Recently, church planters Amy Gannett and Justin Kendrick joined co-hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman on ChurchPulse Weekly. Together, the four discussed why theology matters for the next generation, the limitations of program-centered church models and why leaders can never graduate from discipleship.
On Renewing Discipleship
Barna recently asked pastors how well their church was doing at providing ongoing, one-on-one discipleship among their congregation. The response from half of church leadership (51%) was “not very well” or “not at all well.”
One reason many church leaders may be discouraged around discipleship efforts is that they hold too narrow a definition of discipleship. Kendrick says, “If you ask most church leaders, ‘What is discipleship and what does it look like?’ [the response] is usually, ‘Do they tithe, show up on Sunday or volunteer somewhere?’”
Kendrick offers a new framework for discipleship, asking, “What habits do I need in my life that are actually going to help me grow in love, help me grow in agape? If I can develop love forming habits, then I’m going to mature in Jesus.”
Gannett emphasizes the importance of leading by example when helping others grow in discipleship, saying, “We can’t teach our lay leaders to do one-on-one discipleship if we’re not experiencing those relationships ourselves.” Kendrick agrees and says, “You never graduate from discipleship. If you’re not really developing people in Jesus, then you’re just making noise.”
On Theology for the Next Generation
One of the key places for these discipleship relationships to happen is with the next generation. Gannett shares about the hunger for theology and truth that she’s seeing in younger generations.
“We have this caricature of the next generation being uninterested in theology and only interested in experience,” she says. “Then you stop and realize, “I’ve never met a Gen Zer who is telling me that they’re really only interested in having great experiences in life, and they don’t really care what their life is based on.”
She notes, “We as church leaders need to be agile enough, thoughtful enough, to dissect when somebody’s asking a theological question, because so many of the questions that the next generations are asking are theological in nature. […] They’re experiencing God in the church and outside out of the church, and they have questions about those experiences.”
Gannett concludes, “A big way that we serve the next generation and answer their theological questions is by hearing them out, dissecting those theological questions and then teaching them how what they believe about God actually connects to their life of discipleship.”
On Relationships over Programs
Even amidst the pandemic, church planting remains a priority for many churches. Half of pastors (53%) agree strongly that their church is committed to starting new churches and planting new campuses.
Both Gannett and Kendrick have found an emphasis on relationships and community to be essential to the flourishing of their church plants.
As Kendrick reflects on his time as leader, he says, “We realized a lot of [our staff and pastors] were running programs, but they hadn’t really been developing people.” Since then, he has worked to reprioritize discipleship as a central principle on his team, saying, “We’ve got a lot of different structures that can happen within, but that’s not the magic. The magic is the relationship and the people.”
Similarly, Gannett speaks to important role that check-in phone calls with congregants have played over the past couple of years. She notes, “We set the goal for every household to get a phone call every week, and it happened. We’ve been regathering for a couple of months in person, and people are still maintaining it. Those tides of community and prayer are continuing […] to keep people feeling connected with the Lord and with one another.”
About the Research
ChurchPulse Weekly Pastor Poll: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 336 U.S. Protestant pastors. The interviews were conducted online from August 13 to August 17, 2020. The margin of error is +/- 5.3-percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
State of Your Church: The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 410 U.S. churched adults who self-identify as someone who holds a leadership position within their church. The interviews were conducted online from September 16 to October 4, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 4.7-percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021