I feel honour bound to contribute a brief appraisal of how the SEAN materials continue to be useful at a local church level. Why I believe this is a valid observation is that we, as many fast growing churches in our sector of Santiago de Chile, have had to deal with the issues of cell multiplication, leadership training, home groups, new believers’ initial discipleship in a non rigid way. Let me comment:
One of the most crucial problems facing a church that is very active in evangelism is that of what out here is known as “Consolidation”. It is more than just discipling of believers. It involves the entire movement from the initial appearance in church to the settling into an Initial Discipling group. Here there needs to be relevant literature in the receiving worship service in church (SEAN “How can I get to know God?”) and trained workers. There ensues a lot of coming and going at the next stage, the Initial Discipling group. This group needs to be an “open” group rather than a closed group. We have found it best at this stage to have an 8 week programme based on the Bible Encounter Manual (BEM) rather than Abundant Life. Once the BEM group settles down, it can follow on with the rather more closed Abundant Life group. When we say “rather more closed”, we refer to the characteristic of practically all other SEAN courses, namely that once the group starts it is virtually impossible to add new members. The group can only decrease in size and membership. This is a crucial point to bear in mind in the production of future materials as we may need to develop more that enables “open” groups to get off the ground. “Abundant Life” is not completely “closed” because we have found it is possible to incorporate new members although this is not an ideal scenario.
Once the “Abundant Life” group gets going, a whole new panorama kicks into gear. A typical cell structure, so vital to fast growing churches, becomes perfectly operational. Community is developed, Bible teaching is introduced, and the flexible life/oriented teaching in the course is ideal for this stage of the new believer’s life. We have never found cause to reject Abundant Life even though we work with educated middle class people. It is easy and people find they can do the homework quickly. It provides a platform for the real objective, the live teaching and prayer experience.
Secondary Discipling, Cell and the Compendium
We have now decided that we were wasting time trying to provide a dual system combining cell home groups with the BEM and the Compendium. We were influenced by the teaching that somehow serious Bible study is not quite life discipling, so we asked our members to attend both types of groups on alternate weeks. We noticed that as time wore on they would tend to opt out of one of the two. The vast majority stayed with their SEAN Compendium study groups. As of this year WE HAVE DECIDED TO DO ALL OUR SECONDARY DISCIPLING WITH THE SEAN MATTHEW COMPENDIUM. There is simply no reason why life discipling (How to intercede, do spiritual battle, come through on marriage and family problems, enter ministry experience, etc.) cannot be taught via the Compendium. This will normally involve three years or so of teaching together in the group. Even though these are closed groups, at this level of church life, people want it to be so. So where does the Bible Encounter Manual fit in now?
Again, our experience has taught us that growth structures will be crucially affected by church policy in this area. Once the Compendium is finished, we need to be preparing new leaders. Well prepared Leadership Courses, planned into the church curriculum, will produce the future leaders who will multiply the church’s ministry, cells, future church plants. Although our Dioceses forces us to use the Moore College courses at this level, I see no reason why the other SEAN courses cannot form a base for specialist leadership training. Paul’s letters, the Pentateuch, and one we pioneered personally in La Trinidad “The Letter to the Hebrews”, can form such a base. Here is where good training in the use of the BEM can be very useful. Leaders can all be trained in how to develop Initial Discipling groups in their homes. Without going as far as the G12 pattern (although nothing would prevent excellent use of the BEM in that scenario), flexible, open cell groups can be developed by the trained leaders. These can take turns, then, in a Welcome Group Programme, where they greet the new people in the service and CONOSLIDTATE them, either into the central church Initial Discipling group, or, in a multiplying set up, take them to their own new cells (after the G12 style) using the BEM. Very fast growth can be achieved with this disciplined use of the BEM.
The Train and Multiply can later serve in a context of more specialised leadership training, one to one, with a view to church planting.
We observe, then, as our local church is again reaching the 800 mark, after planting two new churches, that the SEAN materials provide an all inclusive and encompassing programme for church growth.