Church Health and Growth

The Couch to 5K Model of Christian Discipleship

Most people can run for 30 seconds at a time and each time they do, fitness, stamina and confidence grow.

If you are not a runner you probably couldn't wake up tomorrow and run 5 kilometres without stopping. You probably couldn't run for 5 minutes! Most people need to work up to a goal of this size, building fitness and stamina over time until the impossible becomes possible.

I wasn't a runner (and I still wouldn't describe myself as one!) but I learnt to run this way using the Couch to 5k app. Three times a week I would walk and run in alternating blocks. In the beginning, I did more walking than running. But over time I was running more and walking less until I was running for 30 minutes without stopping and for a total of 5 kilometres!

I've noticed that in the Christian life some of the common sermon and Bible study applications can sound a lot like the call to just "go out and run 5 kilometres." For example:

  • "Share the gospel", or
  • "Bring a friend to church."

Yes, some people can do these things easily but many find them as daunting as a 5km run. And everytime they are exhorted to do these things they can feel both guilty and discouraged.

Sidenote: One of the issues here is our preference to encourage people with the "what" but not equip them with the "how". But I'll leave that for another day.

Today I want to suggest an alternative. Instead of asking people to run for 30 minutes the first time they put on their running shoes, get them moving in just 30-second intervals. Most people can run for 30 seconds at a time and each time they do, fitness, stamina and confidence grow.

What does this look like in the church? It means identifying areas to grow, then setting smaller goals that are challenging but also achievable.

For example:

  • Hospitality. Have you never had another family over for a meal? Invite one family to lunch next month.
  • Evangelism. Do you struggle to talk about your faith? Ask one mum at school dropoff if she has a faith background.
  • Prayer. Do you avoid church prayer meetings? Attend just one this year.
  • Generosity. Have you never given financially to church? Start giving $1 a week.

Each of these is tailored to individuals and how they need to be pushed. Each of these pushes people just a little bit out of their comfort zone. Each of these requires commitment and action, but don't sound impossible.

Here are some other examples:

  1. Knock on one door.
  2. Pray for one other person when you pray for yourself.
  3. Pray with your wife for 5 minutes on Friday nights.
  4. Read (or listen to) one Christian book.
  5. Join a small group.
  6. Fast for one meal.
  7. Say hello to someone you haven't met before at church.
  8. Arrive at church on time.
  9. Serve in a (new) ministry.
  10. Memorise one Bible verse.

What do you think about the Couch to 5K model of Christian discipleship? What other examples of small steps can you suggest?