One aspect where the pandemic has helped us as Christians in churches is appreciating the distinction between 'attendance' (or 'connecting') at whole church services and ongoing depth of discipleship. For too long we have paid attention to attendance at the expense of sustainable discipleship, and that deficit has been clearly exposed in recent months.
It may help us to assess where people are at by using two axes: depth of discipleship and attendance (where the latter might be connecting electronically to our online gatherings during this season) - as shown in figure 1.
That creates 4 quadrants. Those in the upper-right bring cheer to any pastor - they have discipleship (growing more like Jesus), and are connecting! Conversely the lower-left are a cause for concern. The other two quadrants bring worry but for different reasons. The lower-right may be doing quite well in themselves, walking well with Jesus - though at the risk of feeling isolated or disconnected from the body (a cohesion issue). The upper-left are visible in the body, but lets be honest: we lovingly want them to go deeper with Jesus and become more mature in their faith. These different categories are summarised in figure 2.
Now let's make an interesting observation. Our not-yet-Christian friends/enquirers start out in the lower-left quadrant. This is not their fault - it is simply the starting point. Our typical western model is to then invite them to corporate events - be it a carol service, a seeker service/event etc. This is good (and God blesses it!), and on our graph it takes people up into the upper-left quadrant. By God's grace they hopefully come to faith and cross the line into their own growing discipleship (upper-right), a journey shown in figure 3. I wonder, though, how many in reality get stuck in the upper-left?
What if our model was depth of relationship and developing discipleship from the outset? We would invite people to stuff of course, but the emphasis is moving towards Jesus rather than simply to the good stuff a church can lay on. The journey may prove to be more like figure 4, with its different shape of curve. The destination is the same (with Jesus, mature discipleship and well connected in the wider body), but the route to get there different. Yes I guess there is a risk of becoming stuck in lower-right ... but I wonder if this route might actually be better in our context today? Maybe it is more suited to inviting first to the smaller group / expression of Christian community where faith and discipleship can be explored more personally ... but still with connection to the wider body ultimately in mind?
Either way, if you are forced to choose between the axes then making disciples should have the priority - for that was the primary commission Jesus gave us.