Discipleship is hard when a church functions as a closed set. “Closed set” is a math term. I will misuse the term. Mathematicians, please forgive me. A bit of housekeeping before I try to break the “closed set.”
This post is an expansion of a concept covered in an early webinar. Watch here: February Facebook Live Webinar.
Topic: Right and Wrong Methods of Rooting ConvertsDate: Tuesday, March 28, 2017Time: 7:30pm CSTCost: $0Speaker: Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
- Is the soil too hard? Change it!
- Root stimulator! Provide essential nutrients.
- Impatience for outward growth. Stop! Let the process happen.
A Closed Set
A “closed set” happens when specific numerals belong within the set. A “closed set” excludes all other numerals. It has nothing to do with whether the excluded numeral is larger or smaller. The numeral does not fit.
I will define a “closed set” church as a group where people are so “alike” there is no room for any who are “unlike.” The “like” can be any number of things. It includes being “alike” in:
- Socio-economic level
- Years since conversion
- Christian maturity
- Educational level
- Family connections
- Common interests
- Church heritage
This “closed set” is such a part of the church’s identity that the group repels anyone who does not have the same traits. There is no open door of entry for a newcomer to become part of the set. A “closed set” church is actually like a magnet positioned to repulse instead of to attract.
Indicators of a Closed Set
Few church groups will self-identify as a “closed set” but the following are indicators. Assess your church using these key indicators. In a “closed set” church:
- It takes a LONG time for a newcomer to be active in the church.
- There is no structured orientation path for newcomers. A new convert course does not exist. Why would one be needed? Honest, though unspoken, expectations are that nobody will actually want to travel the path, so why should we develop it?
- The standards of behavior are high. If this were a family rather than a church. It would be a family that did not permit “dirty diapers” for newborns. No baby could survive in that setting.
- Everybody is welcome here . . . if . . .! The “if” of the closed group church may be spoken. Generally, the “if” is unspoken but practiced by a cold shoulder toward those who don’t fit the specs of the “closed set.”
- You can be part of us if you agree with everything we do and how we do it.
- People not like the existing group are not wanted. The new person can be too poor, too rich, too well-dressed, too educated, or have the wrong skin color.
- The outsider’s cultural background is too different or their past can be too ugly.
- Using a “church word” vocabulary.
- Inclusive/exclusive language. A member of the “closed set” is called “Bro. John” while one outside the set is “John.”
How to Break a “Closed Set”
Everything I propose will not work in every setting. But, a culmination of several strategies will likely break the “closed set.”
Teach that a “closed set” is not the Lord Jesus’ plan. A “closed set” was what the Jews lived and celebrated. They were quick to say, “We have Abraham to our father.” It gave the Jews a unique identity. Their being unique made the Jews content. Pointing out a similar mindset is helpful. Ephesians 5 is full of wonderful material that describes God’s inclusive plan. He broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile. Jesus has brought together:
- Rich and poor
- Employee and employer
- Educated and uneducated
- People from every kindred, tongue, people and nation
It is sad if each person in a church seems to have been in the group for over 30 years. A healthy church will have people in varying stages of development. The variety of people communicates that the church is closed to none.
Be an example. The “closed set” is not where leaders should put their primary focus. A pastor sets the tempo. Jesus gained criticism for eating with “publicans and sinners.” Be guilty of the same, add to the list by spending time with converts. Decades ago Vesta Mangun told me, “Love the elders, but invest your time and energy in the new ones.” Teach something like a Take Root class. In My Father’s House and several similar discipleship resources exist. Whether you use my Take Root or develop your own – do something to focus on the newbies!
If necessary, have someone else teach a larger group of saints while you invest energy in the face of the future.
Now some coaching! Not putting a focus on maintaining “closed set” people, will cause you to lose people. People leaving is never pleasant. It can happen. It will often happen when a pastor is working to open up a “closed set.” If it happens – bear it. Don’t talk bad about any who leave. Accept their departure as part of the process.
Connect “closed set” people with newcomers who do not fit their norm. Have lunch with two families. One family a “closed set” family, the other an “outsider” family. A meal together at Wendy’s may do more to link people than does sitting across the church from each other. Unfortunately, people tend to distrust those they’ve had no personal dealings with. Such connection has helped SpringfieldCalvary.church
Link people together through the use of structured events. What you are trying to do in breaking a “closed set” is not quick. It is uncertain. Every member of the “closed set” won’t buy in. What you are working to overcome is a sociological dynamic. Imagine moving to an area of the Amazon jungle and deciding to become part of a tribe living along the river. You’d not become part of the tribe quick – if ever. This would be true even if you knew their language. Why? Sociological factors are against you. This is also true with the “closed set” church.
Get leadership on board and GO!
You cannot glue people together, but you can velcro them. At SpringfieldCalvary.church I’ve used a breakout session provided by Pastor Galen Thompson. (Galen is a veteran church planter, pastor, daughter-church planter and educator. He is Minnesota’s North American Missions Director for the UPCI. Galen is a certified trainer who turns teaching content into training material. This is important. Training content stays with the student longer. Student application is also much more likely than from a lecture. You can contact Bro. Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org ) I will tell you more about his great exercise in a future blog. The one I used was Two Shining Moments. It worked well as part of an ongoing effort of connecting people.
Win new people and “outgrow” the sense of being a “closed set.” The bottom line is to win and disciple new people. As this happens, honor and celebrate any person’s effort to connect with newcomers in a welcoming way. What gets honored, gets repeated. When “closed set” saints have lunch with “outside the set” people find a way to mention it in an upcoming service. It is best to almost your comment an “aside.” Your honoring the action will do more to cause others to do similar things than about anything.
There are other dangers to your converts. Some while back I wrote about those who “drop the babies” in their care. Don’t Drop the Baby is a worthy read. Don’t Drop the Baby is also available as a video. Watch “Don’t Drop the Baby here!
New Convert Care matters. I’m a bit obsessed with us being more effective at it. Tell me what has worked or is working for you.
I’ve seen more “closed set” churches than experienced such. Others of you will have fought quite a battle opening the door to new people. Please share your experiences, thoughts, and ideas with us.