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One Size Fits All?

Last week I spoke at the North Boulevard church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This was the first time I formally presented data from my nationwide research study on making disciples.

The presentation was received well, and afterwards I opened the floor to questions. I was impressed with the quality of the questions and comments of those who were present.

Pondering our discussion later, it struck me that making disciples presents different challenges depending upon regional distinctions. For example, 24% in Oregon (where I live) are “nones” (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic), according to the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey. This is distinct from states that are in the “Bible Belt”, such as Tennessee, which has 9% that fit into the “nones” category.

How does this affect our efforts to make disciples?

1.  We need to understand our regional distinctions. What works in the Northwest may not work in the Bible Belt, and vice versa. I think short-term mission trips are great, and incite an enthusiasm for making disciples especially among younger people; however, what works even better is getting to intimately know the culture in which we are working, even if it is across town. What are the struggles, fears, and dreams of the people we want to introduce to Jesus?

2.  We need to understand why people are unchurched. Are our neighbors “nones” because someone or some church let them down when they were in need? Have they made the decision to reject God? Have they never heard the gospel? These are some of the many questions that we must address before engaging in meaningful spiritual discussions with people.

3. We should never be satisfied with the status quo. Jesus was able to start a revolution that has become the world’s largest religion because he lived dangerously. He never gave up on his mission. The fact that there are fewer people in the Bible Belt who are unchurched does not excuse us from our mission. Likewise, it would be easy to become overwhelmed by the percentage of unchurched people in the Northwest and simply give up.

One thing’s for sure: in making disciples, one size does not fit all. We must intentionally get to know those we are trying to reach, and then share the love of Jesus with them. No matter where we live, the task of making disciples is a sobering challenge.

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