When experts of chess are teaching students to learn the game, I’ve been told that they have them play without their queen. Often chess players will rely too much on their queen and as a result their game isn’t as strong as it could be.

Alan Hirsch told an acquaintance of mine that if he really wants his church to thrive, if he really wants to make disciples and transform the world, that he must learn to play with out the proverbial queen of the church–which is the Sunday morning worship experience. The pandemic provides churches the perfect opportunity to carry out the mission without the Sunday morning experience being the focal point. However, many churches have been doubling down and working harder than ever to produce its weekly services despite the incredible challenges due social distancing and the virus.

Let’s imagine what it might look like for a church to “play without the queen,” to give up, at least for a season, making worship and the Sunday morning experience the focal point. If we look at Jesus’ ministry, most of the discipling was done on the fly with a small group of followers. What if we focused our attention there, returning to our denomination’s focus on small groups, “the class meeting”?

The problem is that, in many churches, small groups, including Sunday school classes, have been marginally effective at growing people as Christ’s disciples. Brian Phipps, of Disciples Made, says that the problem is because we focus on curriculum–what we’re studying–and not on the change that we’re longing to see in the participants.

He also believes that we’ve made disciple-making way too complex. He has boiled it down to a formula: CHARACTER x CALLING = IMPACT. When persons grow in their character, which he defines as the Fruits of the Spirit, and they understand their unique callings, including their Gifts of the Spirit, they will automatically have impact–making disciples, transforming their communities, even launching new faith communities.

What might happen if, during this season of Covid, your church spent less of its limited energy producing Sunday morning worship and put more effort into discipling relationships that result in persons growing as disciples that change the world? What if your church decided to play without its queen?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development