Archive for the ‘Assimilation & Connection’ Category

Redefining Discipleship

Defining the win is good. But what do you do when it’s not working? A lot of churches and organizations just redefine it.

I confess to you that small groups have always kicked our butt at Oak Leaf Church. We’ve never been able to reach what we would consider an effective level, according to our standards. We’ve tried several different things, and we always think we’re “almost there,” but it’s been hard. I’m tempted to just give up, cancel them, and try something different.

I know of a couple large, influential churches who are somewhat abandoning groups as a means for discipleship. While there will surely be groups within they church, they wouldn’t be official ministries. Instead, they are redefining discipleship as serving. They are emphasizing the weekend and mobilizing their people to make the weekend happen. I think this will be a trend in new churches over the next ten years, just like groups were the trend twenty years ago.

I further confess to you that killing groups is attractive to me as a church leader. It’s simpler, gets more people involved in the bread and butter program of the church, and gets the small group monkey off my back. In a way, it takes the hardest thing we do, the thing that causes the most relational tension and staff meeting headaches, and just sweeps it away.

But something inside of me just won’t let go.

I fear that we’re willing to spend the time, money and staff to make our Internet campuses and multi-sites work because they are fun and cutting edge, while letting Biblical discipleship suffer because it’s hard to figure out.

I don’t have a problem with a church getting rid of small groups if they determine that there’s a better way to make disciples. Maybe groups need to go in favor of web-based personalized discipleship plans. Maybe groups need to go in favor of one-on-one coaching ala personal trainers at the gym. Or maybe groups need to go in favor of something else.


We may be able to cover care and community via other ministries in our church. But please don’t push back against information to the point where anything information-based is taken off the menu. Christians need to know how to study the Bible. They need to know Church History. They need to wrestle with Theology. They need Godly pastors, teachers and leaders teaching the Word.

Jesus said that we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free. How can we be set free by the truth if we never know it? The Bible is living, active and sharper than a double-edged sword, and that we should learn how to handle it correctly. Can we do this effectively if we’re simply attending a church service?

Is there a call call to not only become better Christians, but smarter Christians, with a deeper and richer understanding of the Gospel? In recent years, new churches have pushed back against classes, seminars and things that look like information transfer because we have a bedrock conviction that information without transformation is useless. That is absolutely true…information alone leads to pride and arrogance and doesn’t automatically make us better Christ followers.

We often make fun of people who want to “go deep” in their faith, but never pick up a towel of service. And rightfully so! Growing as a Christian is NOT about acquiring knowledge. But let’s not forget that Paul was educated and smart. Let’s not forget that the early Christian leaders debated and discussed heavy theological issues like the Trinity and that we stand on their works. Let’s not forget that Luther, and Calvin, and Whitfield were students of Scripture and that they are our heritage. Let’s not forget that great songwriters are often Theologians. Let’s not forget that spiritual learning doesn’t have to be academic.

The reality is that information should be the beginning point. It’s pretty hard to change without processing information. We can’t repent of sin if we are not confronted with information. We cannot understand the cross, salvation, or the church without information.

Information isn’t the end-goal, but it’s often the starting point. So instead of getting rid of anything that looks like a class, why not make those classes more effective, more interesting, more transformational. It’s not that college is bad, it’s that too many classes are boring and useless.

The important thing is that the method doesn’t matter as much as the Biblical imperative of making disciples.

Because small groups really aren’t the end goal anyway. The goal is making disciples, and that’s been the goal ever since the great commission. The win, no matter how cute our mission statements get is making disciples. We can do that without Sunday School, small groups, fog machines, and worship bands.



Everyone has a different definition these days about what assimilation actually is for their church.  For Oak Leaf Church it’s about making sure that First Time Guests eventually become Partners.  We want Partners to do two things:

1. Group: either be in a Journey Group or a Serving Group.

2. Give: financially support the mission of Oak Leaf Church.

Over the past year we have worked to get better at the process, but as you my have heard the saying, “Get on the same page…” only works if you have an actual page.  We created a page, which shows how the process should work.

Click here to take a look.

Anthony Gratto

Executive Pastor

Fellowship One

Several of you have asked what we use for data management, and I do want to recommend Fellowship One.  It’s a web-based solution that takes care of everything from simple database, to tracking membership, follow up and giving.  Here’s some thoughts and how we use it.

  • I love that it’s web based.  I can access data from any computer.  Same goes for all our staff and users.  It’s also PC and Mac friendly.  It doesn’t require any servers or networks.
  • We use the contact feature quite a bit.  When I log in, I see the contacts that are assigned to me for follow up.  When a guest visits, I get a “contact” to send them an e-mail.  When I send it, I close the contact and it’s gone from my screen.  Other users get different contacts for different things.
  • We have volunteers that log on and help us with guest calls and hand written notes.  The system allows us to give people partial access so they can help with communication but not have access to giving records and sensitive data.
  • For our first year, it cost us about $500.  Now that we’ve grown, we’ll pay about $1500 a year, but the price is well worth it.
  • All of our data is in one easily-accessible and safe place. Our different ministries don’t have excel spreadsheets with data that can’t jive with other stuff.  I cannot emphasize this enough.   It’s important to get a solution to manage the whole enchilada before you have three different systems.
  • It has a kids check in feature, but it’s web dependent.  Since we don’t have Internet access where we meet, we can’t use this feature.  But they are telling us that some of the new wireless internet cards might work, so we’ll look into that soon.

Membership Class

Last month, we did a membership class right after the second service. We had about 70 people attend. We’ve experimented with different formats, and so far, we like this one the best. Since it was right after church, we served food and provided childcare. The class is one hour.

At the class, I take about 10 minutes and tell my story and the story of how Oak Leaf started. Then I just go through the 5 G’s – the five things we want people to do.

After that, I just answer a few questions. It’s all very conversational. We give out the membership application and a card with a link to this hidden page on our website. There, people can download much more in depth information and our statement of beliefs.

Inspect the System

From time to time, a guy will pull a can of peaches off the assembly line, open it up, and test it for freshness. It’s quality control…pulling some random samples to make sure the whole operation is working smoothly.

Today, Anthony and I called ten random first time guests from the month of September to check up on ourselves. We wanted to make sure they got the phone call, the personal note and the e-mail that we sent. I wanted to be sure they knew where to go if they had questions. I wasn’t checking up on them as much as I was checking up on us.

All of the people we spoke to had the experience that we hoped for. Apparently, the system that is in effect is being carried out. I’m proud of our volunteers – because much of the system on them.
What about your systems? What quality control step can you take today to make sure you’re actually doing what you’re supposed to be doing. We need to constantly evaluate our systems and make sure they are working properly.

Volunteer Lanyards

We used to get volunteer laynards from  Now, we’ve created lanyards for each team, which are all a different color.  We just print them on nice paper on the ink-jet printer and put them in lanyard holders that we got from the office store.  Here’s a link to a zip file containing the Illustrator files.  Customize away.

What We Don’t Do Well

I think it’s best to learn from other people’s mistakes, not your own.  And while I think we do a ton of things right here at OLC, not everything is perfect.  Yes, there were 619 people that attended church last week, and we’re less than a year old.  I think our services and our kids programs are great, but we’ve still made our share of mistakes.  Here’s two big areas that are kicking our butts right now.

1.  Small Groups.  We rolled out about 10 small groups right after we launched, but we haven’t  had much success since then.  We weren’t able to keep the momentum going after we started them, and we didn’t have a workable process for starting new groups or getting new people into groups quickly.  So, we’ve been pretty much coasting here and it’s hurting us.   Strong small groups will solve a lot of problems in a church, so we’re turning up the heat here heading into the fall.

2.  Giving.  I don’t think our giving is where it should be.  I’ve got lots of reasons and thoughts, but the bottom line is that it’s hard to do ministry without money.  I’m realizing that I need to talk about it more (not using guilt but using vision).  We did a series on money a month or so ago, but I know see what Bill Hybles means when he says to hit stewardship in every series.  We’re seeing a bunch of people come to church, but it’s going to take money to move to a bigger meeting location.  So, we’re trying to tackle this problem.  Our giving is about $14 per person, and we need that to go way up in order to dominate like we want to.

Guest Follow Up

Each week, we have dozens of first time guests.  I think it is very important to follow up with these guests immediately, and in a variety of ways.  Here’s how we follow up with guests.

1.  The guest fills out a connection card.  We ask them to give us as much information as they feel comfortable sharing.

2.  The information gets entered into our database.  We use Fellowship One. The person who enters the data can assign various staff people or volunteers “contacts”

3.  I send an e-mail to everyone that provided an e-mail address.  I include a link to a short guest survey.

4.  Our Small Groups pastor personally calls every guest, usually within a day or two.  He answers any questions they might have, invites them to the next Partnership Class and lets them know about small groups.
5.  A volunteer sends a hand written note later that week just thanking them for coming and inviting them back to church.  This is a great way to involve volunteers that have an hour or two to work from home.

That’s three touches within the week.  We’re still tweaking the system so we can follow up with people later on to see if they truly got connected.

Fall Brochures

We just finished designing some new brochures that will sit on our information table. These simple brochures provide more information on the church, giving options (including the bank draft form), baptism and volunteering. We’ll print them as digital color copies from PsPrint – about $20 for 100 of them. This allows us to have nice looking brochures that go all the way to the edge of the paper without having to spend an arm and a leg for brochures. Here’s a zip file with all four brochures.


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Newcomers Event

We do a Newcomers Dinner on Sunday afternoons from 5-7 PM several times a year.  We provide food, childcare, and let people meet the staff and connect with other new people.  Then I talk about the vision, values and strategy of the church. I don’t get into beliefs and teaching stuff too much.  I always let people ask questions, and tell them I will answer anything they want to know.

We give everyone that attends the Newcomers Dinner a little 50 page book called "The Oak Leaf Way."  It’s just an overview of the strategy, values, has our statement of belief and some other stuff.  I don’t cover all this stuff live and in person, but if people want to know it, then it’s right there.

We use to print the book (very easy) and they cost us about $5 each.  I think they look pretty sharp.   Here’s a PDF of the interior content: The Oak Leaf.pdf

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