The Lego Principle: An Interview With Joey Bonifacio

Since 1984, Victory Manila has grown by leaps and bounds.
Since 1984, Victory Manila has grown by leaps and bounds. (Facebook)

Since 1984, Victory Manila in the Philippines has planted 60 churches. Ed Stetzer recently sat down to talk with Joey Bonifacio, one of the pastors of Victory Manila, who explains why the growth has been exponential.

ES: Let's jump right in with my first question, Joey. Where was the idea for calling this discipleship process "The Lego Principle" birthed?

JB: Well, I was looking for a metaphor that was friendly and enjoyable, because a lot of things about church and discipleship have never been discussed from that standpoint. Then, the idea of connecting the top and the bottom, different colors, different shapes, different sizes, different boxes, denominations, different years they were made, it just made sense. There is a universality to it all. Whether made in 1950 or 2011, all Legos still connect.

The idea came to me while I was speaking in Orlando. I was walking in Downtown Disney where there is a gigantic Lego store. In the lake just outside the store, there is a huge green dragon made of legos. As I passed the dragon, it just sort of hit me, "Connect to the top and connect to the bottom. If you can do that, you can create any shape you want." I could not get that thought out of my mind the whole day, "Connect at the top, connect at the bottom."

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The burden for me was to understand how you activate the guy in the pew. That was the key. So, with a focus on relationships as the building blocks for disciple-making, it seemed like legos would be the perfect illustration.

ES: So, the Lego Principle is the tool you have used to develop a disciple-making culture within Victory, right? How has it been so transformative for the movement?

JB: Well, first of all, we believe that disciple-making is the thing. It is the business of the church. So, we have focused on the one thing instead of doing all sorts of different things. You know, the more things you do, the more confusing it gets, so we've focused on this one word that people can remember–discipleship. And we've taken the process and broken it down into bite-sized chunks that people can take in relationship, one-at-a-time.

That was what we were looking for and what we have done with the Lego Principle. We've made a way for the guy in the pew to say, "I can do this." It is bite-sized enough for him not to be overwhelmed with commitment, but to actually feel equipped and activated for ministry. I mean, it's all based on relationships. It's as simple as having tea and chips with a friend, falling in love with God together, and loving one another. When people feel that way, it becomes what they do; it becomes their dominant activity without them even thinking about it. That is when it shapes culture.

Build it into your culture so that you can activate every guy in every pew to love God and love people.

ES: OK. So, tell me how it works. Let's say Joey Bonifacio walks into a church service. He is an unbeliever just beginning to check things out. How do you take him from that point to becoming a reproducing disciple?

JB: Well, if the culture is discipleship at every level, then it manifests in various ways. It could be a 12-year-old attending or serving in kids' ministry who connects with a visitor and reaches out to her. So, engagement begins with a new friend in church. It could be—and this is a true story—a university professor who wants to play the saxophone on Sunday mornings and asks how to sign up. The beginning of volunteering in our church is a process called "One to One." By entering this process just to play because he loves music, his discipleship has begun, and he does not even realize it.

I travel a lot, so I think of it like an airport. No matter where you enter the airport, whether the east end or the west end, you still end up at your gate. Why? Because the entire structure of the airport is designed to get you there. Everyone who works there knows that is the end goal, so they work together to accomplish it. That's how we think about making disciples. Whatever gate he enters, we are ushering him to the end goal of being a reproducing disciple.

ES: That is a good analogy. I fly a lot, so I get that. Tell me, though, about the nuts and bolts. What is the process behind the Lego Principle?

JB: Well, again, it's really all about relationships. That is how we motivate the guy in the pew. I mentioned One to One, which is a discipleship process. It is not meant for one person to teach someone else a bunch of information, like a class. It is for friends to walk through and learn by experience together. You can't tell someone how delicious chocolate is; they have to taste it, right? The same is true of God's love. We want people to experience it together.

So, there's an app for that (an actual app on iTunes). We developed a six chapter discipleship program that people work through together as friends that give a foundation for faith and present the gospel. This is the tool our people use to walk through the gospel with friends, which is key. We don't want anyone to begin the conversation with the tool, because that is just a sales pitch. We want people to build the relationship first, and then learn together. We want people to activate the guy in the pew to love people and give him the structure to help them "find their gate."

ES: That's good. You're creating disciples and disciplers at the same time. What comes next?

JB: Right. Well, after One to One, hopefully we have new believers, who we move into something we call Victory weekend. It is a two-day class that the new Christian and the discipler go through together, as well. It deals with building the foundation of Christ, the whole focus of our identity, and it leads to a baptism the following day. It is really incredible to see people baptize new Christians with whom they have walked through the process of leading them to Christ, and it fuels the culture of disciple-making.

Value the same things Jesus valued. Focus less on the systems and structures and processes.

After Victory weekend, people can go together through what we call Training for Victory, which is more in-depth study, teaching people to love the Bible, and involving them in discipleship. The end goal of the training is to get people to start their own small groups and help others grow, as well.

ES: That is great. One final question: What would you say to church leaders in my audience about discipleship and disciple-making that they may not know now?

JB: Sure. I think it's simple. Value the same things Jesus valued. Focus less on the systems and structures and processes. While they are important, we need to focus more on getting entire churches to love God and love others. Build it into your culture so that you can activate every guy in every pew to love God and love people. I think that's still the name of the game.

Ed Stetzer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.

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