Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Happened to Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics?

We are a couple of years into the launch of the Pathway to Discipleship, our systematic effort to help believers look more to Jesus and look more like Jesus. We have learned a lot since launching the pathway including what works and what doesn’t work. Lessons we have learned have caused us to make minor and major changes within the pathway offerings and also totally change some of the components. One component in the message phase has been replaced and one component in the meeting phase, Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics, has been removed and is still awaiting replacement.

You can read more about Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics in an earlier post (Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics) but let me talk here about why we are replacing it in the pathway. The main reason that we are moving away from it is that it simply didn’t attract an audience. The course was presented as an option in the Meeting Phase of our pathway. New members were offered these options during u|connect, our new member orientation and introduction to the pathway. The two other options at this phase are Alpha and Jesus 101. Overwhelmingly, people choose Alpha and Jesus 101. Each time Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics came up on the calendar we would have just a couple of people registered. In an effort to still offer it, we would promote it in as many internal places as we could but to little avail. Also of interest was the fact that we rarely had any people who would consider themselves seekers or skeptics (which actually makes sense but more on that in a moment.)

So why do little interest? First of all, the most obvious point: we were offering a course designed for and clearly titled for “seekers and skeptics” primarily to people who had already made the decision to join the church. Let me be clear, I do believe that there are a number of “seekers and skeptics” who join the church (especially some who join with their spouses or because of their children.) However, I am not sure they self-identify and, if they do, I am not sure they cared to be labeled that way. Second, I am not sure that a population that did self-identify with the title “seeker” or “skeptic” would subject itself to a church retreat designed to convince them of the reality and relevance of Jesus. Pastor Adam Knight has done some thinking in this area (and maybe I can talk him into a guest post). He believes that this can work if there is some sort of “meta-community” such as a college campus. I will say that we didn’t push too far down this road. At some point, even if we could find a population attracted to this offering, it likely wouldn’t be the audience we designed the pathway for, people who have made the decision to become part of the church.

So where does this leave us? We believe a third offering in the Meeting Phase of the pathway is important. The question will be, “to immerse or not to immerse?” We have a clearer understanding of the people we are hoping to reach. We have to try to understand whether an immersion event is an attractive model for them. Some of the people early in their walk with the church (or this church) are still struggling with the level of commitment they will offer. A two-day immersion event sounds like less commitment than a ten week course but that may be a false comparison. If you are new to an organization, the 10 week course is actually less of an upfront commitment. When you sign up you are actually committing to show up for the first session. If it isn’t what you expected, you can always drop. When you show up at a hotel or camp for a two-day immersion event, you are putting a little bit more on the line.

We are still praying and thinking it through. We will let you know what we come up with. Thoughts and insights are always welcome.



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