Recently, God called a very popular pastor from our staff to start a new church. When it was announced, our people responded with excitement and cheers. I was sure his departure would cause our attendance to plunge, but it didn’t. I think I know the reason why, and that’s what I want to tell you in this article.
As I came to the office today, I walked by 10 young adults on our campus picking up trash, pulling weeds, and trimming trees. I could not help but smile because they exuded joy in the midst of such rigorous work.
These young people were not sentenced to community service, nor are they paid workers. Most of these young people recently made the decision to follow Christ and are learning the basics of Christianity. They have enlisted in Basic Training; a rigorous three-month program that requires trainees to read and memorize Scripture, build relationships, and serve in all areas of the church. If they complete the program, they will never be “pew warmers”—they will understand the importance of accountability and community and know what it means to “abide in Christ.”
This program has become a vital part of growing our volunteer force and growing our members in their walk with Christ. What if this program were not unique to Crossroads, but all churches were filled with Basic Training graduates? I’ll tell you what would happen . . . the gates of Hell would be trampled!
The Big Idea
Dan Pierce, one of our executive pastors and the mastermind behind this Basic Training program, wanted to raise the bar of expectation for the average churchgoer. In a megachurch, it is easy for the attendee to get stuck in a mediocre, boring, selfish walk with the Lord. He or she comes to church, drops the kids off at the children’s ministry, takes a seat in the auditorium, puts a couple bucks in the offering plate, listens to the message, and leaves early to beat the line to pick up the kids.
How can these people claim to know Jesus and yet miss that he was all about serving? The average churchgoer is missing out on the magnificence of life with Christ! His eyes need to be opened to the beauty of contributing rather than always consuming—to a servant mind-set and not an entitlement mind-set. I believe Basic Training helps the megachurch to stop producing such “pew-warming,” average Christians.
The Basics of Basic Training (Head, Heart, Hands)
The philosophy behind Basic Training is to move people from head and heart knowledge of Christ into real action. People are referred to the program immediately after they make a decision for Christ. Introducing people to the training and involving them in it before they have time to become complacent and “average” is critical to the program’s success. Each person is placed with an instructor who leads groups of seven in a three-month training program. The training consists of memorizing John 15, reading the Word and journaling daily, participating in community group discussions, and most importantly, serving weekly in every area of the church.
Each trainee experiences every ministry, is trained in every ministry, understands the manpower that it takes to run each ministry, and discovers his or her personal passion and gifting. If the person meets all the requirements after three months, he or she graduates from the program and is placed in a permanent serving position.
Benefits for the Believer
Every new believer needs accountability, community, spiritual education, and direction. Basic Training provides those elements. It immediately plugs in the new believer to a situation where he has accountability and community. Each member of the group, including the instructor, holds the others accountable for daily Scripture reading and memorization. Group members form strong friendships as they “serve alongside each other in the trenches.” They discover an instant family with whom to share life.
Ministry staff members have learned people are more likely to serve if they understand the why. In Basic Training we teach that we serve because Jesus served. He came not to be served but rather to serve others. As the participants learn this truth, they put it into action and understand clearly why Jesus called us to be servants of all.
People often are directed to take a spiritual gifts test to find out where they should serve. I believe people can get a more accurate idea of their gifting when they actually serve in all areas of the church. This provides them with the opportunity to see all of the spiritual gifts in action and determine where they shine. Basic Training has helped us direct people to the area of ministry they enjoy most.
Not for Everyone
Who wants a lousy, unreliable, prideful volunteer? No one. The beauty of Basic Training is it reveals the depths of the heart. The challenging requirements prove too rigorous for some. We average four graduates per seven-person group, but we are not disheartened by that statistic. We want our church to be made up of those who are wholeheartedly committed to Christ.
Graduates of the program prove their heart truly belongs to Jesus and that they are willing to serve him. Graduates leave Basic Training with a sense of accomplishment and with a huge investment in Crossroads.
Those who do not complete the program are loved and encouraged, but will not be asked to serve in a ministry until they complete the program. The benefit for the church is it ensures our ministries are run by committed, faithful, and excellent volunteers. It also fills the church with people who have an appreciation for all the ministries in the church and are less likely to complain, for they have seen all the behind-the-scenes work that takes place in a church.
Basic Training has saved us numerous times in our children’s ministry area at Sunday and midweek services. When children’s volunteers cannot make it, we have a team of people on hand who are trained to take their position. Our children love the volunteers because they have such joy! This also allows our children’s pastor to concentrate on his area with the peace of knowing the ministry is always covered when it comes to volunteers.
An elderly lady came up to me one Sunday in tears because she was overwhelmed with gratitude for our Basic Training men and women. A few weeks earlier she was informed she would have to move out of her house. She was distraught because there was no one to help her move and she didn’t have the means to hire a moving company.
Our Basic Training instructors heard about her situation and showed up at her house to help her move. Later that day she went back to her former house to do some cleanup and found it spotless! Then, when she returned to her new home, she found it organized and ready for her. Volunteers even set up and made her bed so she could relax and enjoy her first night in her new home. She asked me where I found such giving young people.
While serving alongside our facilities team in the Basic Training program, Lieu Nguyen, noticed that the women’s restrooms were a prime place to minister to women. She was seeing many women in the restrooms crying during the church service. It was their escape when feeling convicted or emotionally distraught, and Lieu became their angel of mercy. She found her gifting and passion there!
There are countless stories of how God has used Basic Training to touch lives at Crossroads. It is a powerful tool that changes people’s hearts. Its effectiveness was never more apparent than when one of our popular pastors left to plant a church. I was preparing for our attendance to slip, but it never did. It wasn’t because that pastor wasn’t loved; it was because people are deeply invested in and connected to Crossroads.
Crossroads has been transformed by more than 300 graduates of Basic Training who now are passionately serving in every area of ministry. They have learned the secret of serving over being served.
Chuck Booher is senior pastor with Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, California.