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I've been a vocal critic of "event church" and it's cousin "event evangelism." I think it's time to move from saying I don't like it do examining why and then doing something productive to counter it - with your help.

These models of doing "ministry" invest most of their people power, talent, money and time into creating an event (usually a church service). The goal is sometimes to attract non-Christians to the church and to the Christian faith. A church with this goal is an "attractional event church." It is possible though to be an "event church" without being "attractional." Many churches with pipe organs and hymnals don't expect non-Christians to show up at their church services, for example, but they still invest most of their efforts and resources into those services, thus centering the church around the event of Sunday morning and making it an "event church" by the definition I'm using.

Let's say you're not a Christian. You come to an event church service one day and you leave buying it. You pray for the first time in your life, you believe in Jesus for the first time too, and even join the church. Then what?

The event church doesn't answer this question all that well - if it even asks it. The pastors know the bible is clear on what God wants from them: make disciples. But they either think 1) they're doing that with their excellent worship service OR 2) they're doing that with "Sunday School" classes or small group bible study classes OR 3 )they think making believers is the same thing as making disciples.

So the event church laments the horrible puny percentage of personal incomes given to it (tithe) and wrings it's hands over how on earth they'll ever get 98 people to volunteer to work in the childrens ministry. And they don't even dare dream of creating programs to end poverty and hunger and illiteracy and unemployment in their city or around the world. Hell, who would give and volunteer for such ambitious programs? It would never work.

So, I'm a critic of the event church because it attracts bored Christians and a small percentage of non-Christian adults but spends little on making disciples - which, ironically could grow a church and would definitely eliminate the beg for money and volunteers portions of the Sunday service.

I know, because I've played at them, that there are many churches with killer music, using creative video and drama and other means of communication that are also making disciples. And there are churches that bore me to tears with their liturgies and read sermons and well-rehearsed choir pieces that are doing a great job making disciples. Being in these churches has kept me inspired to fight the event church mentality even more. Without fail the pastor of these disciple making churches explains to me how the church has grown and repaired it's city not by extolling the virtues of music and film or tradition and pipe organs but by teaching me how they make disciples that make disciples. The highly effective churches I've been in over the last several years are not event churches. They are churches that see Sunday morning as one of many cogs in the disciple making machine called church. They've somehow kept discipleship in their minds as the goal.

I've been a critic of event church because it doesn't work, it's not obedient to God's command to make disciples and see God's will done on earth as it is in Heaven, and it sells a false salvation to people - one that says getting "saved" one day for a future Heaven is why Jesus died. He did not. He died to save all things in all times in all places through His disciples who respond when He says, "Follow me."

  • First, don't fill the comments section with your complaints about event church. I think we get it. There are lots of us who don't like it. We don't need to dog pile any further.

  • Second, let's talk about what a disciple is. Read anything good on the subject? Been discipled yourself? What did that look like specifically? How did it change you? How has that changed others?

  • Third, tell good stories. Use the comment section here to tell us who's doing it well. Who is making disciples - whether or not their services sound and look amazing? Brag on someone we can all be inspired by.

  • Fourth, talk to your church leaders calmly, kindly and lovingly. Go to them to learn, not to preach. Ask them what your church's mission is for it's church services. Ask them what they think discipleship is and how they do it? Ask them how you can help and then pray for them consistently.

    Anonymous ann said...

    "Calvary Road"

    Blogger Brody Harper said...

    that was too many rules.

    Blogger GrovesFan said...

    My church is a "discipleship church." Our leadership is firmly rooted in the foundation of discipling ALL of it's members. While Sunday morning services are a part of our church, they are not the only "event" and not the main place people are discipled. Discipleship occurs in small groups, focus groups, etc. It is our goal to have each and every person not just attending a group, but actively participating, learning, growing and discipling others. We're just getting started on this so I'll keep you posted.


    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    *points finger at author of Shlog and whispers to other Shloggers* He's good at making disciples. So is his brother in-law Brian. If you don't believe me go to IKON sometime you'll see what I'm talking about. Just don't tell them I said that.

    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Rules? Brody, if I didn't know you I'd...

    Blogger euphrony said...

    I'll brag on an old family friend. I have not seen her or her family in years, but I ran across her name in an unconnected web search. Her name is Ellen Little and she is a medical missionary in Uganda. She was in the news last year for her helping a 1-year old girl travel to the U.S. to receive life-saving operations on her heart. She travels around a war-torn region to medically help anyone she can and, at the same time, spread the gospel. A better living definition of "disciple" I do not know.

    As to the event church, I second Shaun's thoughts. Discipleship is what we are called to. We live in the kingdom of heaven, not wait for it, and we must speak, breathe, and live the gospel. I've been thinking about what it means to be a disciple, and am writing something for my blog about it, but basically if we are truly in Christ (John 6:56), then are we not living as Christ. This means we speak with compassion, authority, truth and we act with compassion and compulsion to help those in need and in opposition to those placing an onerous burden on His children (ala the Pharisees). In a nutshell, this is disciple.

    Blogger Amy said...

    The church I attend right now is a cell church. The pastors are very committed to discipleship for every member. They have a course they have developed that takes about three months to go through and is an introduction to Christian life. Well, that's what I've been through so far. They want everyone to go through it, new or old to the church, so that we're all on the same page. I go through with it with one of the pastors wives and another girl in my cell group. The church is still in the church planting stages, but the idea would be that eventually I would be able to lead someone through it.
    In addition, they believe discipleship happens in cell groups, cell group meetings are the heart of the church. We do have a monthly celebration service as well, and will probably increase those in the future. For me, this works. In the smaller cell group, we are able to address issues in our spiritual lives, provide genuine fellowship and accountability, etc. Yet, we still get together with everyone else for a corporate word.
    I grew up in a pastor's family and while I received tons of training in the Word, no one ever took me under their wing to disciple me until I was a senior in high school.
    The ideal view of discipleship, in my opinion, is that someone who is a bit farther along in their journey than you would come alongside you and spend time with you in the Word, time in service, and time in prayer. It doesn't have to be one-on-one either, but you probably don't want to out-do yourself.

    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    "time in service"...Amy, what did that look like in your life. What I hear you saying is that discipleship for you has been more than teaching you the bible and that it's involved doing something together you're calling service. What was that activity exactly?

    Anonymous Chris Morris said...

    From my own experiences...

    Change requires 3 things:
    - know what I need to believe
    - know what I actually believe
    - know how to change what I believe.

    The first one is usually pretty well covered from the pulpit. The second seems to be too easily overlooked, but the Bible warns us it ain't easy.

    "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters..." Proverbs 20:5 [NIV]

    "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" Jer 17:9 [NIV]

    Underestimating my ability to know what I believe is the first step to skipping over the whole process. Having that in perspective, take the time to work backwards from actions and reactions to events in my life to figure out what I believe.

    "The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways" Prov 14:8a [NIV]

    "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out." Proverbs 20:5 [NIV]

    "...the tree is known by its fruit. ... For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matt 12:33-34 NASB)

    Spend all the time necessary on a proper diagnosis. In almost every problem case I've dealt with in my own heart, in working with others (heck, even if debugging computer problems), the bulk of the time of a proper change always goes into a thorough diagnosis. Sometimes, the answer is even easy and obvious once the problem is properly exposed to the light.

    Once the real beliefs of the heart are known, once discrepancies are found out, usually certain choices present themselves. Option A, follow in the old footsteps; option B, follow in a new path.

    Discipleship does not happen when I'm solely about going through the disciplines. Discipleship requires getting honest with where my own heart is at.

    Discipling another person is something best learned on the job, apprenticed out of someone more experienced. The bones can be laid out for anyone, but the meat comes only from wisdom. It can be a heck of a struggle, every step of the way.

    Praise God for His light and His strength and His forgiveness and grace. :-)

    Blogger nate said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    Blogger nate said...

    dang tpc and their brown bag events


    Blogger Tami Boesiger said...

    I agree discipleship is important, but isn't it dangerous to make mass generalizations of the church? How can you know that Sunday school classes and small group studies do NOT do the job? Can you really make a fair assessment when you pop in for the "event" you do for them, which begs the question, isn't this exactly what YOU do--"event evangelism"?

    Anonymous Drew said...

    For me, discipleship was not a program, an event, or even mapped out process. Discipleship happened by spending time with a mature believer (Bill) who invested his time in me. I saw how he lived his life for the Lord, including being an excellent father and husband, giving to those in need in whatever way he was able to, studying the Word with diligence, and sharing the gospel with a lost world. That man was my youth pastor in 12th grade. After my first year of college, I spent two summers working under him in a church, taking the discipleship "method" (if you want to call it that) that he had modeled for me, and following his example, investing my life in other young men. We studied God's Word. We worshipped together. We shared the gospel with their lost friends, and we used our meager resources to help those in need, painting a house, repairing a porch, etc. I can honestly say that I would not be the man I am today, were it not for the investment that Bill made in my life.

    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Tami, very fair questions. VERY good. Thank you for not kissing my proverbial backside. Love it!

    I didn't mean to imply that Sunday school and small groups DON'T disciple folks. THEY DO! (Sometimes. Maybe a lot of the times.)

    I only know what pastors and members tell me. I ask LOTS of questions. LOTS. And pastors are very honest about their churches. Missions and discipleship - specifically Sunday School - are often admitted as the weakest areas of their church. I ask questions to see where the health of the church is so I know better what to sing and say. So, much of the time I end up talking about discipleship about how being a Christian is following not just believing. So, no, I can't know everything that's going on in a church - only what I'm told. And I know my own church well having been there for 9 years. We also struggle with what on earth Sunday School is supposed to be, if it should be, and how to change it without freaking people out. But some of us on staff freely admit it's broken and does very little for folks spiritually. There are ALWAYS exceptions though - that dynamic teacher who spends time with each person in his/her class, studies hard, communicates clearly, organizes fun stuff and service to the community. But that's rare don't you think? It is in my experience and in the opinions of many pastors I've talked to over the years. I'm not making crap up that's for sure. I've seen this and lived this.

    As far as this being what I do...I try not to do this sort of thing. I just turned down an "event" yesterday that was pitched as an outdoor town square evangelistic event. Turned it down. Don't believe in that form of evangelism. When people contact us and say they want my concert to be primarily for entertainment, to attract people to their church I also say no or we explain what it is I do (sing and teach and challenge and encourage) and ask if they still want me. They usually do and allow me to create a concert that tries to move people to a day to day faith and not an event to event faith - while entertaining them of course...I hope. (Have you been to a concert of mine? Would you like to? I can get you a free ticket if you'd like to see what I do.)

    So, no I don't think this is what I do.

    BUT, I do think this is what IKON is and I hate that. Ikon is an event and no more because Brian and I are very very very part time and unable to meet with more than two people each for one on one discipleship. BUT we took the jobs to show the church that there was a need among people in their twenties for mentors, study, social opportunities etc etc etc. We proved that and now the church is about to build on top of the event called IKON a whole ministry that will include discipleship. The event IKON was always temporary in our minds and was hard to invest in - with it being so one dimensional and ineffective in so many ways.

    Thanks for the chance to explain tami. Great questions and concerns. Did I answer alright?


    Blogger Tami Boesiger said...

    Please understand I don't mean to be disrespectful. I have never been to one of your concerts, so I don't know first hand what takes place there. I can tell by reading your blog you are sincere, strive to be genuine and truly want to point people to Christ. For that I thank you.

    But, I don't understand how singing to the masses is any different than preaching to the masses. Can your concerts truly be about discipleship? Yes, you can talk about it and steer people in that direction, but churches do that as well. Your definition of discipleship involves one on one meetings. No matter how pure your motivation, you are still doing one-time events in your concerts. At least churches do it once a week. It would be unfair and humanly impossible for you to disciple every single person who attends your concerts, yet that's what you're expecting of churches. Of course this doesn't absolve churches of any responsibility in discipling their attenders, but perhaps it explains why you see what you do in the churches across our country.

    I think what you are trying to do is get people talking about how we can fix this problem. You are wanting positive feedback on how to grow believers. I'm all for that, but please don't be so harsh on our churches who are in the trenches week after week.

    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    It's not having a church service, having a concert, r having "preaching to the masses" that is the problem. It's making those "events" be a disproportionately large investment/focus/component of the church. My concerts are PART of a larger ministry of the church. They are not, ideally, an end in themselves. There is nothing wrong with "preaching to the masses" as long as we have a question to "what's next?" for those who need something else.

    yes, discipleship for me does involved one on one. So, I meet with folks after concerts, hook those in need of it up with the church I'm playing at, a specific minister in their area etc. I don't play and leave. I try to connect and help and guide people to people and places that can continue that process. You should see a show and stay around afterwards.

    I'm not seeing myself as being harsh but if you'd like to make the accusation please site an example. Not being defensive and I know that's hard to tell in writing. Critical thinking is fine - in my thinking - as long as I'm not being unkind, inaccurate, naming specific people or organizations. I've done none of those things. Am I wrong?

    I do expect churches to meet with every member and meet their spiritual and physical needs. his is not impossible. It is impossible to expect the staff or "professionals" to do this but not impossible for those who are discipled to do this for their disciples and on and on. That is the early church model. It worked and still does in the Anabaptist movement and others. I've seen it working.

    Hope that clarifies.

    Blogger Doug E. said...


    Interesting read! I tend to agree, but I guess I'm not completely sure how you are using the term "event church." I do agree though that many of the emegent and even seeker sensitive churches, have left out the truth in order to have some undefined experience.

    If this is what you are reacting against, I agree. Our church's main goal is the glorification of God through the proclamiation of His word, and liviing out those truths.

    Our church is not large, and people do not come from far and wide to be there, but when they will not come to us we go into the highways and byways to reach them with the truths of Christianity.

    When the Word of God is preached, people who sit back an do nothing in the church become uncomfortable. The truth is spoken in love and not to make people uncomfortable but that is what the truth does to those who do not believe it. This produces a couple results they either come to believe the truth, or they don't and eventually leave.

    There will always be a significant group of people in the congregation that is still trying to make that discision. In the process they seem to sit by but the Church is doing it's job by challenging them.

    God Bless and keep up the good work,


    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    That's not what I'm "teaching against." I'm calling an event church a church that puts most of it's resources and focus on an event (usually a church service of some kind) and doesn't ask or answer well the question "What's next for the people in this service?"

    Is that clearer?

    It's not about seeker sensitive, contemporary, emergent or any of that. Traditional church is just as guilty of this. Crusades and other evangelistic events that don't have some sort of plan for "what's next" are in the same boat. Billy Graham, by contrast, has an event called a crusade but recognized at least a decade ago that people attending the crusade needed to be connected to a local church and mentored once the crusade was over. He has teams that live in crusade cities for a year before he ever arrives, setting up relationships with churches, training counselors and small group leaders etc. That's an event with a back end that answers "what's next?" Billy Graham, as an example, isn't just making believers. He's trying to give believers every opportunity to build on the foundation of their belief and become mature loving, praying, giving, caring, discipling disciples. Saddleback, which is arguably seeker sensitive in mission is currently working to get their massive number of attenders and members discipled. They have an answer to "what's next" and now are working to get folks to buy into that and take advantage of the resources and programs they've created to disciple them.

    So, there are event driven churches and discipleship minded churches of all kinds. It's not about style, it's about having more than one dimension, a next step for everyone in the church toward maturity.

    Blogger Doug E. said...

    Thanks Shawn,

    That helps clear it up and I agree.

    God bless,



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