Needed: Offline TrainingBy Dan Vis
September 16, 2021
This month, we're continuing our emphasis on the importance of the local church, with a post on the urgent need for more live, face to face discipleship training in our congregations. I've only shared this once before--but it deserves broad circulation. Please give it a careful read!
FAST began as a personal effort to share the basic skills of discipleship with a few friends. I had gotten some great help early on, and was eager to share what little I knew. It started in a small SS class in the little church I was baptized in. Because there were no other rooms available, we had to squeeze into a tiny mother's room!
At the time, the internet was a largely unknown tool used primarily by academics. The world wide web as we know it today did not even exist.
The Lord blessed, and in time we gradually started sharing our study guides with others. Groups started up in churches all over the country, and we were soon expanding into other countries and languages. Everywhere it seemed, there was a hunger for practical, nuts and bolts discipleship training.
During that time, the internet grew up too. Like many others, we put up a website to help us distribute resources and provide support to team leaders. Today, our site runs on our own software platform, offering numerous tools and resources, and is home to thousands of members and scores of churches. Many access our site daily for study, memorization, and fellowship.
In many ways, FAST and the internet grew up together.
While I'm thankful for this growth, I sometimes worry about drifting from our roots. Our world has definitely changed, but the need for face to face discipleship training has not. Our passion to provide the best training we can to believers via the internet, must not be allowed to weaken our emphasis on the need for small group, face to face, training classes in local churches. While we live in an online world, we desperately need offline training!
The Face to Face AdvantageWhy do we need offline training? A quick look at the life of Jesus suggests the model of using a small group as the primary training environment. And at the end of His training, He gave them clear instructions to follow that same model: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.).
Granted, there was no internet in His day. And were Jesus here on earth today, I suspect He would use any technology that enhanced His ministry. But there are several real advantages of meeting face to face:
- Access. Not everyone has a computer or smart phone. And many who do, don't spend a lot of time online. If we want to reach every person possible in our church, we need to provide other options.
- Consistency. While some have that inner determination to set a goal and stick with it, what we often notice at FAST is people are active for awhile, then fizzle out for a time. It's an on again, off again pattern. With a regular weekly meeting, it's easier to stay consistent.
- Accountability. There's an inherent lack of accountability to internet training. I may send an automated reminder or two if I don't see you for a few weeks, but that's a poor comparison to getting with a partner every week to check off your weekly objectives and quote your verses!
- Support. It can feel lonely if you are doing training online all by yourself. In a small group however, members can encourage, pray for, and support one another. And that support can continue even after the group ends as you see each other at church week after week.
- Balance. We all have strengths and weaknesses. In online training, we'll tend to gravitate toward areas that come easy. But in a small group, different participants will emphasize the benefits of different areas. And as a result, all learn more together. That's just how the body works.
- Relationships. Ultimately, the quality of your relationship with those you train will largely determine the effectiveness of your training. There's a certain superficiality to online relationships. But in our local discipleship teams, we see amazing, life-changing friendships form every year.
You can probably think of other advantages to meeting in a small group with real people in your church. But in summary, that is the purpose of your church: to be a training center for Christian workers. And if that is its purpose, it makes sense that training should be done there.
How to Start a FAST TeamSo how do you start an offline FAST team in your local church? In today's module I'll give the exact steps:
The first step in starting a team is to share your vision with one or more people and ask them to join you in leading a group. Running a discipleship team is different from teaching a class, and having one or more assistants to help with the group is vitally important.
In my church, we usually had 3 or more leaders working together in each team. "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour... and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. . . . And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.). There are several reasons for this. One is that having a team of leaders will lighten your load in providing support to each team participant. Another is that it can help in recruiting members. Each leader can tap into their own network of friends.
Note that you do not have to be FAST graduate to help lead a team. Our tools are easy to use if you follow our instructions closely. But leaders should have a vision for making disciples. If you cannot find other leaders to join you, it might be better to simply go through the lessons with two or three friends first. Then once they are trained, they can assist you in leading a larger team.
Select a Time & Place
Next you will need to consider where and when you will meet. In our experience, the best option is to create a special SS class for your discipleship training. Some churches choose to use midweek prayer meeting for training, others do training in small groups that meet at other times in member homes. But people are busy, and it is difficult to get them to come together outside the regular weekly worship service. Plus you have the added advantage that child care is usually available through the various children's programs.
It takes about 8-9 months to go through our main discipleship track, and you will need to set aside between an hour to an hour and 15 minutes for each meeting. We usually started in August and went through May to avoid the disruption of summer vacations. We also allowed class members to skip the opening SS exercises to give them a little extra time for training. You can try a different time and location, but you do need to put together a detailed plan.
Next, schedule a time for you and your leaders to discuss the program with the pastor, church board, or SS Council, as most appropriate, and secure approval for the course. Discipleship training works best in the context of a supportive church family. That support should include a meeting room for the team, and funds for materials. If your church is registered as a FAST Training Center, there are no additional costs for training other than making copies, and purchasing a few verse packs and cards. Everything else is included.
If for some reason you cannot secure consent, you can always resort to small study groups that meet in homes. But remember, the ultimate goal is to see the church develop a vision for disciple-making. Work to overcome any obstacles, and do your best to work cooperatively with local church leadership. It's difficult to have healthy discipleship training, without healthy church relationships.
Prepare the Leaders
Once you have approval, the leaders should start preparing themselves. In the Training Center area, there is a complete library of teacher resources, in the area marked "Teacher Tools". There, you will find our Certification Manual which gives you step by step, detailed instructions, for every facet of the course. There is also a link to our full Discipleship Pack, which includes our entire training curriculum. Grab these and start familiarizing yourself with them.
The instructions explain exactly how to promote the class, conduct the initial orientation meeting, and guide your group through each lesson, quiz, exam, and booklet--all the way down to the dedication ceremony at the end of the course. We recommend following these suggestions as closely as possible, until you have led a successful team or two, and fully understand the reasons for each suggestion.
The fact is, leading a discipleship team is very different from leading a regular SS class. It will require you to shift from teaching to training. You will have to build a high level of commitment, and maintain motivation for a sustained period of time. The goal is not just to impart information, but to teach skills--and to build those skills into the lives of each participant. You won't get different outcomes, until you start doing things different.
FREE Gift!Once your class is approved, how do you get people to sign up? Here's a handy checklist of 13 creative ways to invite people to join your next training event. And it's FREE to members...
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The Role of Online TrainingAll of this is not to say there is not a place for online training. While face to face small groups meetings in the SS of your local church is the ideal environment for disciple-making, it can be supplemented by online resources. Not only can we disseminate lessons, teacher tips, certificates, printable forms and all the rest more efficiently, but we can provide supplemental training and support for both team leaders and team participants.
Leaders, for example, should take our Lost Art of Disciple-Making class before launching their first group for a quick overview of the whole training process. And if your church is a training center, we have step by step teacher tips for every single lesson in our discipleship track. Generally speaking, the more a leader learns from FAST, the more effective they will be at teaching our core curriculum. In many ways we see our role as training the trainer.
But we can also help participants. We have advanced training on almost every aspect of our core curriculum for those who want to dig deeper. Participants can also greatly enrich what they study in your group, by interacting with students from around the world. And our coaches are available to answer questions via our Help Hotline any time they get stuck or stumble across something that is not clear.
But online training should be thought of as a way to supplement face to face training, rather than being seen as a replacement for it. Our primary focus must always be investing in friends, person to person. And preferably in the context of a SS class in your local church.
ConclusionThroughout the month of June we will be focusing on the importance of making disciples. We'll be talking about it in our Monday Memo's, and in our featured class. But the bottom line is this: without creating space in our busy church schedules for real discipling to take place offline, all the best online tools in the world will never transform your church into a training center.
In my church, the first things we did was start a discipleship class. My wife and I led the first group. Then each year after, for 7 years in a row, graduates from the preceding year helped lead each new class. When we moved to North Dakota, we were literally watching our great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren being trained! Scores of members were discipled, many of them took the program more than once, and many of them went on to serve as leaders. Through it all, our church nearly tripled in attendance and we grew a band of highly dedicated, spiritual leaders.
The same can happen in your church. But you will have to do it offline.
CommentsDoes your church have a specific class devoted to discipleship training? If not, what would it take to get a class like that started? Is God possibly calling you to help lead a group?
|Posted by Sherry Olson on 09/16/21|
|No, our church does not have a discipleship training class. I have wanted to be able to do this for a long time. And I do better better with the offline training. Like Denise, I would much rather do things with printed material and a face to face setting.
I am going to share this article with my Pastor, he has just started a prayer meeting at our church so I am hoping that perhaps we can use the people attending the prayer meeting to start this class??
I claim God's promise in Deuteronomy 31:8And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed. for this endeavor!!
"And the LORD, He it is doth go before thee. He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, be not dismayed." (Did I get that word for word? :) Have a blessed day!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/26/21|
|Amen Valerie! And I like to remind myself we only need a single "ram in the thicket" to get started. :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/17/21|
|Sorry you have not been able to find people willing to grow and study with you Denise. We do recommend starting with The Buddy System in cases where we are unable to get a team motivated. Maybe the Lord can use you to find one interested person. Keep praying! :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/17/21|
|Yes Colette, I forgot I did use some of this in Magnetic Church! Probably can't put it in enough places though. For many years, this is the only thing we did at FAST, and I feel it still really needs to stay at the core... :)
But you are probably right that the pandemic is still interfering in many places. We just started a large Survival Kit team in my local church and after two weeks had a massive covid outbreak--so big we're canceling church for a few weeks. Now I'm trying to figure out how to proceed, as almost none of these members are active online. Personally, I think it was just an attack of the enemy. Your suggestions are all good, though there's nothing quite like the small group dynamic--as that's typically where revival first breaks out. So we keep pressing forward...
There are definitely people doing well on video conferencing platforms Georgia, so that's an option. We started our group during prayer meeting as we were room limited and have a fairly small church too. In small churches that aren't big enough for more than one SS class, I recommend finding another time for FAST. Even in my big church in Illinois, we were always scrambling to keep our kids divisions covered so people could do our training. It was amazing to see FAST graduates volunteer to fill in for 8 months, or whatever so a friend could join the next session. Note too, we're also, hopefully, going to be introducing resources for a correspondence school system which might work really well in some churches... We'll see!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 06/26/18|
|Sounds like a great idea Rebecca. For years most of our groups met outside of regular church times. Works just fine. :)
Carole, you were mentioned in the comment below.
|Posted by Carole Bliss on 06/13/18|
|I will be sure and pass your message on the Pastor Ron.
He is a favorite of mine, also.
God bless your ministry.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 06/13/18|
|Yes Carole, I know Pastor Schultz very well. He was one of my favorite pastors in Illinois. You were blessed to have him all those years. Next time you talk to him, please say hello for me!|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 06/11/18|
|Yes, that was Carlos. He was one of our first leaders at North Aurora. An all around great guy. Didn't know you went to Hinsdale Carole! Too bad we didn't get better acquainted before we left Illinois. :)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 06/04/18|
|No problem John. Just know we are here. The first step in most cases, after prayer, is to find 1-2 others to join with you in the venture. It's too big to do by yourself. :)|
|Posted by Denice on 06/02/18|
|Thank you Dan for your commitment to helping us with training programs.
I’ve now been able to get permission to implement this started in our personal ministries program.
Praise God for answered prayer.
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