What is the condition of your soul? For far too many Christians in America, the condition of the soul is in a state of decay and despondency, only exacerbated by the pandemic.
- 89% of Americans report that COVID has made a negative impact on their lives. (Pew Research)
- 56% of American Christians have privatized their faith and are no longer part of a discipleship group. (Barna Research)
- Two in five American Christians are not engaged in discipleship. (Barna Research)
- 62% of American Christians do not attend a discipleship group of any kind. (LifeWay Research)
Souls across the country are clearly suffering from a lack of discipleship.
Like the soil in Jesus’ parable of the seed and sower, souls are more often untilled and unfruitful than vibrant and flourishing. Meanwhile, denominations and churches continue to prioritize personalities and pulpits over people in the pews, often equating a popular and powerful platform with spiritual health or congregational vitality.
Jesus’ parable makes clear that the problem beneath unfruitful soil is not an insufficient seed that needs peddling and platforms. The problem is untilled souls.
Bellevue, Washington is a tech-hub in King County, home to hubs for FANG and adjacent to Microsoft’s 40,000+ employee HQ. The city boasts the following data:
- #3 Best Schools (Pre-HS) in America
- #5 Healthiest Cities in America
- $809,200 average home price
- $1,947 average rent
Citizens of the city are composed of: 54.5% White; 35.8% Asian / Pacific Islander; 4.4% Two+ Races; 2.5% Black / African-American.
Bread of Life Christian Church in Seattle is a Chinese-speaking congregation planted in the early 2000’s by River of Life Christian Church, a flagship church in the globally historic network of churches founded by Timothy Dzao—an evangelist, founder of the three-self movement, and church planter who planted Bread of Life Christian Church in Taipei, Taiwan, the grandmother church of over 140 churches throughout the world.
During the first 8-months of the pandemic, the English-speaking congregation of the church experienced a massive disruption:
- 50% decrease in attendance
- 80% decrease in small group engagement
- 100% loss of volunteer leaders
- 45% loss of membership
As a result, the context for this project pivoted to an open, multigenerational, multicultural, socioeconomically diverse community group composed of the following Gen-Y and Gen-Z young adults from the church and outside the church:
|Member||Pronoun||Relationship to Church|
In this sample, “churched” means the individual is currently an active member or attendant of a local church. “De-C” refers to “de-churched” wherein a participant self-identifies as having gone to church for more than one year in the past and is no longer an active part of a church and no longer believes in the tenets of Christianity. “Un-C” refers to “un-churched” wherein a participant self-identifies as someone who is not currently part of a church but still believes in the tenets of Christianity. “O-C” refers to “other-church” wherein a participant is a member of a church that is not my direct ministry context. Lastly, “N-C” refers to a participant who self-identifies as someone who has never visited a church, regardless of her or his beliefs.
The vision, in response to the problem and in light of the people, was to create a mobile app that small groups could use at the beginning of each meeting in order to:
- Create a culture of safety for confession
- Cultivate rhythms of accountability that dive deeper than behavior
- Captain new and/or deeper affections for the person and promises of Jesus
- Cause the soul to be tilled by other souls in the impactful context of a small group
Due to limitations, a vision for an app was modified to a website. This website is empowered by the research and theological innovations presented in the submitted doctoral paper, available here. This website and digital tool is composed of three primary sections:
- Excavate Sin: This section helps groups examine sin in such a way that aligns the trajectory of group dynamics towards practices of confession and in depth introspection.
- Exposit the Self: This section helps develop a culture of confession in groups that builds towards cathartic liberty.
- Exegete Salvation: This section introduces a paradigm that centers souls between right-thinking, right-feeling, and right-practices.
Having developed and deployed the content of this digital tool in the community group defined above, the following results were recorded:
- 100% of participants reported a new and “better” understanding of sin
- 100% of participants reported positive and “more intentional” changes in their prayer-life.
- 100% of participants reported new and ”better” understanding of worship (“cupidatas”; affections of the soul).
Additionally (and more importantly), the following feedback reflects the general response to the implementation of SOIL’s innovations and paradigms:
- I grew up seeing my sin as “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” but this tool helped to see sin different.
- [Our group] got so much tighter. We not only got more real but began praying for each other and really sharing our lives with one another.
- I couldn’t pin-point how to think about sin because so many people in my life talked about sin in such an abstract way. [This tool] helped me see sin as a product of worship.
- This tool has helped my small group engage in deeper discussions about our lives.
The following are key resources leveraged for this project:
- Bellah, Robert. Habits of the Heart. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
- Doyle, Timothea. The Three Ages of the Internal Life. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1948.
- Jethani, Skye. With. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011.
- “New Research on the State of Discipleship,” March 14, 2022, https://www.barna.com/research/new-research-on-the-state-of-discipleship/
- Nisula, Timu. Augustine and the Functions of Concupiscence. Leidon: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2012.
- Nouwen, Henri. In the Name of Jesus. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989.
- Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.