Since the twin goals of the LIFEdevelopment.info process are to make disciples and build community, church membership and attendance should not be seen as the end of the road or the primary measure of success. However, if seekers have become followers of Jesus, and have become part of His new kingdom community, it is only natural to expect that attendance and membership of a local church should follow.
Note that "local church" in the LIFEdevelopment context can refer to one of two options:
1. An existing church
If there's plenty of room in the building used for church services for the congregation to grow, attendance and membership in the existing church may be the obvious next step for seekers who have been participating in
LIFEdevelopment group or centre activities. But before inviting friends to an existing church, take care to consider two issues: is it the right time, and is it the right environment?
Time. We are naturally anxious to see our new friends in church, but remember that for a lot of people who have no church or Bible, "going to church" - especially if it is somewhat traditional in style - could represent a bigger step than we realise. Before inviting them to church, look for the following "green light" indicators:
They enjoy positive friendships with several church members through involvement in a LIFEdevelopment group or centre.
They demonstrate a genuine interest in what takes place in the group or centre by participating in discussions - they're not passive observers.
They start asking questions about your church, or may even ask if they can attend.
Environment. Because LIFEdevelopment centres or groups were set up in the first place to "meet people where they are," their culture -
ie. style of music, dress, informal atmosphere, etc. may be considerably different to the culture of the existing church. If this difference is very noticeable, "going to church" could be something of a culture shock rather than a pleasant experience.
Local churches can minimise the "shock" element by implementing a strategy to create a climate during Sabbath School, worship services and other activities, as similar as possible to that of the groups or centres. In other words, as soon as groups or centres start meeting (or before), every effort is made to make the church user-friendly. Language "from the front," choice of music and sermon topic, content of the church bulletin - in fact everything that makes "church" what it is - should be done with the comfort of the seeker or new believer in mind, rather than our own.
And it almost goes without saying that if you personally invite someone to church, you should be personally responsible for "going to church" with them, or at least meeting them when they arrive, introducing them to other church friends who are, hopefully, similar in age or some other way.
2. A new church plant
Reasons for starting a new church are numerous. Apart from the fact that congregations grow fastest during the first few years of their existence, there are a number of other possibilities:
If an existing congregation already fills 80% or more of its available building space, it should already be thinking seriously of starting another congregation, either elsewhere, or at another time in the same building.
If the existing church feels called to reach certain people groups in its area, but is not doing so successfully because its ministry is focused on and working effectively among a very different people group, the only option is to plant a new church.
If the existing church feels called to impact a neighbourhood (a town or district) some distance away where there are few or no church members, it can commission a small number of its members to start a new congregation there.
Such new churches would begin perhaps with a single small group and/or
a LIFEdevelopment centre, and grow over a period of time into a fully fledged congregation.
The great advantage of the church-planting alternative in the
LIFEdevelopment process is that the culture of the LIFEdevelopment group/s and or centre/s would naturally flow over into the new church as it grows. The challenge of transitioning from one style to another either doesn't exist at all, or
will probably prove to be minimal.
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