No farmer would expect to reap a harvest of wheat in a field where he had not sown seed.
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Why do we believers expect to reap a harvest of souls where we haven't sown spiritual seed?
There are similar principles of multiplication behind both physical and spiritual reaping and sowing. If we expect to see people become followers of Jesus without sowing the seed of the Kingdom, we are deluding ourselves.
What does this look like? According to Luke 8:11, the seed of the Kingdom is the word of God. In Matthew 13:38, the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom.
While at the Verge conference, I had the opportunity to attend some T4T training with Ying Kai. The T4Tmovement has seen more than 1.7 million baptisms and 150,000 new churches start since 2001.
What is the difference between what they see there compared to what we see in the West? They sow seed. Not just the occasional seed here or there. They sow abundantly.
The foundation behind their training is that each new believer is trained to share the good news of Jesus in simple ways right from the day they become a disciple. And not just once or twice. Each person is encouraged to share their personal story as a bridge to the Gospel, five times per week.
Is it surprising that they reap a big harvest?
When it comes to multiplying simple/organic churches, your pattern of multiplication will determine whether you multiply quickly or slowly.
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Many people assume that the way to multiply a simple/organic church is to add new people to the church that meets in your home until it has outgrown your living room. Those who become believers, or Christians who want to join you, are assimilated into your existing fellowship. At the point at which the group becomes too large, you split it into two.
This is the slow way to multiply.
If you prefer to multiply more quickly, then start new groups around new followers of Jesus or new people who want to join you. Some of these will become churches.
Someone becomes a disciple? Ask them to bring together a few of their friends to explore spirituality. Help them to share their story with others. Teach them how to share the good news. Work with them and their oikos. You will soon find yourself with a group of new believers. An existing Christian finds your church? Let them know you'd like to help them work with their friends and family in their neighborhood, not yours. This is the quick way to multiply.
The faster multiplication pattern is likely to be more messy and more time consuming. It will involve people in more than just attending weekly gatherings. But it is far more effective in terms of Kingdom growth.
If you want to see your existing group excited about this and on board with what you are doing, it is important to cast vision, otherwise people will resent the disruption of a family/place where they are comfortable. The Lord did this for our group by giving us a clear picture of an orchard of apple trees. Now, whenever a new group starts, we are all excited to see the fulfillment of what the Lord has already shown us.
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The rabbit and the elephant have very different strengths. Different sized churches do too.
Rabbit sized churches:
- Can penetrate into every nook and cranny of society reaching people who would never darken the door of a church building
- Have the potential to multiply rapidly along relationship lines
- Foster community and every member participation
Elephant sized churches:
- Are highly visible
- Can produce larger-scale events
- Have many resources of both people and finance
Many larger churches are adopting simple/organic principles when it comes to reaching out into their communities with the good news of the Gospel. They actively encourage their members who are more entrepreneurial in terms of church planting to start new groups outside the four walls of the building. These"second tracks" (often called missional communities) are effectively simple churches with a missional emphasis. Often there is no expectation that these groups will feed new disciples into the main church.
It seems that God is working these principles right across the denominational lines. What can we do to support and involve with each other? Are there ways in which those of us who have been involved in simple/organic practices for many years, can stand together with the churches who are beginning to explore these areas?
What might happen in our cities if no one is seeking to get the credit?
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Simple/organic church has become mainstream here in the United States. According to the statistics, although the rate of growth is slowing down, 3-5% of the adult population of this country now finds their primary form of fellowship within a home or similar context. While at most levels this is very encouraging, and God is doing some extraordinary things with very ordinary people, there are some definite pitfalls and disadvantages to becoming acceptable:
- The terms, house church, simple church and organic church are popular. Groups of people are changing their names without changing their DNA. Home groups are becoming house churches with no discernible difference in lifestyle.
- We've become a fashionable fad, the latest phenomenon in church statistics. People are hopping onto the bandwagon because they want to be part of the latest thing, not because God is leading them.
- Many people meeting in homes are doing, "Honey I shrunk the church!" They've not yet begun the adventure of letting the Lord lead their times together.
- Many churches meeting outside the four walls of traditional structures are comprised of people who have left their legacy church but have not yet found a missional emphasis. Until that happens, even though our numbers may increase by transfer growth, we'll be a movement without Kingdom momentum.
- With some outstanding exceptions, we as a movement are still immature in terms of both finances and mission. Financially, we give generously to missions and benevolence, and most churches use less than 5% of their budget on internal needs, but we could have more strategic impact if we worked together on financial projects. In terms of missions, we have not yet fully understood what "simple/organic missions" will entail.
I believe God is working to fix these situations. There are more resources available than ever before; coaches are working across the spectrum to help produce healthy organic churches, and there is a greater understanding of what it means to be missional.
Do you see other problems too?
God is at work across the nations, and I see many positive signs that he is at work here in the West too. Here's a little of what I see going on currently (in no particular order of priority):
- People understand the importance of listening to God and doing what he says. The prayer movement and 24/7 prayer has an impact.
- Many churches are becoming more missional rather than attractional. Luke 10 principles are being applied by many across the church spectrum. Legacy churches are starting missional communities. Simple/organic churches are using these principles to produce daughter and grand-daughter churches.
- Churches are engaging in their communities with a resultant impact for the Kingdom.
- We've rediscovered some of the principles that result in multiplication rather than addition at every level. Simplicity and reproducibility are key.
- Discipleship that reproduces more disciples (rather than conversion) is of increasing value.
- There's a blurring of distinctives between groups of people–charismatic/non-charismatic, organic/legacy, clergy/laity.
- Women have an increasingly equal and valued role.
- Legacy churches and simple/organic churches are working together with a focus on the Kingdom of God. Who knows what might happen if nobody minds who gets the credit.
- The separation of sacred and secular is waning. Ordinary work and its potential to be of impact for the Kingdom is valued. Church is happening in the workplace.
- God is working in supernatural ways; we are seeing miracles, healings and deliverances.
- God is raising up apostolic and prophetic leaders who serve from the foundations rather than rule from the rooftops. He is giving them his strategies and plans for their areas.
- We recognize that God is working in other parts of the world and we're willing to learn from other nations.
What am I missing?
One thing I've observed over recent years is that the Lord is blurring the distinctives between groups of Christians.
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It used to be that charismatics and non-charismatics were divided by theology. They looked down on each other–the non-charismatics thought that charismatics were flaky, all froth and no substance. The charismatics thought the non-charismatics were not fully following God. Today, I never hear those opinions. Some of the most Spirit-filled people I know would not claim any kind of "baptism in the Spirit" experience. We often teach people in non-charismatic denominations how to prophesy and they don't seem to be at all put out. God has blurred the distinctions between us.
Another set of distinctions that is increasingly blurring is that between simple/organic church and legacy churches. It used to be that legacy churches viewed those in simple/organic churches as rebellious, rejecting authority, unsubmissive. In turn, those in simple churches tended to view others as not really on the cutting edge of what God was doing.
Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Small and large churches are working together. The Kingdom has become more important than what we ourselves are doing.
Many churches are looking to become increasingly relevant to the society around them by shifting to a more organic form of church.
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Here are some of the shifts toward organic:
- We're moving from being building and event focused to lifestyle and family focused. Church is no longer an event to go to or a building to assemble in. We may meet together, but church is more like a family. You don't go to family; you are family. It's based on relationship and lifestyle.
- Church is missional rather than attractional. We're looking to make disciples rather than converts.
- We no longer need specially trained people to do all the work of ministry. Ordinary people are fully equipped to minister. The clergy/laity distinction is becoming less and less relevant.
- Churches are expected to multiply out–to reproduce–rather than getting larger.
- Jesus is head of his church and ordinary people can be trusted to hear the Holy Spirit.
- Our times together are becoming simpler and therefore reproducible. Everyone participates in what goes on.
- Leadership is servanthood.
What others can you think of?
The church landscape in this country is changing.
Ecclesiology lies along a continuum. At one end churches are traditional, structured and liturgical; at the other end they are simple, organic, and missional. Most lie somewhere in between. But a shift is occurring. Many churches are taking steps towards the organic, missional end of the spectrum. The Lord may not lead them to move completely to that end of the continuum, but the changes they are making appear more organic than traditional.
What is most important is that wherever we are along the continuum, our focus in on the King and his Kingdom.
What are the reasons for the shift?
- As the nation slides towards a post-Christian status, church is no longer at the center of social life. People no longer think about going to church on a Sunday. Across the board, denominations, missions groups and churches recognize that an attractional form of church is no longer effective for the future. Many are exploring the concept of missional communities or simple/organic churches.
- The current economic crisis is affecting many churches. Just in the last month or so, we have been working with a church locally that can no longer afford to keep their building. They are therefore looking at a more organic network of smaller churches.
- A subtle, but increasing hostility towards Christianity is affecting some churches. For example, in New York, recent legislation means that more than 60 churches are no longer allowed to use schools or similar buildings to meet in.
- As churches follow the Holy Spirit, some of them are hearing the Lord leading them this way.
The definition of insanity is to keep doing what we've always done and assume we'll get different results. If the church continues the way she has been for the last several decades, we'll find ourselves in a post-Christian society.
Is God using this shift along the continuum to prepare us for what lies ahead?
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Over the past few months, we have had several people from a more traditional church background and who are in the process of leaving for the mission field visit the church that meets in our home.
The exchange has been valuable. Our “Jesus family” has rubbed shoulders with people sold out for the Kingdom who are literally giving up everything they know in order to take the good news into cultures that may be hostile to the Gospel. And those visiting us have tasted a simpler, relational style of church that seeks to follow the Holy Spirit when they come together and that is reaching out using Luke 10 principles into the different spheres of influence that people represent.
Many churches and mission agencies are using simple/organic church patterns on the mission field. These days, mega-churches and denominations do not ususally plan to replicate traditional Western styles of church when they get into a cross-cultural context. Mission sending agencies recognize that the most effective evangelism uses a simple/organic model of church that multiplies along relational lines.
Current experience shows that simple/organic patterns of church are less likely to provoke persecution in environments hostile to the Gospel.
The problem for many of the people going abroad as missionaries is that they have no experience of simple/organic church, even though that is what they plan to do on the field. So when they arrive on the mission field, they not only have to cope with a totally new cultural environment–language, customs, lifestyle; they also expect to work within an unfamiliar style of both evangelism and gathering.
This leads me to two conclusions:
- People who have been involved in simple/organic expressions of church in their home countries are well-suited to involve in cross-cultural mission. If they have been involved in a healthy expression of organic/simple church, they are already accustomed to Luke 10 principles of mission and an informal, home-based style of gathering. But a single simple church or even network of simple churches, even though they may be able to provide financially, may not have the resources or experience to provide the cross-cultural training and support on the field necessary for someone going out as a missionary.
- One of the contributions that the simple/organic movement can make towards global missions is to willingly work with mission-sending agencies, giving prospective missionaries a taste of what they are likely to experience on the field.
Are there ways we can partner together?
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Yesterday evening church met at our home. Rosaura had brought along a young man, maybe 16 or 17 years old, a relative. He gave his heart to Jesus last night. This was his story.
"All my life I've felt as though I'm in a dark tunnel. I could see the light at the end, but it didn't matter what I did, I couldn't get any closer to the light, no matter how hard I tried. Tonight the light is right in front of me."
He walked into the light with Jesus and a smile from ear to ear.