I’m a small group enthusiast and always will be, but the longer I have done ministry the more convinced I have become that the heart of it all is making disciples who make more disciples of Jesus.
Last Sunday my wife Vicki and I took a group of our pastoral interns and visited a church that does an amazing job of making disciples—La Viña Communidad Cristiana of Mundelein, IL. A few years back La Viña was a small, struggling church with 45 people, 5 men, 10 women and 30 children. The pastor Homero Garcia almost quit. But inspired by Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-8, he decided to give the church one more year.
Providentially in that year, the pastor was himself discipled by a Brazilian seminary student who became a part of their church. After making prayer and discipleship central in the church, in the intervening years it has grown to become a vibrant congregation of over 500 people that has planted a half a dozen daughter churches.
What has been key to their growth? Two things: intentional life-on-life discipleship and a clear pathway for spiritual growth.
Most churches have various systems and programs for assimilation, small groups and discipleship. At La Viña, however, these elements are combined into a seamless, integrated relational flow that meets people where they are and powerfully moves them forward into maturity and leadership.
It begins with someone’s first visit to a service. The assimilation team follows up with these people, calling or visiting them. They share the gospel with them and invite them to their Thursday welcome event—a meal and program that is offered every Thursday evening. They share the gospel again at this event. Homero explained to us that they share the gospel repeatedly with people because most people need to hear it many times before they respond.
As people get involved at the church they are invited to join a new discipleship group. These groups meet every other week. The groups begin by moving progressively through the topics of inner healing, deliverance, and the Holy Spirit.
Homero says that this is much more helpful than teaching new believers and members on issues like prayer, reading the Bible and giving, because they have found that when people get healed, set free, and filled with the Holy Spirit that they joyfully do the other things without a lot of instruction.
In the weeks between their discipleship group meetings, the group leaders meet personally with group members and couples. In these meetings they ask them very direct questions about their marriage, family life, and relationship with God. Their goal is to help them experience all that God has for them and to help them learn to obey Christ in every area of their lives. In the weeks between their group meetings, the leaders also gather in a meeting with Homero and his wife Claudia.
The discipleship groups are “for life.” You can not join one once it is up and running. New people join new groups as they are formed. The groups always share a meal together when they meet. This is followed by worship, teaching and ministry.
The power of the church discipleship system was evident in the life of a member who shared during the service. Three years ago she didn’t know Christ but someone from the church knocked on her door and offered her family free bread. This was the first step in the church reaching out to her. Now she and her husband are leaving and aiming to plant a church in Mexico. She told the congregation, “I am tremendously blessed. My life and the lives of my husband and three children were changed. Thank you so much for all that you did for me. Thank you for sharing bread with me. You have been a tremendous blessing to me. I am so thankful. I have been born again and grown in Christ and now I will multiply that to others.”
I’m sharing what I learned at La Viña with you, not so that you will mimic their methods, but so that you will apply the principles that they are following in creative ways in your own setting, ministry, and personal lives.
This is how my visit to La Viña has encouraged and challenged me:
- I will continue to make life-on-life more central in my life, my priorities, and my schedule.
- I will love the people I am mentoring enough to ask them direct, tough questions about their personal lives, their marriages, and their relationship with God.
- I will encourage and help new believers and growing Christians to get healed, set free and filled with the Holy Spirit.
- I will continue to work with our team to make our spiritual growth pathway clearer and more relational.
What are you learning about making disciples who make disciples?