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How to Build Capacity | Simple Church Tools pt. 1

Updated: Apr 11

Welcome to our blog series on simple church tools to help your house church, small group, or missional community! In this blog we'll explore how to develop and enhance the skills, competencies, and resources of individuals and communities of faith. By moving beyond traditional structures and embracing collaborative approaches, we aim to foster sustainable growth and empowerment within our churches. Throughout this series, we'll dive into practical tools, biblical insights, and effective discipleship methods to cultivate environments where every member actively contributes to the love-driven growth of the body of Christ. Join us on this journey as we seek to make a difference in our simple churches.


*See the pdf worksheet at the end of this blog to fill out a MAWL table and identify the gifts you can grow in or mentor others in. There's also a shorter group discussion guide so you can work through these questions with your church.



Introduction

Capacity building is the process of developing and improving the skills and resources of organizations and communities to survive, adapt, and thrive. It can also refer to the ability of individuals and churches to effectively make and implement decisions. In the context of Ephesians 4, where it talks about equipping the saints for the work of ministry and building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), capacity building could refer to the process of developing and enhancing the skills, competencies, and resources of disciples to fulfill their roles effectively within the local church and beyond. It encapsulates the idea of fostering sustainable growth and empowerment of distributed strengths, so that no one solo heroic leader gets burned out, which often happens when we don’t build teams to their potential. Combining a teams shared competencies builds capacity sustainably.


When a group decides to be a simple expression of church, then they must intentionally choose their path and be careful how they build into it, acting their appropriate age and size. All too often we fit big church productions into our living rooms and discover that many of the legacy church problems we tried to escape have simply moved to our couches and started helping themselves to our fridge. A group the size of a food truck cannot function as a five star restaurant without facing burnout. Airbnbs don’t have the capacity of hotels, but they do have the potential to get into more nooks and crannies of society when they determine to act as Airbnbs and not hotels. That’s not to say that these different wineskins can’t work together, but they should individually realize and lean into their strengths, not trying to fit the wrong wine into the wrong wineskin.


“We tout our container [house, mega, traditional, etc.] as the one and only way to do church. We start the Container denomination and write books about Containers. Then we start a Container school. And of course we eventually franchise the product, because we are Americans! Actually, it's not the kind of container, its size or its label that counts-it's what is on the inside. And by the time we brand and sell our container, God uses a different container to accomplish His purposes!” - Larry Kreider

The following sections are titled “Word, Works, Wineskins, and Waiting”. The Word section shows that the step comes from the Word of God. The Works section shows what has worked previously for ourselves and others. The Wineskins section gives you concrete ideas, questions, and space to brainstorm how you can apply this step in your context going forward. The Waiting section involves being receptive to the spirit’s prompting in prayer.


Word

2 Cor. 13:10; 10:8; 1 Thess. 3:10 “This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority --the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down… For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it… Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”

  • In order for Paul to build up and strengthen the Corinthian and Thessalonian churches, he would have to know their needs, gifting, competencies, and how best to supply what they were lacking. Do you get the sense that Paul had a relational connection to these church families and a desire for their capacity building?

  • In order for Paul to accurately serve and equip these new churches, wouldn’t they also need a humble estimation of their ability and what they were needing Paul to help with?


Matthew 9:16-17 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

  • How can the metaphor of new wine and old wineskins guide you in understanding the importance of adapting structures and methods within a simple church setting to accommodate change and mission?

  • What "old wineskins" within your simple church might hinder the flow of "new wine" or fresh expressions of faith and ministry in building up the body of Christ?

  • What practical steps can you take to ensure your simple church remains flexible and adaptable, allowing for the continuous renewal and expansion of your capacity for ministry?


Ephesians 4:11-16 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, [APEST] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

  • Read Ephesians 4. Imagine you’ve never experienced church and that what you read in Ephesians 4 is your first and only exposure to the character of church. What conclusions or assumptions would you make about church?

  • How would you put Ephesians 4:11-16 into practice? Would you organize around it? Why or why not?

  • When you look inside a large growing company (ministry or secular), you see many critical roles such as visionary leadership, R&D, engineering, quality control, training, marketing, branding, etc. In what ways are the underlying characteristics in Ephesians 4:11 / APEST an expression of the natural roles needed for growing any organization?

  • Considering the emphasis on speaking the truth in love and growing up into Christ as the head, how can your simple church cultivate an environment where every member actively contributes to the love-driven growth and edification of the body?


It is the duty of disciples to function in a certain way in this building. What is that function? Read verses 13-16. They function to prepare others for works of service. The word “prepare” is the Greek “kartismos” which means equipping or training. It is a duty, function, and hopefully talent to “equip” people. To equip means to “supply with material necessities such as tools, gear, provisions, or furnishing . . . to supply with intellectual, emotional, or spiritual essentials.” So leaders need to give people tools to do what? They need to be able to do “works of service”. “Works” is the Greek word “ergon” which means “work, deed, action, task, occupation, undertaking”. Service is the term “diakonia” which means “ministry”. Hence they need to be equipped for their specific ministry or ministries. A second function is to work towards corporate unity in the body of christ.


Works

In my own family of churches, we have equipped the command, gifting, and ministry of evangelism. This is a good and proper focus especially in our start up phase, but we have unfortunately neglected the other ministries and gifts. To date in our movement, we have over 2,000 evangelists, roughly 300 elders/shepherds, and 80 teachers. We’re still a work in progress, building capacity! The answer is not to talk about disciple making less, but to talk about the other gifts much more. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. Evangelism is not a phase of church life. It’s the life blood of the church, but what are the other vital organs in the body? In Ephesians 4:7 we read “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.” Each and every member of the body of Christ has a gift by the grace of God. We each have a masterpiece mission to complete the good works Jesus has given us (Eph. 2:10). Yes, we need to rely on gifted persons from other churches from time to time to equip us, but this can never replace the priesthood of all believers playing their part in your local group. You are essential to the body. Within each disciple is the seed of the gospel, and the latent potential to grow the body of Christ.


  • Do you know the spiritual gifting of others in your simple church so that you can help them be successful?

  • How can you help fan into flame (2 Timothy 1:6) each others’ gifts in your church? In what ways do you need to be equipped in this? What resourcing could be helpful?

  • Have you completed a Life Language, GPS, Spiritual Gift or other assessment to better understand your typology and gifting? In my church we’ve found these assessments to be helpful in honing in our calling and communication styles so that we can better help each other be successful.

  • How can diverse giftings be leveraged effectively within your simple church setting to equip believers for ministry and foster spiritual growth, thus building capacity within the body of Christ? (asking your simple church this question will begin to determine the capacity of what your simple church is up for according to the gifts of each contributor. Next blog will be about contextualizing the rhythms and environments for these gifts to be used i.e. a Sunday potluck, a monthly service project to use hospitality, prayer evenings, etc.)


What happens if a simple church doesn’t intentionally build capacity as a team, using each others’ gifts and training disciples to maturity as seen in Ephesians 4?

“It’s not hard to grow a church. It’s just really hard to make disciples.” - Mick Woodhead

Ed Stetzer and the team at Lifeway Research have observed three magic numbers for church plants that try to get up a Sunday service as quickly as possible. Though the majority of church plants fail, combining these three factors eliminates any risk by planting “big” to ensure you’re never too small.


  • 45 If you have forty-five people in your Core Team to start the church, you have five to six times the likelihood of succeeding.

  • 2 If you have two pastors on staff [a women’s ministry director or an extra youth group intern for example] from the get-go, your chances go way up.

  • 70 If you have seventy people in your Core Team, your chances of failure are virtually non-existent.


Simple churches just starting out often have none of these resources, and certainly not the same capacity. They likely will not see the numbers that Lifeway describes, but they do have greater potential to see people discipled so well that they become mature disciples themselves. What’s the alternative for simple church success then if they can’t pull off the expected Sunday service? It’s the battle for Jesus-style discipleship, expecting everyone to be missional disciples. This takes much longer and it demands doing life together with authentic relationships. If you can make missional disciples who themselves make missional disciples, who themselves make missional disciples, well, that’s a church growth plan the way Jesus did it.


“If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples. No amount of money or ideas can replace the value of being physically present, giving time and attention to people” - Mike Breen

Simple church success then depends not on the old wineskin of photocopying a traditional church service into a new place. It depends on a community with high faith and high expectations, speaking the truth in love to build up the body of Christ. It means multiplication of disciples is the expectation from day one. Without intentionally making disciple makers, a simple church cannot build capacity beyond a small group.


“Small church syndrome is when the church is simply an overgrown small group. It will defend itself by citing the benefits of its size like intimacy, connectedness, and inclusiveness. Then the inevitable happens, the remaining entrepreneurial leaders begin to fade away. The remaining people circle the wagons and focus on their needs and expect the planter to focus on them… A small group of people can be increasingly ingrown. They will complain that the leader is spending time with others. They say that we should take better care of ourselves before going after any more people [the problem is people will always be a work in progress]. An ingrown church is content with the leader loving them and nothing more. Soon you no longer know anyone outside the church. It means the death of the mission and soon the death of the church community” - Jim Griffith

Simple churches can set themselves up for unrealistic expectations that lead to burnout if they try to copy the prevailing model of big church. They should let the mission drive the model, rather than copying a model and trying to squeeze in the mission later. For example if you find that making disciples is essential to your mission, then you will probably need a way to train people to do that, thus your model and meetings will center around that value. The form will follow the function. The plan will follow the purpose. Use the MAWL tool in the next section to dis cern the competencies and possible training opportunities of your group. Remember, future blogs will deal with meeting formats, contextualization, and who has which role, so don’t worry about that just yet.


Wineskins



If we are to equip others “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” [Eph. 4:13], then at a minimum we should consider equipping each other in the things that Jesus and Paul equipped their disciples in, using the discipleship methods they used to do it. M.A.W.L. (Model, assist, Watch, Leave /Launch) is a principle we see throughout the Gospels and Epistles, used by both Jesus and Paul to equip believers. It has been adopted in the secular business world, and is still a widely used tool for tens of millions of disciples being trained today. When tried it’s been proven successful to mature disciples, when untried it can be a good measurement to show what needs to be worked on for further training. Early on in my faith I followed this principle in learning to prayer walk, study the Bible with others, meditate with lectio divina, share the gospel, resolve conflict, write my testimony, serve communion, lead a Bible talk, have a quiet time, disciple others, preach, etc. We simply learn best by imitating those who are imitating Christ. Some of these were basic competencies that all followers of Jesus should attain to, while others were more advanced and specific to my gifting. The more that this principle is used the more we can build up one another and encourage each others’ gifting for unity and diversity in the body.


To illustrate the MAWL training cycle, remember when your parents first showed you how to ride a bike. You learned by watching them, but eventually you got on the bike and they assisted and pushed you. They weren’t meant to assist and push you forever though, and eventually they let go to watch you ride on your own. You crashed multiple times, but your parents didn’t revert to constantly assisting. Soon you balanced and gained the core competencies of starting from a stop, correcting speed, etc. and it was no longer necessary for your parents to watch or for you to only ride your bike when they were watching. If that was the case your bike riding would be greatly reduced to your parents availability! With your newly mastered skills your parents supervision was no longer required. Thus through your parents training cycle, your competency and capacity was increased.


There is a parallel process to this training cycle when it comes to making disciples and building up the body of Christ. When I first learned to study the Bible with others I watched as my discipler lead a study and I took notes. I never would have grown if I only continued to watch. After I saw him lead the study then I would lead it with him assisting and giving feedback with lots of supervision, after all I had no idea what I was doing and I made some blunders (okay, a lot of blunders). After I got the basics down, my mentor backed off and watched, just making sure I had everything I needed. Once they saw that I could also teach the skill to others, they backed off completely and set me free.



“I would suggest to you that Paul was modeling and assisting when he was with a church on the first missionary journey, or while he was in that city he was modeling and assisting. Then when he left, he entered the watch phase. So for the modeling and assisting, other than Corinth or Ephesus, the total time in any place would have been less than six months — in Corinth and Ephesus a bit longer — but then he would watch for an extended period of time — over a decade. And during that time he might come back for a repeat visit. He might send a co-worker to be with them. He would write a letter to them — that he’s staying in touch, making sure that they’re picking up what they need, but eventually he leaves.” - Curtis Sergeant

STEP 1 - MODEL

We can see this through the early chapters of Mark as Jesus leads the disciples on six fishing trips, where he did the majority of the work in Mark 1:21-2:17 or in Matthew 9:35-10, where Jesus has called His disciples and is simply modeling His ministry to them before expecting them to imitate him. He spends time explaining what he is doing to his disciples as he teaches them by 'doing'. Paul also models in 1 Corinthians 11:1, asking others to imitate him as he imitates Christ.


STEP 2 - ASSIST

This is a 50/50 leadership phase where we ask others to assist us. You are co-labouring together, sharing the load as partners. High feedback is important in this phase as well as high encouragement. We can see this in Mark 6:35-41 or Luke 9 where Jesus feeds the five thousand with the disciples assisting. We see the same assisting with Paul in 1 Thess. 3:6, as Paul sends Timothy to coach the church to health.


STEP 3 - WATCH

This is a phase, where you are sending others out to lead on their own. In John 4:1-2 Jesus watches his disciples baptize rather than doing it himself. It is important to help them prepare things and debrief with them after the experience, as seen in Luke 10 after Jesus instructs and sends out the 72 then meets up with them again to discuss the experience. They are doing it without your assistance, but they still have you as a safety net. It is crucial you relinquish control in this step, give some authority, and if need be, allow them to fail constructively. Paul entrusts Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 to entrust ministry to reliable people, doing the very tasks Paul and Timothy have modeled for them to do.


STEP 4 - LEAVE / LAUNCH

This is where you release a leader that is ready to lead without you watching. Disciples are mobilized and launched. It is essential that you encourage them to think about who they can start to 'MAWL' with, or the process will not multiply. Jesus leaves his disciples in Acts 1:7-11 as he commissions them to go to the rest of the world. Paul also leaves the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-38, commissioning them to keep watch.


Brainstorm ten or less common core competencies that are simple and reproducible (prayer, quiet time / Biblical literacy) that each member should be trained in, while also listing a few advanced specialty ministries or works that you feel called to learn or help others in (apologetics, spiritual discernment, online evangelism, worship leading, etc.). Then consider which stage of MAWL you are at in that competency.


*See the pdf worksheet at the end of this blog to fill out a MAWL table and identify the gifts you can grow in or mentor others in. There's also a shorter group discussion guide so you can work through these questions with your church.


Waiting

Set aside time in prayer to wait on the Spirit's guidance. Allow God to speak to your heart about the importance of being receptive to His leading in all aspects of capacity building within your community. Surrender your own understanding and seek God's wisdom as you strive to build up the body of Christ in love.


  1. As you pray, reflect on the concept of capacity building within your church community. Consider how God might be calling you to develop and enhance the skills of each member for the edification of the body of Christ. Ask God to reveal insights about the needs, gifts, and competencies present among you, guiding you in empowering one another.

  2. In your prayer time, explore the unique gifts and ministries within your congregation. Ask God to illuminate ways in which you can better recognize and utilize these gifts for the advancement of His kingdom. Seek His wisdom regarding the use of assessment tools and intentional training to equip each disciple for meaningful service.

  3. During prayer, contemplate the principle of modeling and assisting in discipleship, exemplified by Jesus and Paul. Seek God's guidance on how you can practically apply this principle in your efforts to equip one another for ministry. Pray for patience, discernment, and humility as you journey together, imparting and receiving essential skills and competencies.


Further Reading:

Simple Church Connectionalism (coming soon)

Simple Church Contextualization (coming soon)

Simple Church Clarity (coming soon)

Simple Church Rhythm Examples (coming soon)



Capacity building group discussion guide
.pdf
Download PDF • 93KB

Capacity building worksheet
.pdf
Download PDF • 110KB

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