‘1000 healthy churches in a generation’; It’s the vision of growth that we’re all on board with as we unite as local Baptist churches. But for some of us, it can be a bit of a daunting goal! We might feel like it’s not working in our context, or that the concept has been over-complicated in our mind, or the task is too hard. Rev. Nathan Thackray, Pastor at St Clair Baptist Church, describes “a humble acceptance of how little a handle I had on what it looks like to be missional in my everyday life.” He says, “I was unsatisfied with my personal missional impact and also shared an overall dissatisfaction with the missional impact of the wider church.” But, he found help from a group of Christians offering their assistance via an invaluable resource: Building a Discipling Culture (BDC).
Our Gen1K Team have been encouraging churches to engage in Building a Discipling Culture (BDC). This process is the rediscovery of how to be a disciple who knows how to multiply. Through fortnightly online coaching clusters and twice-yearly intensives over a two-year journey, leaderships teams can be engaged on a gradual and interactive journey to apply the principles and practices of discipleship in their context. The BDC team of experienced church leaders invests accountability and simple, memorable and reproducible tools, practices and skills for imitating the life and ministry of Jesus, that can be passed along from generation to generation – so it doesn’t stop with you.
Dale Stephenson, Team Leader at BDC, hopes the initiative will assist 10% of Australian churches over the next decade. “We hope to play our small part in changing the narrative about Australian Christianity away from the 7th decade of decline to a public narrative of growth,” he says. “We hope to see the media article that effectively says, ‘Well look at that, Christianity in Australia has begun to grow again.’” And this hope stems from the team’s awareness that “Australian Christians have a default in their minds that they can’t disciple people to faith in Jesus”, but “it is possible to curate culture within Churches in such a way that the mission of God is placed in the hands of ordinary people”.
Our own Gen1K Mission Team Leader Jamie Freeman is a big fan of the BDC process. “To see the turnaround of the church in Australia we need to partner together to see the mission of God in the hands of ordinary Australians. It simply can’t be left to a few crazily gifted evangelists,” he says. “The churches I’ve seen go through the BDC process prioritise the mission of God and are bearing fruit. This is mission-critical for the Gen1K goal of a thousand healthy churches. Church planting is the fruit of healthy churches that make disciples and empower leaders. Let’s keep the main thing, the main thing.”
Dale Stephenson is Senior Pastor at Crossway Baptist (in VIC), where ‘BDC’ was born after the church undertook a transformation in their ministry life. “Every department of Crossway has become a disciple-making department,” Dale says. “We have made one of our core values: ‘Everyone gets to play: The Mission of God in the hands of ordinary people’, and have seen people begin to disciple their friends to faith in Jesus who had previously never done that before.” In fact, about a decade ago, Crossway witnessed the ratio between weekend attendance and people putting their trust in Jesus for the first time move to a 10% ratio – which is ten times higher than what is normally seen in Australian Christianity. They thought they’d just experienced a good year, but then it happened the next year too!
Esther Thackray from St Clair Baptist says that when you see statistics like this when it comes to the unchurched, you have to pay attention and learn from it! A group of leaders from her church joined the BDC clusters, “blown away” by its easy accessibility and the intentionality of the BDC staff. “I see it as a process that helps disciple us as leaders,” Esther explains. “What we talk about has influenced all aspects of life and ministry. It has simplified mission and ministry.” St Clair has seen genuine growth from the learnings and principles of BDC, with more people exploring faith and leaders better at hearing and responding to God. “It’s changed the way one of our youth leaders is doing bible study with her youth, and has also helped our worship leaders step further into their vision for what worship in the church should be like.”
Pastor Nathan says that BDC gave him “a fresh look at how Jesus encouraged his disciples to intentionally invest in people who are peaceful towards you” which “has been amazingly helpful to catalysing myself and others toward authentic mission”. His team has learnt principals that have moved them “from feeling the burden of ‘needing to evangelise’ to simply looking in their context for the people God is already at work in and wisely investing in those relationships”. He says, “I feel so much more confident missionally now that I have a stronger handle on some of the basic principles that Jesus passed onto his disciples. It has lead to language being normalised that helps individuals and the community look for the places where we are being called to invest.”
“I feel so much more confident missionally now that I have a stronger handle on some of the basic principles that Jesus passed onto his disciples.”
And St Clair isn’t the only one of our churches having their ministry life reshaped by a partnership with BDC. There are currently 19 Baptist Churches from NSW/ACT engaged with (or soon engaging with) the process. Dan Waugh tells me that at Carlingford Baptist, a group of leaders were influenced by the writing of Mike Breen and 3DM – the group that BDC has adapted the majority of its ideas from – and also attended one of the BDC conferences. Their framework for asking missional questions in small groups impacted the young adults in particular, leading to the shift of meeting patterns to centre around relational outreach rather than services. BDC tools were key to the change that has seen a group of non-Christians reading the bible for the first time.
Dan has finished at Carlingford and is now working at Swansea Baptist, where the core leadership has just started coaching sessions with BDC. “A version of ‘Bible Discovery’ has already been a significant element in Swansea’s outreach and gym ministry, and it’s looking like BDC will be a catalyst for the church’s revisioning – sharpening its leader’s thoughts and stirring things up,” Dan says. “Key to my role is to lead a church plant, and one of my key convictions is that the plant should emerge from the missional activity of the church, and that the core team should be selected from those already engaging in it. BDC will be a catalyst for clarifying the church’s vision and direction moving forward.”
Want to become a team/church that’s more authentically missional? Hear more about BDC in one of their live interactive web conferences here (or, email firstname.lastname@example.org for further info).
As Esther says: “Here is an incredible group of leaders who – FREE OF COST to us – are willing to spend two years with ANY group of leaders from ANY church, to help them see missional fruit and better be disciples who make disciples (in their own context). Why wouldn’t we give it a shot?!”