Have you ever zip-lined or gone rock climbing? Your level of nerves or excitement doesn't seem to change the fact that the first step off the rock or platform is always the hardest. As a church leader, your greatest desire is to lead people to know Jesus and grow in their faith. For our church guests, that first step to get involved in a church is also the hardest. Our friends at The Unstuck Group  share a challenge with us to re-think what the first step looks like at our churches.

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Every step someone takes gives them the courage to take a (deeper) next step.

In my experience working with many different churches (including my own), I’ve found it is often the first step(s) onto your discipleship path that can be the most critical. You can’t grow disciples without first establishing a firm spiritual base.

If you’re new to the phrase “discipleship path,” check out Programs vs Path idea we discussed in a previous article.

But if you’ve been trying to build an effective discipleship path, let me challenge you to do some fine-tuning.

Rethink the First Step

For most churches, the first step for a returning guest is some sort of class that lasts three to six weeks and uses a lot of church words like membership, doctrine, tithing, and covenant. The class usually ends with an invitation to volunteer or show up at someone’s home for a Bible study.

A returning guest probably isn’t ready for a three-week class.

And even if they are, they certainly aren’t ready to show up at someone’s house to discuss the Bible (which they know nothing about, unless that person is already a Christian).

People who are unchurched or new to the faith need smaller steps, and they need time to take those steps.

A discipleship path should be built and customized for returning guests who aren’t Christians and/or those who may be brand new to the faith. These are people who aren’t very familiar with church or the Bible. They aren’t sure what it means to have a spiritual gift and certainly do not want to be tested on these subjects.

This is why the first step(s) are very critical:

Every step someone takes gives them the courage to take a (deeper) next step.

At the end of the day, we want people to meet Jesus, grow in their faith and become connected to the church. That begins with that first step; the building of a spiritual base.

A Practical Example

At my church, we recently relaunched our “first step” on the discipleship path at our church. I asked our team, “What is an easy first step people can take that will encourage them to take the next steps?”

In jest I asked, “What if we offer our returning guests to have a Coke with Pastor Oakes?” We all laughed, but the idea began to grow. We tested it out for a few weeks by contacting returning guests with something like this:

“Hi! I want to invite you to have a coke with Pastor Oakes. He would love to meet you and know your name, as well as give you an ice cold bottle of soda. On your way out this Sunday, stop by the Next Steps room and say hello. It will take you less than five minutes.”

The most important words in that blurb are, “On your way out…” and “…less than five minutes.”

It’s easy, it’s short and they leave with something. We purchased a vintage looking cooler and iced down the old fashioned bottled Coca-Cola and Sprite. We weren’t sure what to expect. At the end of the day, we had 22 returning guest families drop by and have a coke with Pastor Oakes and our team. It was short, sweet and effective.

Before that five minute commitment ended, each person was given an invitation to their next step, which was Discover Victory, a gathering that happened at the same time and same place the following Sunday. The invite clearly communicated what to expect and that it would last less than thirty minutes.

The following week, out of the 22 families, 13 took their next step. They showed up. At Discover Victory, we refrained from using heavy church language, and at the end, we gave each family an invite to Growth Track, our on-ramp to engagement. At this point, most of these people are four to six weeks deep in church attendance. They have met people. They have an understanding of the church. Now, it’s not so weird to take a deeper step.

Start a Conversation

Here are some questions to start a good conversation as you and your team think about the very first steps on your discipleship path:

  1. 1. Is the first step easy to take and does it require a low time commitment?
  2. 2. Is this step communicated with clear, fun, inviting language?
  3. 3. Does the first step take place in an easy-access, highly visible location?
  4. 4. Do you have the next step prepared for when they complete the first?
  5. 5. Are you measuring participation/success for each step?

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Find the original article "The First Steps Are Critical on Your Discipleship Path" by Paul Alexander.