century Church to begin then we must pursue them still todayl. That takes intentionality and structure. God always has a plan, and you should too.

We call the intentional organization of ministries a “Discipleship Pathway.” It’s a methodology and structure for engaging people in the most productive use of their time. It’s efficient in achieving the most output from the least input.

We must face the fact that we, in the United States and in many places around the world, are living in a post-Christian culture. Most people’s lives are not centered around the activities that the church keeps throwing up for them to choose from. Do we want people to engage in and pursue the six things we see in Acts 2? Then we need to create that environment for them and make it clear. So we need to plan six things? No! We need to plan the fewest number of things that will achieve those six outcomes. A process, not programs. Programs can and should change over time, but a process for discipling people to maturity will stand up to time.

Essential discipleship is communicated clearly.

We’ve worked with churches that had 50 or more ministries! Maybe your church is like that now. If people had time to engage in maybe a handful of those things (if we’re lucky) what would they choose? How would they know what to choose? Maybe you don’t talk about any of them or maybe you talk about dozens of things all the time.

Clear communication is on a spectrum. The extremes have the same result. On one end is not communicating well about anything. The church that doesn’t talk about anything and relies on people just figuring things out gets little engagement. People will not assume anything to be important. Just a little further down the spectrum are those that communicate things that are not important for very many people. An important aspect of good communication is choosing the right place, time and medium to engage your desired audience.

On the other end of the spectrum is the church which talks about too many things. If everything is spoken of as important then nothing is important. They have a dozen slides scrolling on the screens before the service starts, and the bulletin each week is multiple pages long with inserts falling out. If there’s clipart involved you’re really in bad shape.

There is a proper time and place to communicate things to segments of the church, but what should always be communicated well is your pathway to maturity. This is where most churches miss the mark. We have to decide what the most important things are for people to do, and tell them what is expected of them. The number has to be small, three to five things. More than that is overload and should only be considered to help someone get involved in the primary three to five things.


If we’re doing church for fun then nothing matters. If we’re doing church to disciple people so that they become disciple-makers then everything matters. As leaders we must work on what is most important and move people towards those things.

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A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.

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