A fashionable fad

Several years ago, in our book The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, I wrote a chapter on some of the potential pitfalls the house church movement might face as it became “fashionable.” Here’s what I said:

Another hazard is that of becoming fashionable, the latest phenomenon in church statistics, the trendy alternative to traditional church. There will always be people who hop onto the bandwagon because they want to be part of the latest thing, not because the Holy Spirit is leading them. But those who join the simple church movement without truly understanding and living out its DNA will soon find that what they have is only a pale substitute for the real thing.

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I believe we have seen this come to pass over the past few years. Many people started groups outside the four walls of the sacred building in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, often working with those who didn’t know the Lord. But as “house church” became a buzz word, others became involved because they wanted to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing. Churches changed their home groups to house churches without changing anything more than the name. For some it seemed a good idea and a way to escape the tedium of the status quo. So they did what they’ve always known in terms of meetings, but exchanged the pew for a sofa.

Some of the incredible growth we have seen (The Pew Forum reckons that 9% of Protestants “attend religious services” in homes) is due to this phenomenon. That phase is coming to an end. Those groups that only changed their name will either die,  join the next fad, or, hopefully, seek the Lord to change them. House/simple/organic church is now mainstream and I don’t think that will change, but what emerges over the next few years may be a truer reflection of what God is doing through this movement.

Just my two cents worth as I look back on the incredible things God has done. What do you think?

How to find a simple/organic/house church in your area

One of the most common communications I get is this: “I live in ——. Do you know of a house church in my area?”

It can be difficult to find a simple/organic church. We don’t put a sign outside our house saying “Church Meets Here.”  We’re not listed in the Yellow Pages under “Churches.” Contact usually happens by word of mouth.

The best way I know to find a simple/organic church in your area is via House2House. It has a “find a church” map where if you type in your zip code it will list the simple/organic churches near you. If you already have a church, why not submit your church’s information?  You’ll find people contacting you who are looking for fellowship.

But I think there’s a better way.

Most of the people who contact me with that request have been Christians for years. They don’t need to find a simple/organic church where their needs will be met and where they will be well taught. They are mature believers. They have much to give. Why don’t they pray about starting a church themselves?

Don’t know how to start a church? Go to one of CMA’s Greenhouse conferences. Or go through this online 6 week church planting course. The House2House site is full of useful resources and are always ready to help anyone who contacts them.

Anyone interested?

 Photo Credit: Arty Smokes (deaf mute) (Creative Commons)

The church moves west (part 3)

One of the most outstanding church planting movements of our time is going on in India. Victor Choudhrie has written a book, Greet the Church in Your House detailing the principles behind this movement. It will come out as a Kindle book in September. This post is the final part (first part starts here) of a section from the foreword I have written for the book.

Photo credit: peasap (Creative Commons)

The influence of the church continues its march back to Jerusalem. The Muslim nations are just beginning to see their own extraordinary moves of the Holy Spirit as sheikhs, imams and even whole mosques are finding freedom through becoming followers of Isa, Jesus the Christ.

An interesting point: the speed of what God is doing is increasing exponentially. What took centuries in times past now takes decades. What took decades is now happening in a few short years. If the present rate of growth continues, India has the poential to become a Christian nation.

The march of Christianity around the globe has almost gone full circle, each wave of recovered truth building upon the last. The tide continues to advance. What will happen next? I believe that even as the world grows darker, we will see a harvest of historic proportions, this time covering the whole world. But if we are to experience the kind of growth we have longed and prayed for, we need to adopt the principles that the Holy Spirit has already revealed through the waves of church history.

The church moves West (part 2)

The focus of Christian missions has historically moved west. This is the second of a three part series (here is part one) looking at this phenomenon, and is part of the foreword I have written to a new Kindle book, Greet the Church in Your House.  by Victor Choudhrie, due out in September. This book details the principles behind one of the greatest disciple making movements of our time.

 

This is a photo of Tony and me standing on the very harbor wall in Turkey (Seleucia) from which Paul and Barnabas left with John Mark to sail west on their first missionary journey. The harbor is now silted up and the harbor wall is about 100 yards inland.

 

While all this was going on in Europe, the epicenter of Christianity was sailing west across the Atlantic to the United States.  Waves of revival spread across the land as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney preached to huge crowds. In 1906, the Pentecostal Movement began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles and spread rapidly throughout the world. The United States became the great missionary-sending nation.

But even as Christianity waned in Europe and began its decline in the United States, the center of Christianity was moving west again. Initially this was hidden. When the Communists overtook China in the late 1940s, threw out the missionaries, closed the churches and jailed its leaders, everyone wondered whether the church could possibly survive. When the bamboo curtain finally lifted, the world was amazed to see the church had thrived and multiplied. Ordinary people, mainly women and children, rather than trained preachers, were spreading the Gospel, and churches were starting everywhere in the homes of ordinary people. Small and hidden, the good news was spreading like yeast in a lump of dough.

Again the focal point of the church moved west. Via Korea and the cell church movement, it has moved on to India where the Choudhries and many others like them are seeing similar growth to China. Here God is restoring disciple-making and house church planting, not as a matter of necessity because of persecution, but as a deliberate policy with well-understood theological and ecclesiological reasoning. An emphasis on the Kingdom is producing marked changes in the local community too. As other nations hear what is transpiring in India, they are inviting men and women from India to come and infect their own lands with what Jesus is doing.

Part three to follow…

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church

I’ve been studying the different characters that appear in the Book of Acts recently, starting with Paul. I’ve often puzzled over apparently contradictory passages from Acts and Galatians that talk about what Paul did immediately after his conversion–whether or not he visited the apostles in Jerusalem. As I revisited this question, I remembered a book written by Frank Viola called  The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament. I’d skimmed the book before, but never taken the time to study it.

Frank is a good friend of ours. He and his wife have enjoyed several evenings with us in our hot tub, putting the world to rights. (It’s where we came up with the idea for the hilarious spoof video for his book, Pagan Christianity?, that our son, Tim produced.)

I’ve been reading The Untold Story for a week or so now, following the extensive endnotes, and greatly enjoying the insight and research Frank has produced. The books promo claims “you will understand the New Testament like never before.” As I have read the epistles within their historical context in the New Testament narrative, I would definitely say the book lives up to its claims. Anyone who desires a greater understanding of the history of the early church would profit from reading it.

 

What’s in a name? Missional Community

The word, “missional” has become something of a buzz-word over recent years. Several friends such as Linda Bergquist and Alan Hirsch were involved in writing a Missional Manifesto which was published last year to help describe the term. Here’s the first sentence from the manifesto:

God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory.

Several of the mega-churches in our city have come to terms with the fact that , even if they multiplied themselves many times over, they wouldn’t be able to reach the city in the way they long to, and they are adopting simple/organic principles as a deliberate strategy. This isn’t just happening here in Austin, but all over the country.

I’ve led workshops at three of their conferences (like Verge and Exponential), and the main speakers at the conferences have included people like Neil Cole, David Watson, George Patterson, David Garrison–all of whom teach on simple/organic principles and church planting or disciple-making movements.

What these churches have come to recognize through the teachings of people like Alan Hirsch, is that an attractional model of church (“Come to our church service, come and hear our special speaker) isn’t nearly as effective as sending the members of their church into their communities and sub-cultures to reach out with the good news of Jesus. And although their church members might continue to come to the main church, the new “missional communities” formed in the harvest from the disciples that come to the Lord through their witness, are not expected to feed into the main church. These missional communities are autonomous, able to baptize and give communion, free to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead when they meet.

To all intents and purposes, they are simple/organic churches. “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

I, personally, am very excited by this development. Mega-churches have huge resources of personnel. Imagine what could happen if these churches sent out their young people by their hundreds to form missional communities across the city.

Alongside this,  a slightly different model is also called a missional community. These “missional communities” originated in the UK. Mike Breen is the name most commonly associated with them. This model is larger–a small congregation with 25-50 people attending. They are not just a smaller version of Sunday morning, but have an upward focus (towards God) and inward focus towards their missional community and an outward focus into mission. They have spread into Europe and are now becoming better known here in the States.

What might happen in our cities if nobody minds who gets the credit?

What’s in a name? House church

Very occasionally, I experience the almost surreal experience of being the person learning most from what I am teaching. The context in this particular instance: I was part of a team that was training people in a country hostile to the Gospel in how to identify the person of peace and start multiplying simple organic churches as a response to a major evangelistic meeting. Tens of thousands were giving their lives to the Lord at these times, and our training had two to three thousand attendees.

I found myself saying to these people, “It doesn’t matter how big the harvest is. God has already provided the buildings! He’s given us houses to meet in!”

Although here is the States we have plenty of buildings to meet in, a harvest of the size we all long for would swamp all our facilities. But God has provided the buildings here too. He’s provided our homes.

Photo Credit: Shapeshift (Creative Commons)

Of the three interchangeable words used to describe churches–house, simple and organic, for various reasons, house church is the one I like least. Here’s why. Firstly it implies that these groups only meet in houses whereas they can meet anywhere–restaurants, parking lots, college dorms–anywhere life happens. The second reason is that  for historical reasons, people associate the term “house church” with an insular,  inward looking group of people,, reacting against the establishment, and convinced that house church is the only Scriptural way to meet.

House church, however, is a Scriptural term used several times in the New Testament, for example, the church that meets in Aquila and Priscilla’s home  (Romans 16:4). Until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire following the Edict of Milan in 313AD, the church, apart from a few short years right at the beginning of her existence, met in homes. Once Stephen’s martyrdom and the persecution of the church began, the only references which might be construed as having another venue are the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus where Paul held daily discussions (Acts 19:9), which he probably describes later when meeting with the Ephesian elders “I taught you publicly and from house to house” (Ephesians 20:20). Other than that, while Paul spoke often in synagogs or public places declaring the good news about Jesus, all references are to church meeting in homes.

The church began her journey meeting in homes. Could it be that she will end her journey the same way?

What is church?

The New Testament uses a number of different pictures of church: church is Christ’s body (Rom 12:5); it is a temple built with living stones (I Pet 2:5), it is a family (Eph 2:19).

Photo credit: Cia de Foto (Creative Commons)

The metaphor of family is very helpful.

Family is neither a building nor an event. Healthy families will get together often, but it’s not the get-togethers that make them family. It’s the relationships. We are family, we don’t do family. Families share life together. Their interaction isn’t limited to Sunday lunch. They love each other, live life together, share one another’s burdens, care for one another, at times they will reprove one another and teach one another.

Sounds like the “one anothers” of the New Testament.

Similarly, church is relationships, but the difference between church and any other set of relationships is the presence of Jesus. As Robert Fitts says in Saturation Church Planting:

When two or three true, born-again believers come together in His name, Jesus is in the midst. Jesus in the midst is church! It is a different experience than Jesus within. We cannot experience Jesus in the midst when we are alone. We can only experience Jesus in the midst when we are in company with others–at least one or two others.

But is it church in the fullest sense of the word? Yes, it is a church in the fullest sense of the word. It is the basic church. You can have more than two or three and it is still a church, but it does not become “more church” because there are more than two or three. It only becomes bigger church.

To transition or not to transition: that is the question

As the simple/organic movement becomes more mainstream, and the financial trends force more and more traditional churches to cut back economically, then many churches are asking the question: should we transition our legacy church into a network of simple/organic churches?

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Photo credit: Dan4th (Creative Commons)

Every church needs to hear from the Lord about their specific situation, but the next few posts will look at some of the pros and cons of this step and some other potential alternatives.

Jesus described some principles that speak into this situation when he gave the parable about putting new wine into old wineskins.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say. (Luke 5:36-39)

Jesus cared about the wine, and therefore he had concern for the wineskins. Similarly he cares about the people in our churches, and therefore he cares about our structures. Jesus said that if people have tasted the old wine, they won’t want the new, and this is true when it comes to transitioning churches too. Many people are comfortable with the old and familiar ways of doing things, and asking them to change is going to rock their world so much they may leave. They didn’t sign up for simple/organic church and they aren’t going to change their minds quickly.

There are now many examples of churches that have successfully transitioned. We’ll examine the following topics over the next few posts.

  • Why might a church consider transitioning? Pros and cons
  • What lessons can we learn from those who have transitioned successfully?
  • Are there alternatives to transitioning that still accomplish the same goals?

I’d love to hear some of your examples.

 

 

 

Do you need some help on the simple/organic journey?

Every year, the Board of House2House (a ministry providing resources for simple/organic/house churches that Tony and I helped to found in 2000) spends a few days together seeking the Lord.  We want to know his emphasis for us over the coming year. Because we have a philosophy that we would rather stop something than continue without the presence of the Holy Spirit, we ask the same question:

"Lord, do you want us to continue, or is our work done? Is there someone doing it better? Should we stop the ministry?"

This January, the question seemed more pressing than usual because simple/organic church has become mainstream here in this country and there are many great resources available. 

What we sensed the Lord say to us is this: there is a continuum of churches across the nation, from more traditional at one end to simple/organic at the other. The Lord is shifting many churches (both house and traditional), denominations and missions towards the more organic end of the spectrum.

House2House is to help in this shift.

Katies-bio
In order to accomplish this, we have decided to make coaching available for people who would like help and encouragement along the journey. The Board has initially asked Katie Driver, an experienced coach who has done much to encourage the simple/organic movement in her region, if she would be willing to take on that responsibility. Katie has over 27 years of missional experience, training and igniting people in their unique design and calling. She has started many diverse, simple, organic and missional fellowships over the last 15 years and has also worked extensively through legacy churches to encourage simple, organic and missional expressions of church life. She is a trainer and coach for CMAresources’ Greenhouse, and is on the board for House2House.  

Obviously, coaching could address a number of different situations, but within the House2House context we anticipate the following people/groups may benefit:

 

  • You feel alone in your simple, organic church journey and would like some encouragement.
  • You're  in a legacy church that desires to become more organic and missional.
  • Your simple church has lost its energy and sense of purpose. You've reached a barrier and don’t know how to push through.
  • You'd like to start a simple, organic church but don’t know where to begin.
  • You long to be missional but struggle in reaching the people around you with the good news of Jesus Christ but lack the skills.

 If you are interested, check out the coaching section of the House2House website