Church planter Jeff Gauss was concerned. He was observing that the very people he was trying to attract to his church were unintentionally being made to feel excluded or inferior. “There was this barrier for our un-churched people who would come in to a small group and they felt like a total tool because they didn’t know the Scriptures. Other people were talking about all these things, and they’re like arghhh! I have no idea what they’re talking about!”
How do you assimilate people of diverse spiritual backgrounds? Getting everyone “on the same page” is a great assimilation strategy
How do you catch up the newbies without boring the experts? Enter The Story. For Epiphany Station, in its second year of existence, Gauss says The Story was the best thing that could have happened to them. “Oh, yeah, The Story was huge. The best thing about The Story for us was that it didn’t matter whether somebody had no church background, no previous history with Scripture, or if they’d grown up in the church ~ everybody learned together. People who grew up in the church were like, wow, I never understood how that went together! And, of course, it was all new to people that didn’t grow up in the church, and it was really remarkable for them to see there’s a central theme of redemption throughout The Story.”
Start with the Bible. The Story is an all-ages church-wide experience based on a book of Scriptures called The Story, where the storyline portions of Scripture are arranged sequentially, in the order in which they took place in history. Reading the Bible in this format makes the Scriptures accessible and non-threatening for the unchurched, while still eye-opening for seasoned Bible readers. According to Gauss, “The Story is a great tool that gets everybody on the same page and going in the same direction, whether they are completely un-churched, or grew up in the church. It puts everybody at the same access point, with the same foundation.”
Establish a common foundation. “There aren’t very many churches now who have the luxury of being able to assume that every person in their church knows a certain base knowledge,” says Stephanie Moore, Minister of Spiritual Formation at Ten Mile Christian Church in Meridian, Idaho. When it comes to assimilation, she believes is it important to establish a baseline, where everyone in the church shares a common knowledge about what we believe and why. So at Ten Mile Christian, as well as at Epiphany Station, they followed The Story with Believe, another 30-week all-ages aligned-learning Bible engagement experience, in order to establish that baseline of common understanding.
Moore says, “We want to be able to assume you grasp a foundational knowledge about the main message of the whole Bible, which you get through The Story, as well as key concepts about who Jesus is and how he leads us, which you get with Believe. Now, we’ll be able to assume our current congregation has that foundation, so our task from here forward is to transfer that baseline of knowledge to new people.”
Assimilate the new people. The way some churches are giving new people the baseline of knowledge is to establish a perpetual Story group where new believers and new members are placed when they come to the church. They might enter into the study at chapter 11, stay until it cycles back around to chapter 10, then they graduate and move to a neighborhood small group. This experience gives them the equivalent of a Bible survey course. With the introduction of Believe in 2015, many churches are adding a second option to their assimilation and discipleship strategy by offering perpetual Believe groups that teach the 10 core beliefs, 10 primary practices and 10 key virtues of the Christian faith. This is the equivalent of a systematic theology or spiritual formation theology course, and is a great platform for teaching newcomers what we believe and why.
At Epiphany Station, Pastor Jeff Gauss is transitioning away to plant his third church, and his successor is planning to lead the church through The Story again, after they did Believe last year. Gauss says, “The Story and Believe brought everybody together on the same spiritual journey so people who didn’t have a strong church background felt like they were learning along with those who did. Everyone felt welcome and included, which was probably the most important aspect of The Story and Believe for our church.”
To learn more about THE STORY, click here
To learn more about BELIEVE, click here
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Special thanks to Shelley Leith, Director of Church Relations for Zondervan Publishing, for providing this post. We greatly appreciate your support!!