A Discipleship System in "The None Zone" (Romans 12, Issue 255)
Issue 255 — November 12, 2015
A Discipleship System in "The None Zone"
Portland, Oregon, lies in the heart of what some call “The None Zone.” In Portland, only about 40 percent of the population have any sort of ongoing religious affiliation, while around 60 percent do not. This means those who do attend religious services are choosing to do so themselves. The culture either does not encourage or actively discourages religious participation.
How does a congregation develop a discipleship system in a place like this?
First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, has found an effective way to do just that. For the congregation and their Minister of Discipleship, Jeremy Smith, discipleship starts with behaving. First UMC has significant ministries of outreach that connect with the hopes and core beliefs of many Portlandians. And the church’s commitment to outreach, wherever the members live in the region, has become the most effective “front porch” the church has.
First UMC houses a family homeless shelter and regularly invites and trains its members and people in the wider community to work with the shelter residents, learn case management skills, and become effective advocates for homeless people in their local communities. First UMC is also a Creation Care congregation that is actively involved in helping members reduce their personal carbon footprints, support native plants, and develop and promote gardening. And they’re a Reconciling Congregation, with regular participation in the local Pride parade and regional advocacy efforts.
For the people of First UMC, none of these activities is about mere “do-goodism.” All of them are about living out their discipleship to Jesus Christ, and they say so when they are asked why they do what they do. As church folks interact with the others in the community in all these ways, they develop relationships. Church and community members move from behaving together to feeling a sense of belonging together. And then, when the time is right, the Rev. Smith says, he finds ways to help them take the next step: to commit to Jesus Christ through First UMC, and so to believing together.
In a large, program-size church (375 average worship attendance) like First UMC, it’s not possible for everyone to know everyone else. Statistics help. The Rev. Smith watches who is participating where and at what rates. Increased levels of participation becomes a cue to arrange one-on-one or small-group conversations that help move people from behaving to belonging, and then from belonging to committing and believing.
And so in an increasingly secularizing context, First UMC keeps its eye on the prize, intentionally constructing its programmatic life to reach, invite, form, and send disciples of Jesus who are equipped to transform the world.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What is the degree of church connection where you are? What is the level of cultural expectation that people participate in church or another religious community?
- In Portland, the underlying model for an effective discipling system is behave, then belong, then believe. What is the underlying model for an effective discipling system where you are?
- Programs alone to not lead to discipleship. It takes someone or some system that actively seeks to lead people from one stage to the next. What does that look like where you are?
Produced by Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church to communicate effective principles and practices demonstrated by congregations that are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
These congregations are marked by:
- Clarity around the mission and vision of the congregation.
- Practice of spiritual disciplines, both corporately and individually.
- Nurture in growth in discipleship through mutual support and accountability.
- Cultivation of intentional and mutual relationships with the most vulnerable—the poor, children, the imprisoned, the powerless.
- Consistent concern for inviting people into relationship with Jesus Christ, combined with wise practices for initiating them into the body of Christ.
- Connectional relationships that facilitate participation in God’s mission of global transformation.
- Shared clergy and lay leadership.
© 2015 Discipleship Ministries. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy this newsletter for use in United Methodist congregations. This newsletter is provided as a service of Discipleship Ministries and is funded through World Services apportionment giving by local United Methodist congregations.