Gregg Farah on Igniting New Discipleship Models in Established Churches


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gregg_webGregg Farah is the Discipleship Pastor at Shelter Rock Church in New York. On today’s show Gregg takes us into the trenches of providing discipleship opportunities that connect with people in today’s fast paced culture. Listen in as Gregg talks us through the work he’s been doing at Shelter Rock … a 50 year old church … to infuse new discipleship energy into this established church.

Gregg Farah // [Gregg’s Website] [twitter]

Interview Highlights

01:31 // History of Shelter Rock

02:20 // New Role at Shelter Rock: Discipleship Pastor

02:36 // The question every pastor asks

03:50 // Evidence of needed change: Complacency

05:14 // Gregg’s explains the three traits of a disciple

05:20 // Shelter Rock’s 3 types of faith

06:14 // Gregg explains a private faith

07:55 // Gregg explains a public faith

08:15 // Gregg explains a seeking faith

09:23 // 3 things Shelter Rock is doing to promote spiritual disciplines

10:30 // Shelter Rock’s version of the Navigators ministry wheel

11:35 // Tackling the assimilation struggle

 14:00 // “Everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.”

18:00 // Group Leader reporting through CCB

19:50 // Randy Frazee:  37 Traits of a follower of Jesus

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Online Resource // ministrybriefing.tv

Books That are Having an Impact //  “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley

Inspiring Ministries // South Mountain Community Church

Inspiring Leader // Chuck Swindoll

What does he do for fun? // Reading, movies, running trails on Long Island

Check This Out /6 Ways to Use Social Media to Encourage Discipleship In Your Church


Interview Transcript //

Rich – Well we’re in for a real treat today.  We’ve got Gregg Farah on the unSeminary podcast.  Gregg is a new friend.  Somebody I’ve met over the last year or so and he is a pastor at Shelter Rock Church in Long Island, NY.  Now I hope it’s ok that someone from Long Island is talking to someone from Jersey.  I hope that doesn’t cause too many problems today Gregg.

Gregg – Nah, we’ll be good, we are nice to Jersey people.

Rich – Ya, we’re first brother’s in Christ and so we’ll be OK.

Gregg – That’s a good reminder, I needed that.

Rich – Why don’t you tell us a little about Shelter Rock.  Tell us about your church.

Gregg – Sure.  Shelter Rock is actually about 50 years old and started in a community called Manhaset which is maybe like 20 minutes outside of NYC so a real commuter village.   About 7, 8 years ago Shelter Rock ran out of space and had the opportunity to connect with a church about 1/2 hour further east of the island and so we started a second campus that’s in Syosset.  We are a multi-campus church looking to start at 3rd if we can find the right location.  That’s a quick overview.  Probably between the two campuses there are probably 1000 adults there each Sunday.

Rich – Nice.  And what’s your role at Shelter Rock?

Gregg – I am currently serving as the Discipleship Pastor so both from the spiritual growth components, but then also assimilation type processes….helping people connect.

Rich – I know a lot of church struggle with discipleship.  It’s the kind of thing that hey our people might be coming to our church but if we were to be honest, every pastor has sat back and either in their office, or had that late night, lying in bed wondering, is anyone actually growing in their relationship with Jesus at our church.  Have you ever faced that? What’s that been like for you guys at Shelter Rock?

Gregg – Oh ya.  I mean that’s a question that we had long been asking.  My position, this is the second year I have been serving in this role.   I was doing student ministry previously, but my position was created for that reason.  We kept asking the question, ‘Is anyone growing?’.  Sure we could point to people who were growing but there were far too many folks that we felt like they were just coming in, and going out, and there was no significant life change.  And we weren’t offering them a strategy, an opportunity, a way to do that and so my position was created and here we are.

Rich – Now what were some of the evidences, things that kind of happened or stuff you noticed as a leadership team that gave you the evidence to say ‘we’ve got to change something here.’

Gregg –  I think just complacency, we felt a sense of complacency over all.  Again, there were certainly wonderful things that were happening that there were far to many people that were comfortable.  And then we just looked in the mirror and recognized we are not doing our job.  We are putting together a great service and we’ve got all kinds of opportunities for people to do things but there’s no real strategy behind, no real impostes to get people to move.  We’re not helping.  We looked in the mirror and we looked in the congregation.

Rich – So what were some of those first changes you made, or first steps you took towards being the kind of church that helps people take steps towards Jesus.

Gregg – Well the first was we want to make disciples so what are we talking about.  We’ve got a great slogan about connecting people and helping people love the Lord but what does that really mean, and so we defined a disciple for us. Our mission statement is to lead as many people as possible into a joyful and growing relationship with Jesus.  But what does that mean.  So, we said OK.  A disciple has three traits, it’s someone who loves and lives for God.  It’s someone who cares for and connects with others inside the church.  And it’s someone who invests in and invites someone outside the church.  So those 3 characteristics.  There’s our bullseye.  Now we have something to start with.

Rich – Ah ya, that’s very good.  What have you done around each…first of all that’s some great language there…I’m sure there are people pausing now, oh back it up, to hear that again…But what have you done in each of those areas to encourage discipleship?

Gregg – Well I will answer that but for us taking a next step it was what’s the strategy to be able to do that.  So we really identified, there’s three kinds of faith that people have in that pursuit to love and live for God, care and connect, invest and invite.  And we said ok there’s a private faith, where really it’s you and God.  This is where we develop the habits to become more like Jesus.  Then there’s a public faith.  This is you and a friend. This is where you can commit to a community of believers.  And finally there’s a seeking faith which is you and a question.  Where we encourage people to pursue answers to spiritual questions.  I think that’s one area that we are afraid of as believers and as a leadership is to encourage questions, because we fear, ‘oh know, people might think I am not spiritual enough.’  When in reality, we need to ask questions, whether we’re a not yet believer, a new believer,  we should always be at a place where we want to know more about God, we want to know how to connect others to God.  So that being said, You and God, You and a friend, You and a question…three types of faith.  So what we did with the You and God, private faith, we introduced spiritual disciplines.  This is what it means to connect with God by yourself, whether you’re at home getting up early, you’re at home taking a jog, you’re commuting to and from work.  You can connect with God, you can fill that time strategically and constructively.  Interrupt me a any point.

Rich – No this is good, keep going.

Gregg – The you and a friend, public faith, this is the Care and Connect component.  Or for us the primary strategy is our Community Groups.  And we also have a mid-week Bible Study, we also have a mid-week prayer service.  So we’re saying we want you to connect, we want you to be known outside the large group.  So that was our larger strategy there.  And then for the seeking faith, the You and a Question, or really the Invest and Invite we talked about Alpha.  We have Alpha that’s been a growing ministry for us.  And also connecting that back into the spiritual disciplines, are you investing in relationships with folks outside the church.  We talk about asking what’s the next question in that relationship?  Which is not always, ‘Are you ready to accept Jesus?”  The next appropriate question is ” Do you want to have dinner with me and my family?  So that’s a broad brush stroke over those areas.

Rich – No that’s very good.  Now what have you done, kind of backing up on the spiritual disciplines piece, that’s the part that, I know at our church the last couple years we have kind of been doing these campaigns, these 40 day campaigns to try and help people take one spiritual discipline around fasting and try to focus on that.  But what have you been doing to encourage your people to take steps closer in their spiritual disciplines.

Gregg – There are three things.  One, at the macro level in terms of a church wide movement and such, in January we are going to do a year long read through the Bible campaign.  So that’s going to be our Sunday teaching will encourage that, we will encourage dialogue on that in Community Groups, and we will have a reading and journalling plan etc.  So that will be that.  But then bringing it down, we encourage people to take a class, a spiritual growth class that we call Connect.  It’s really part of our membership process.  We have three C’s – Celebrate, Connect and Continue.  The Connect is the spiritual growth component.  Kind of the 201 from the baseball diamond model. And that is just where we say here is an illustrations which is, basically we adapted the Navigators ministry wheel…Christ is the center and the rim is our faith in action, and instead of the 4 spokes we have 6 different spokes of this wheel and each of these is a habit to develop.  And so we talk about each of those and offer resources for each of those.  And then the third component would be our Community Groups.  That we are regularly talking about “hey what are you, besides the curriculum, the content that we are going through here, what’s going on? What are you hearing from God? How do you see God working?  If that’s a complete void in your life let’s be honest and let’s pray so we can encourage you in that.”  Those are three ways.

Rich – Alright, cool.  Now just a bit of a sidebar on the community groups, I know a lot of churches struggle with actually getting people into community groups.  What is your process, at the 20 000 feet level, for moving people from Sunday into Community Groups.

Gregg – Well you can add us to your list of those who struggle.  We decided to offer essentially trimesters, basically of the 4 quarters of the year, we offer Community Groups 3 times.  Not during the summer.  We have a big push in the fall, a big push in the new year, and a big push right after Easter. So we decided to do it that way, so we are ringing that bell a number of different times a year.  Hey, this is important, this is a value, and for weeks leading up to it we have inserts, here’s a variety of different groups that are taking place.  In our messages we encourage our teaching pastors to talk about their community group. “Hey, here’s something that we talked about this week.  This question was raised in our Community Group.”  That type of thing. But then I’d say the other piece, on the other side of it, we’ve just tried to do a better job of coaching and encouraging our leaders.  There’s more of a template so to speak of what we are looking for in our groups. And as we find a disciple, this year we’ve defined these are the traits, the characteristics of a healthy Community Group leader.  And so, about quarterly, we will gather the troops together and review one of those.  So we are trying to improve them from the inside as well.

Rich – Nice.  Ok now obviously you have been making some shifts here on the discipleship side of the equation at Shelter Rock.  What have you done to try and get buy in of the leaders?  How’s that process gone?

Gregg – For me I would say there are two levels.  There’s our staff leaders and then there’s our ministry leaders.  You would kind of hope there would just be one group, the ministry leaders.  But for us, because this is brand new we’re still creating buy in amongst the staff.  In theory everyone thinks this is great.

Rich – Who’s against discipling people?

Gregg – That’s right.  Exactly.  But the reality is, because we haven’t done anything strategically, everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes, and so they’ve had their own system.  So we have been working hard to say, we really want to be stacking hands here, speaking the same language.  So for me I’ve just been encouraging staff wide, about a month ago I actually sent our an email to our pastors: Quick Quiz; who can define what a disciple is at Shelter Rock Church? So we had some fun with that.  That’s kind of a personal thing where I’m beating that drum and our executive pastor has been really supportive, he brings that up, so bit by bit there’s more buy in.  But then amongst the leaders, both ministry leaders and just leaders within the congregation, its just having the face to face conversation.  It’s us, well a good example is with our community group leaders, now all of a sudden I’m saying ‘Hey these are the characteristics, we are going for, these are the specific times through the year when we will meet.”  And everyones like, ‘well what are you talking about? We’ve always done it this other way. What do you mean we have to get together for training I have been leading for 10 years.  Jesus was in my Community Group.”  So those are some frequent and sometimes difficult conversations where I’m just trying to express the heart, here’s why we are doing this.  So it’s brand new for us and we are in our second year, and I feel like we are making great progress but we have a long way to go.

Rich – Cool.  So now, is it working?  Give me a sense of your process for reviewing.  What does that look like? How are you kind of tweaking the system as you are working on it.

Gregg- Great question.  For us a big part of this is review, review, review.  How are we doing?  So again we are looking at two levels.  As a staff, over all are we getting it.  Not just us around the table but at the church are we beginning to see a culture shift.  But then with the group leaders, a brand new thing is we are trying to provide, or get regular feed back from them.  And we request regular feedback.  Some are quick to give it, but others we have to chase it down.   But just interact with them. One good example is I got an email from someone that their Community Group decided to get involved in one, and they’d been going to church for years.  The four session, in one month that the group has been meeting, they’ve developed more significant relationships in that one month than in the previous 3 years that they’d been at the church.  That’s significant.  But we just want that multiplied hundreds and hundreds of times.  So the review around the table at staff:  how are we doing, what are you hearing, what are the sticking points?  And then the review with Community Groups leaders and such.

Rich – How are you gaining that feedback?  Is it an online tool or is it just in your one-on-one conversations?  What does that look like?

Gregg – Well in terms with interacting with the leaders themselves.  Our church database, we use CCB, Community Church Builder.  And so they have a vehicle where there’s an attendance report for groups.  And in that attendance report they can  say here’s what’s going great, here’s our struggles etc.  So we encourage them to use that.  And for those who do, it’s quick, super helpful and it’s great.  But far too many, in Jersey, our part of the country, everyone’s a skeptic, and Big Brother’s watching over me, and so there’s plenty that aren’t using that.  And so for those we just have to  personally reach out, and interact and chase people down.  That’s a little slower and a little more frustrating but that’s just a part of starting something new.  The goal is that we’d have everyone provide some kind of online feedback and then follow up with a phone call or coffee, but right now the bulk of it is a lot of phone calls and coffee.

Rich – Well maybe it will shift in the coming years.  This has been fantastic.  As you were talking earlier I wrote down that ‘Love, live, care, connect, invest, invite.’ I love that.  That’s a great little rubric there for people, a little language nugget in today’s podcast.  Anything else kind of on discipleship.  What are you doing to help people take steps closer to Jesus?

Gregg – Two quick thoughts related to those three traits.  Really that was the kind of second step.  I should have mentioned the microscope for us, we actually, if you are familiar with Randy Frazee’s ‘Connecting Church’, came out years ago. He’s got a list of I think it’s 37 traits of a follower of Jesus.  So we’ve adapted that.  That was our microscope.  We have 30, thirty traits…here are the 10 beliefs, 10 virtues, 10 practices that we want people to know. But then to simplify it we said, what’s the big picture….Love and Live for God, Care and Connect, Invest and Invite. So that was kind of the memorable component that we sought.  For example I teach a discipleship class that we started called Essentials.  In the beginning we called up these traits list and say here’s the goal, here’s where we are going to go.  We are not going to do it all in 12 weeks, could be several semesters, but as we go through each lesson, here’s what we focus on.  Each of those traits.  The other  piece that I’m actually really excited about that we haven’t launched yet in terms of this is something that could be used in a small group or really a one-to-one mentoring, or for us, I’m thinking after Alpha, before the Essentials class, is a curriculum called ‘A life Worth Exploring’.  It’s essentially a 6 month study on the life of Jesus.  Three months go through the gospel of John, journalling through it.  And three months using Josh McDowel’s ‘More than a Carpenter’ book.  So just want to zero in on who is Jesus.  I’m excited about using it.


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.