Every Age Same Page: A Pathway vs a Program


Programs aren’t bad. Many programs have benefited me throughout the years. For example, I was a Boy Scout for a short time as a kid. I liked the Scouts because it meant I could go on hikes and learn to do cool stuff like whittle a branch into a thinner branch. My favorite part was the Pinewood Derby. My dad and I built our little wooden car, and I raced it against another Scout. We didn’t spend much time on our car, and what it would take to compete so I lost pretty handily. Once at a Scout camp I got hit in the head with a baseball bat playing catcher in an impromptu baseball game. This ended my career as a baseball player and a Boy Scout. These are the memories I have about Boy Scouts: fond but not life-changing. I guess my direct response about the Boy Scout program is, “I grew out of it.”

And that’s the problem with programs: they stagnate, often lending themselves toward an endpoint. They tend to have a lack of clarity as well. Sure there is a vision and a strategy behind them, but because of their ongoing nature, they simply cannot convey laser-focused clarity. Programs also struggle to provide meaningful alignment. They serve as a cog in the whole process, but they often serve themselves rather than working along with everything else to provide a clear process that impacts the whole. This is true, especially in a church environment.

We have classes for adults, kids, teenagers, singles, senior adults, etc. and while we may use an aligned curriculum, we don’t see a lot of overlap of life on life interaction and growth. We have worship services for everyone, but we also offer worship services for specific age-groups. These programs typically do not connect when it comes to content, and thus families can show up at church together, receive radically different experiences, reconnect and head home. This disconnection is why we often see parents attending a church their kids like even if they don’t prefer it themselves. There was a time when families attended where the grandparents went to church. More often now, we see grandparents joining families where the grandkids are happiest.

While these generalizations don’t apply to every church, we can see how programming plays an integral role in the effectiveness of the church. And if programming is stagnant, unclear, and disconnected then we need a better process to effectively equip the Saints to do the work of the ministry. A pathway can provide the answer to all of these issues.

While programs are often stagnant, a pathway provides movement. While programs are often general and complex, a pathway provides clarity and simplicity. And while programs tend to create barriers to alignment, a pathway fuses everything together to help focus those we lead on what matters most.

Before I provide an example of a pathway, I do want to be clear: having a pathway does not mean getting rid of programming. Having a pathway simply means you will align programming to fit within the pathway. While a typical church will build around programs, building around a pathway helps us create alignment and effectiveness in all that we do. The pathway drives the programming decisions rather than the converse.

What is a pathway? At Replicate we have developed what we call a Discipleship Pathway. It is not rocket science, and it is not an end-all to the issues we face in church life. But it is a great tool to empower the staff and leadership to better equip the people to do the ministry. The Discipleship Pathway is based on the ministry of Jesus and looks basically like this: Congregation, Community, Core, Crowd. We know that Jesus ministered in these groups: He addressed the crowds occasionally, He has a congregation of 120/72 by the end of His earthly ministry, He had a community group of twelve (the disciples), and he had a small core group of three: Peter, James, and John. Connect that process with your current church and you will see that you already have some kind of missions ministry (crowd), you have weekly worship (congregation), you probably have a groups ministry of some kid be it Sunday school, home groups, etc (community), and finally discipleship groups of 3 to 5 people serve as the core.

By clarifying what each of these steps are for the believer, we help our people see where they are and where they need to be. Watch how the pathway drives these basic questions for all who attend:

  • Are you worshipping God weekly gathering with fellow believers to hear the Word preached?
  • Are you part of biblical community in a Life Group?
  • Are you investing in others for accountability, spiritual growth, and multiplication in a discipleship group?
  • Are serving and reaching others with the Gospel?

The pathway gives our people clarity. It provides alignment as every ministry of the church must work to be an onramp to the pathway, part of the pathway, or an offramp to serve and be missional. The pathway also provides movement for everyone who attends or visits the church. Are you attending worship weekly? Great your next step is biblical community in a Life Group – we can help you with that! Already attending weekly worship and part of biblical community? You’ve been called to make disciples, why don’t you launch a discipleship group to invest in others to grow and multiply! The pathway also allows us to say no to things that aren’t impacting the mission. Every program and church event must connect to the pathway, if it doesn’t, we don’t do it. It may be a great program. It may be a historical event. But if it doesn’t connect to the pathway, it distracts from our vision and detracts from the mission of the church.

Programs aren’t bad, but in and of themselves they tend to lack clarity, movement, and alignment. A pathway, on the other hand, provides precisely those three things. Allowing the pathway to drive process decisions means you will have a purpose and practical reason for every program you have. Since all that we do for the sake of the Gospel is vital and important, we must invest in what is most impactful.

This article was originally published at Replicate.org: https://replicate.org/pathway-vs-a-program/

Chris Swain is the Executive Director of Replicate Ministries and serves at Long Hollow Baptist Church as the Equipping Pastor. After fours years of service in the United States Marine Corps, Chris served in full-time ministry for two decades in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, leading ministries ranging from Students, to Collegiate, to Spiritual Formation. Most recently, Chris served as the Director of Student Ministry Publishing at Lifeway Christian Resources serving the Church in its mission of making disciples. Chris’s heart is to expand the Gospel through disciple-making in the local church.

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