Finding Your Way
The 4G Church
Watch Kent’s Sermon on the 4G Church & Plus 1 Living
When our kids were younger, we took them to Branson, Missouri, to visit the Butterfly Palace. As you can imagine, our girls were bursting with excitement over seeing all the beautiful butterflies – the boys, not so much. When we got there, we discovered that the butterfly palace was not the one trick pony you might expect, your admission included entrance into a mirrored maze. We talked to the kids and asked if they wanted to do it, “YES!” they all screamed – the thought of butterflies had fluttered out the window; now all they could think of was getting to this maze and trying to find their way through it.
If you’ve never been in a mirrored maze, just imagine being in a nightmare where you are trapped in a room and every wall is reflecting the same way out. Every time you try to escape, you hit a wall. This is what it was like trying to find our way through the maze. Over and over again we thought we had found our way to the exit only to hit a wall, literally. At one point my daughter, Piper, began running towards what she thought was the exit only to run headlong straight into a sheet of reflective glass, that smarted…
In my experience, getting involved in a church for a newcomer can sometimes feel a little like walking through a mirrored maze. What I mean is this, as a new person enters a church they are confronted with a dizzying maze of classes, programs, relationships, events, announcements, groups, service projects, and internal structures and cultures — none of which are they quite sure how to navigate. They may easily find their way into a worship service, but to move beyond simple attendance into full involvement is often times a very unclear path. They are in a mirrored maze of sorts. Hitting relational walls and structural ambiguity they slowly bump and feel their way through the process of getting connected to the local body of Christ. Bonked and bruised from hitting unseen walls, and without clear sight lines to their next step in the church. People often times get frustrated and give up.
Get this: a person can completely enjoy a church’s ministries (the people, preaching, worship, the kids ministry, etc.), but without a crystal clear path to show them how to get involved in relationships of belonging and opportunities to use their giftedness, they will leave.
These people end up running into cultural, structural, and relational walls they didn’t even know existed. What’s sad is most of them can’t even articulate what caused them to leave. They end up saying things like, “Well, I liked the preaching, but I just didn’t feel like I fit,” or, “They had great stuff for my kids and the music was great, people were even nice. There just wasn’t anyone that I really connected with.”
See how they can identify that there was something missing? They know it centers around relationships, but that is as far as it goes. They leave without ever truly understanding the cause.
I’ve witnessed this trend over and over again throughout my years of ministry.
What I find especially odd about this phenomenon is how it appears from the perspective of the long-time, established church member. These are the people who have walked the paths of involvement and relationships in the church so often they have figured out how to get through the maze with ease. The church member can’t understand why the newer person didn’t get involved — the path seems so clear to them. They usually end up writing off the new persons passing through as a mismatch of preferences (they must not have liked “so and so,” or “this and that”…). Perhaps the member will chalk up the departure of the new person saying, “They just didn’t try hard enough to get involved.” The veteran member has quickly forgotten what it was ever like to attend a worship service and not know how to get involved at a deeper level or where to go in the church to develop true friendships.
While this phenomenon seems funny, that one person could see the path through the church so clearly while the other sees only confusion and chaos, it is exactly the phenomenon we experienced in the mirror maze at the Butterfly Palace. After going through the first time, and making sure Piper didn’t have a broken nose, the kids begged and begged to go back through the maze. Not once, not twice, but three times. As we walked through those reflective halls over and over, I started to notice something. Each time we went through the maze we got faster and faster — eventually, we even got to the point where we watched (and if I’m honest giggled) as new people entered the maze and bumped and bumbled their way through.
You see, the more times our family tromped through the mirror maze the less of an enigma it became. The same is true for the church member who has learned to trod the path into the relationships, structures, and culture of the church. They are able to see clearly a path that, to the new person, looks like a bunch of mirrors reflecting the same image over and over again.
So, what do we do? The first thing: if you are newer to a church, you need to recognize and understand it takes time to get involved in a church. It takes time to decide that you are willing to own the vision and mission of the church. That you are willing to invest time and energy to help further God’s work in this place. It takes time to learn the culture, structures, and relationships that make each church unique and wonderful. And you need to be ok with giving yourself some room and time to learn how to navigate your way through engaging in this local body.
Trust me, it’s worth the effort, God has given the local church the most important mission on planet earth. Bringing the good news of Jesus to the world!
Let me talk for a moment to those of us who have been in the church for a while. The ones who can see the picture clearly and almost can’t comprehend how someone couldn’t see what you see. First of all, my guess is if you examined your own story, you would find there was someone who came along side of you in your own journey. Someone who helped you learn to navigate the relational, structural, and cultural hallways of the church. It might be a friend, or an older lady in the pew next to you who invited you to Sunday School. The person may have been a parent who helped you as you grew up in the church or for many a pastor who helped you find a place to connect. Most of us like to think we pulled ourselves up by our britches and found our way in the church like some kind of spiritual John Wayne. This simply isn’t true. Everyone I have ever met in the church has a component to their story that involves a key individual helping them learn to navigate those mirrored hallways. Someone who has walked the halls before and knows the shortcuts. As we will find later with the concept of Plus 1 Living, it is a good thing we are not spiritual John Wayne’s cowboying our way through the church. God has a better system already in place. You’ve been involved in it by people investing in your life and didn’t even know it — it is a life altering system. We will cover this more in the chapters on Plus 1 Living.
What we need to do is realize the predicament a new person is in. We need to own up to the fact that we are in the position we are in because of the precious investment of others into our own spiritual journey.
My goal with this book is to demystify the hallways of the church and help each of us see the part we can play in helping move people through the process of growing closer to God and getting more connected to His people. I’m hoping to remove the mirrors and clearly paint a picture of the steps each of us needs to take to become a fully integrated part of the local church. After years of leading in ministry, I’ve identified 4 main steps people need to take in order to become a fully functioning part of the body of Christ. Each of us can take these steps in our own faith journey in order to find a deeper engagement and a richer experience in the body of Christ. I call these steps the 4G’s.
What are the 4G’s? Well, I’m glad you asked. The 4G Steps are God, Group, Growing, and Going.
In a moment we will dig into what each of these steps mean and what they look like to practically live out, but it is important to note that in real world experience, people do not always progress through these 4G step in a linear fashion. In other words, it is possible to take a step from God straight into Going. Honestly, each of us needs to be progressing somewhat simultaneously through the God, Group, Growing, and Going Steps at most times in our Christian development. For the sake of clarity and understanding, we will examine each one of these steps as a completely independent waypoint. In general, though, people do tend to move through the 4G Steps in the proposed order (see the diagram of the 4G Church below).
These 4G steps help give direction and purpose to the way an individual becomes an active and participating member of the body Christ. They bring clarity to how you go from attending a church to being involved. They also ensure you are personally taking steps to grow in your relationship with God. The 4G’s help to understand “what is next” for the follower of Christ.
Let’s take each step as they come and zoom in on the diagram a little bit to better understand each “G” Step.
The GOD Step:
The first course of action for any person is to start making their way back home to God. The God Step is centered around ways one progresses through this course of action. The God step is FOUNDATIONAL in learning to follow Christ. It includes such things as going to church, spending time studying the scripture, being baptized, and intentionally fostering a relationship with Jesus. The God step is the foundation, which allows a person to progress through the other steps in a very meaningful way. You need to be able to answer the question: Is Jesus your Lord and Savior? Have you been baptized to identify with Him in His death and resurrection? If not, you are in the right place! Churches love walking with people through what it means to become a follower of Christ. Have you already been baptized? If yes, your next step is right around the corner — don’t stop engaging with God, rather prepare for an even greater level of intimacy and understanding with Him as you move through the next steps.
The GROUPS Step:
The Groups Step is the place where many people hit a wall and end up leaving a church. It is really the first mirrored hallway for most people who have attended a church for more than three weeks. They have found they a church they identify with—they feel encouraged and challenged but do not know how to progress beyond this point into meaningful relationships. It is not long before these people slowly start moving back in their seating position in the church (yes, physically move towards the back), and then stop coming all together. Why? Most of the time it’s because they have not made the step into a group.
Groups are where the church is able to really be “the church.”
Let me explain. Acts 2:42-46 ,paints a picture of what the very first church was like. They did things like eat together, care for one another’s needs, pray together, etc. There was an overwhelming sense that they knew each other intimately and helped each other grow closer to Jesus. They had Godly friendships that were active in their life. The groups step is simply the “Friend” step. It’s you finding people that you want to “do life” with; encouraging, challenging, and having fun with one another.
So, why do so many people hit a wall at the Groups step? There can be many reasons, but two main ones stick out to me.
People aren’t sure what groups exist and how to get involved in them. Think about it. If you’re new to a church, you discover there are many things that come second nature to someone who is fully integrated into the church.
For instance, here are a few things a new(er) person might not know: What does it mean for someone to be an elder? Do they need teachers in the kids ministry when it looks really well staffed already? How does the lawn get mowed? When do I sit and stand in church, no one told me?
And those are just the starter questions. Without knowing what groups exist, how often they meet, and how they can get involved in them, people will struggle to find their way into this step. They will struggle because the step they need to take is not clear in how they take the step or what the step is.
The second inhibitor to people getting into groups is a perceived lack of time and interest. Our society is busier than ever. We are overwhelmed at work and home, with games to take the kids to, and traveling for work. The last thing we want to do is get involved in something else. The problem is, we have lost control of our lives and we are actually letting the chaos of our life dictate our calendar. Instead of being intentional in the way we choose the activities we allow into our life, we let the urgent take precedent over the important. Soon we find stress, chaos, anger, tension, and anxiety have replaced anything that resembles real living.
Think about it, of all the stuff you have committed to on your calendar, how much of it is you pouring yourself out for something else (taking kids to practices, teaching another class, helping raise money for X, Y, &Z) and how much of that activity is actually revitalizing you, filling your bucket? Don’t get me wrong, it is VITAL that a person pour out, that’s actually what the Going step is all about, but it is just as vital that a person be poured into and restored in spirit.
You don’t have time or aren’t interested in joining a group? It’s no wonder, your life and my life are packed full of things that are draining us.
These two reasons are exactly why the Groups step matters so very much. Because it tells you clearly what your next step is. The Groups step is about pouring into you and your personal relationships. Groups are about a small gathering of people mutually filling one another up, praying for each other, learning together, eating together, and doing life together. Doesn’t that sound like a nice change of pace? Doesn’t that sound nice compared to the chaos of your world? Doesn’t that sound refreshing?
As the church, we have to become better at communicating what, how often, and how to get involved, but we need to take back control of our lives as well and say “no” to the good things that are urgently begging for our attention so we can say “yes” to great things that will make us into even better followers of Christ!
What does a Group Step look like then? Well, Group steps can be anything from church small groups, Bible studies, women’s & men’s groups, kitchen teams, grounds teams, etc. Groups are really just any small group (usually 7-14 people) of Christ followers getting together and forming relationships.
The GROWING Step:
The Growing Step seems a little more natural for people to take after taking a groups step. While it appears to be a shorter step from Groups to Growing, it can sometimes be just as challenging to navigate this step. The Growing step is all about spiritual formation. It is where a person gets involved in opportunities to learn and grow in their faith, and where they begin attending Bible studies and Sunday schools. The main aim of the Growing Step is to help advance you in your knowledge and to empower your faith. Growing is the stage where you are learning deeper insights into the scriptures and the heart of God.
This is a step that can be taken right along with the groups step; again, it’s not linear, but for the sake of our discussion, it’s easier to picture a person flowing through each of these steps as they continue to make their way into being a fully functioning body member at the church.
The difficulty with this step can be that people don’t understand the need for it. “I love Jesus, and I’ve made some friends here. I’m just not sure I need Sunday School, seminars, conferences, or any of that stuff.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite of this. For most Christ followers, this step is so vital it really could almost be classified as a need. You see, these Growing environments, like Sunday School, are the very place where you learn the deep truths of God, where you are asked difficult questions and can ask difficult questions of people who are well versed and studied in the scriptures. This step is about deepening who you are and going to a different level. It is very difficult to get this same experience on your own apart from engaging in Growing opportunities.
The GOING Step:
Each of the steps are crucial in their own way, the God Step is crucial for your Faith, the Groups step is crucial to help you find friends, the Growing stage helps to form you into a deeper disciple and the Going step has everything to do with how you function as a follower of Jesus. It’s about you taking all you are learning, all God is doing in your life, all that is being poured into you, and choosing to live all of that out in a meaningful way. The Going step means serving in the church’s children’s ministry, investing in friends and family and inviting them to church, helping sort food for the food pantry, and coaching a little league team to have more opportunities to be around people who don’t know Jesus.
The Going step is the one that gives meaning to the other steps. It’s where all our talk about love takes shape and form.
Each of these steps has intermediary steps between them. For instance, a great intermediary step between a God Step and a Group step is to join a starting point class where you can learn the story of God and tell your story. These intermediary steps are the stepping stones between each of the 4G steps.
Plus 1 Living:
Years ago, my brother took a road trip by himself. It was the first solo trip he had ever taken. He was 20 years old, on the open road, floating around from city to city with a couple of his best friends. I remember sitting in the living room the afternoon when he called my dad to tell him the bad news. My brother and his buddies had stopped at a gas station for gas and checked the oil on our 1991 Ford Taurus. It was low on oil, so my brother did what every 20 year old who had never put oil in a car before would do. He filled the engine with 4 quarts of oil! That’s right, 4 quarts. He started the engine, drove a short distance and the engine shot a rod out straight through the hood of the car. He had over filled the oil reservoir and the engine exploded. My dad was furious, and my brother was stuck. He was stuck because without an engine, his car wasn’t going anywhere. As we talk about the 4G’s, it’s important to understand that there is an engine that drives them. That engine is called Plus 1 Living. Without Plus 1 Living, these steps are just a nice idea that, at their best, are impersonal and, at worst, void of any real power to change lives.
So, what is Plus 1 living and why is it so important?
Before we can discuss Plus 1 Living, we need to talk about an old idea that was central to how Jesus lived and taught. The Bible calls it “discipleship” — an ancient word that describes a learning relationship between a mentor and a student. In biblical times, a disciple followed a Rabbi to learn everything about that Rabbi. The disciple was to learn his teaching, his ideology, the way he spoke, ate, was silent, prayed, everything. The disciple would commit all of this to memory and do his very best to mimic and be like his Rabbi. Our job as followers of Christ is to make disciples of Christ. Help people learn to be like the master teacher, Rabbi, Jesus. Plus 1 Living is how we describe the concept of helping people become disciples of Jesus. It is simply me and you investing in those around us with the hope that they will become more like Jesus themselves.
We believe Plus 1 Living to be the biblical model of discipleship as well as a demystified way of thinking about our role as followers of Jesus. As I go through my day, I’m not trying to become a major scholar, or live my life as a saint. I do not see my primary job as “defender of the faith.” These things are important parts of who I am, but my primary role, simply put, is to be looking for someone I could invest in as a Plus 1, and help them find their way back home to God—helping them take their next step in following Jesus..
Plus 1 Living is something everyone can do! Plus 1 Living is the core of what it means to follow Christ. This is why I say Plus 1 Living is the engine that drives all of the other G’s, because without this mode for creating true disciples of Jesus, the rest of the structure falls apart.
Let me explain how the engine of Plus 1 Living can drive all the other steps: Once I begin seeing my role in the church through the lens of Plus 1 Living, I begin to look at everything a little differently. Let’s assume I’ve already started to find some friendships in the church by taking the Group step. The natural thing for a person who is viewing life through the lens of Plus 1 Living would be to find someone who has not yet taken their group step and invite them to come with them as their “Plus 1.”
If I am already “Going” in my faith by serving in the kitchen on a regular basis, I’m not threatened by inviting a young lady to work with me in the kitchen because I’m no longer simply a volunteer in the kitchen. I’m investing in my “Plus 1” to help them learn to be “Going” in their faith as well.
Plus 1 really changes everything.
It is our sincere prayer that as you read through this book and as I unpack the idea of Plus 1 Living, that you will begin to see the power of this simple idea — that you and I could make a difference in one life and help that person find their way back home to God!
To learn more about the 4G Model and Plus 1 Living, order our book, Plus 1 Living