An output goal is defined by its desired output or result.
This is the typical way 90% of people approach goal setting. A few examples of output goals might be to lose 25 pounds, run a marathon, or grow spiritually. I recently spoke with a micro-church leader and asked them about their vision for the region. He said, “Our vision is to saturate this area with 2,000 micro-churches in the next ten years”. There was conviction in his voice. It was a noble output goal and sounded impressive, but without clear inputs, these statements ring hollow.
“Input goals are different. They are defined by input, or the effort that someone puts in.”
To use our earlier examples, if your output goal is to lose 25 pounds, your input goal might be to work out 4x a week. If your output goal is to run a marathon, your input goal might be to run half an hour each day.
What about spiritual growth?
A desire to grow spiritually is an output goal. A desire to deepen your walk with Jesus is an output goal. A desire to see the people in your church become more rooted in their faith is an output goal. Let’s talk inputs.
In this article I want to share the top two input goals for spiritual growth and an important vehicle for accomplishing each. It’s not rocket science, but it is worth repeating.
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The Research is Clear
“What inputs help people grow spiritually?”
There are few questions that are more important for pastors and leaders to consider and I have good news. The question has been answered. The research is in. We don’t have to wonder.
“Do you want to know the greatest input goals for spiritual growth? There are two that rank highest on the list.”
A few years ago Lifeway Research, one of the largest Christian research firms in North America, conducted a series of in-depth studies examining the state of discipleship in the local church. The study was called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment and included thousands of church goers, 1,000+ Protestant pastors, and discipleship experts from around the world.
Their primary objective was to uncover the marks of a growing disciple and they discovered eight important traits (the 8 marks of a disciple are found here). However, the fruit of the research also uncovered two important inputs for spiritual growth that consistently ranked #1 and #2 on the list. These were common factors that impacted all eight marks of a disciple. I’ll name them in order of their impact on spiritual growth.
Input #1- Bible Reading
The first and most important input for spiritual transformation was reading the Bible on a regular basis. This discipline had a direct impact on the total score of all output goals, or discipleship attributes.
The Bible is the Word of God. It is living and active. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is everything Psalm 119 describes it to be.
“But it’s not simply reading. It’s reading the Bible DAILY that brings lasting impact.”
There was a recent study by the Center for Bible Engagement where they polled 40,000 people in the U.S and asked how often they read the Bible and scored them on their spiritual and emotional health.
Those who read the Bible at least four times a week were 30% less likely to feel lonely, 32% less likely to be angry, 40% less likely to be bitter, 57% less likely to be alcoholic, 60% less likely to feel spiritually stagnant, 61% less likely to view pornography, and 200% more likely to share their faith, and 230% more likely to make disciples than those who read the Bible three times a week. The full video can be found here.
This is huge!
Reading the Bible sporadically, a few times a week, had a negligible impact on spiritual growth. Instead, it is the daily practice of cultivating time in the Word that brings transformation. I remember an old Sunday school song, “Read your Bible pray everyday and you’ll grow…grow…grow”. Turns out, the song was right!
Input #2- Confession of Sin
Unresolved, unconfessed sin stunts our spiritual growth and the Lifeway research uncovered "confession” as the next greatest input for transformation. Pastor, author, and former Lifeway team member Daniel Im writes,
“The study found that confessing sins on a regular basis leads to spiritual growth. People in the study who confessed their sins became more transparent with other people, more willing to deny themselves, more interested in seeking a deeper relationship with God, and more open to sharing Christ with others.”
There are people in your congregation that don’t need another sermon. They don’t need another 12-week Bible study. Instead, they need to be connected in trusted relationships where they can be open and transparent with their struggles and shortcomings. It turns out, confession really is good for the soul.
I often think of these first two inputs (Bible reading and confession) as spiritual breathing. We inhale the pure Word of God and exhale by way of confession. God promises in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. But James 5:19 takes it a step further. The author writes, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you might be healed”.
Forgiveness is different than healing. An alcoholic needs to experience God’s grace and forgiveness for abusing alcohol. But he also needs to be healed of the disease. Confession in community brings healing.
Start a Discipleship Group
How can we encourage the regular reading of Scripture in an authentic environment of confession? I want to encourage you to start a discipleship group, a place where these two inputs come together. We define a discipleship group as,
“A gender specific group of 3-5 people that meet weekly for Bible reading, accountability, and prayer.”
Covid-19 has disrupted community. Lockdowns, isolation, and quarantines have been spiritually damaging. We need one another. Humans were not designed to be alone. We were created for relationships with Christ and others. Launching a discipleship group is not a complicated task and I often suggest five easy steps.
First, spend time in prayer and ask God to reveal the individuals to invite into the group. Second, make the invitation. I would recommend you convene a meeting with all possible group members, and explain the discipleship group format (see our free four-week Banding Together training guide for training others in this process). Third, gather weekly to discuss the Bible. We encourage three simple questions for this part of the group.
How many days did you read the Bible this week?
How did you hear God speak? Share a journal entry.
Do you have any questions from your reading?
Fourth, during your weekly meeting be sure to provide opportunity for accountability. This would also be a time to receive any confession of sin. Here are eight prompts we invite people to consider.
How is it with your soul? (Prov. 4:23)
What are you celebrating? (1 Thess. 5:11)
Where are you struggling or being tempted? (1 Cor. 10:13)
How has the Holy Spirit been speaking to you? (John 16:13)
Do you have any sin to confess? (1 John 1:9, James 5:16)
Have you been angry, fearful, or anxious? Why? (Eph 4:26, Phil 4:6)
Do you need to reconcile with anyone? (Matt. 5:23-24)
How well are you loving others? (James 2:8)
Fifth, use the last part of the group meeting to pray for those that don’t know Jesus. We close with three simple questions and a time of prayer.
Who are you praying for this week and why?
Who are you praying would surrender their life to Jesus?
Who is someone you could start a discipleship group with in the future?
There isn’t enough time in this short article to explain every nuance of a discipleship group, but if you want to grow spiritually in 2022, I highly recommend getting started. The two input goals of daily Bible reading and confession are proven to bring about spiritual growth. We have helped thousands of individuals and hundreds of churches launch discipleship groups and I want to point you to a few resources.
To help pastors and leaders launch discipleship groups we created the Banding Together Leader Guide and Journal. These resources as well as a FREE 4-week training guide can be found here.
We also offer a training for pastors and leaders called Mobilizing Disciple Makers every other month that models the process and gives you next steps in initiating this at your local church. If you would like to register for our next four-week training event launching February 7th click here to register.
Let’s make 2022 a year of spiritual growth and live out the input goals of daily Bible reading and confession. It’s not rocket science, but it will require initiative. Let’s go!