By Carl Stagner
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19 NIV). Often used to rally believers to evangelize, the Great Commission isn’t just about evangelism. Pastor Greg Sempsrott doesn’t want anyone to miss the second part of the Great Commission—the “teaching them to obey everything” part. That’s discipleship, and Pastor Greg is committed to making First Church of God in Vero Beach, Florida, a church of disciples making disciples. A figure most churches would love to call their own, First Church in Vero Beach is praising God for 50 percent small-group participation. Now they’re shooting for 60 percent, leaving many curious about their strategy.
“A lot of times we read the Great Commission and say it’s about evangelism. It is, but you can’t separate it from the discipleship element,” Greg Sempsrott, senior pastor explains. “So we’ve placed an emphasis on teaching ministry, as well as serving the community. We’ve started to write a curriculum with all of that in mind. It’s our discipleship pathway, and it explores what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
This church-wide curriculum is quite revolutionary for the church. It sets into motion four basic phases of classes. Expounding on the church’s tagline of “real truth, real life,” the church has called the first phase “Real Belonging.” Real Belonging establishes a starting point for every believer at First Church. It connects the dots for every part of the body to get engaged in the mission of the church. “We don’t apologize for the fact that we’re about studying the Bible and growing and letting it flesh out in our lives,” Greg explains. “Real Belonging is that first part.”
The second level is Real Following. Focusing on the practice of following Christ, this level of instruction covers the basics—from how to pray to how to study the Bible. The third level is Real Living, which stresses the vitality of building relationships within the body of Christ. By getting involved with small groups—called life groups at First Church—members plug in to where they can best serve and grow together.
Three quarters out of the year, the teaching theme of the worship service is expounded upon in each life group, helping to reiterate lessons from God’s Word. People come to church excited to learn because these sermon-based life groups feature a study guide for reinforcement of scriptural truths throughout the week. “We have made a concerted effort to promote two time-slots that we want every attender to participate in,” Greg explains. “The weekend service and a life group. All other ministries and programs are additional. This really communicates what we value the most—making disciples!”
But the strategy behind the church’s new curriculum doesn’t only look at the inside. By design, each life group season only lasts for one quarter. Not only does this give members the chance to get a wide range of teaching and insight, but also each life group commits to a community service project at the conclusion of the quarter. “We felt like the Lord said you’re a discipling church—to reach lost people, teach believers, and release ministers to serve,” Greg explains. “Everybody is called to be a student of the Word, and everybody is called to witness.”
On another front, Pastor Greg takes one day a week to intentionally be a spiritual leader in the community. One manifestation of this time has been his involvement in a pastors’ prayer group for the past eight years. The interdenominational prayer group has allowed the Christian community in Vero Beach to go beyond rote “unity” services and actually break down denominational, cultural, and racial barriers that once divided. Because Jesus is the subject when the pastors come together, the Christian community of Vero Beach has accomplished more than they ever could have apart.
Without a doubt, the city of Vero Beach is taking notice.
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