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The story behind House2House

In the fall of 2000, Tony and I were approached by Jim Mellon and David Underwood, leaders of two other house church networks here in Central Texas. We met at an IHOP in Waco.

“We’ve had this idea. God is obviously up to something. What about a magazine that would reach out to this emerging movement of house churches?” In those early days, the terms, simple church or organic church hadn’t come into use.

We thought that was a great idea. We had seen the impact of magazines in the British House Church Movement we were part of and knew that they had played an important role in other movements in history too.

And so House2House was born. It was a true periodical–it only came out when there was enough money. We decided early on that we wanted it to be a quality production, so it was full color. We printed between 25,000 and 50,000 copies per issue, and they all disappeared–fast. There were great articles. There were loads of stories about what others were doing. It went all around the world and became a shop window on what God was doing in simple/organic church.

Our own network of churches had been going away for a long weekend over Labor Day for several years. When we opened it up to others via the magazine, it grew into the national House2House conference where hundreds came to learn.

But the way people communicate their message was changing. Magazines were less and less a feature of life. And, let’s face it, it’s expensive to produce a glossy magazine. So the magazine became a website that seeks to resource the simple/organic/house church movement.

Over the years, many people have asked us, “When are you going to bring out another issue of the magazine?”

We ran a Kickstarter campaign to gauge the interest, but fell $400 short of our $14,000 goal. What was God saying to us? The result is an online magazine. Check it out here.

 

Embracing diversity

It is said that truth has two wings.

There is great  diversity in the simple/organic church movement–we come from every theological and ecclesiological background. As we embrace our differences, rather than being separated by them, the effect is synergistic–we become stronger.

We can win an argument at the expense of losing our friend–it’s not worth it! We can get together with people who are “just like us.” Where’s the adventure in that?

Obviously there are a few ideas, the basics of our faith, that we would take a bullet for. But other than that, let’s celebrate our differences–after all, unity was the focus of Jesus’ longest recorded prayer.

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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?

Church Transfusion: Can a legacy church involve in organic church life?

I often get asked questions about whether or not it’s possible for a more traditional legacy church to become involved in organic/simple/house church life. Thankfully, I now have a resource to point them to.

 

I just finished reading  Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically–From the Inside Out  by Neil Cole and Phil Helfer. Neil is a good friend, and I appreciate just about everything he has written. He’s had a huge impact on church planting both in this country and internationally. I don’t know Phil as well, but he works closely with Neil and I understand he has a legacy church that embodies organic principles.

I was a little concerned that in tackling this question Neil might be tempted to compromise on some of the principles he and we hold dear. I needn’t have worried. The book enumerates organic principles of multiplication and then applies them to the legacy church context:

  • The way to get big is to go small
  • The way to go fast is to start slow
  • The way to be strong is to become weak
  • The way to becoming rich is to give everything away.
  • The way to be first is to be last
  • The way to live is to die

I highly recommend this book to anyone in a legacy church who is wondering whether they can somehow move in more organic ways within a traditional context. Neil and Phil lay out the principles involved, giving practical suggestions as to how to grandparent organic movements by training and releasing church members into the harvest. A must read.

 

The easiest way to plant a house church

It’s probably not what you think!

Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.

This is not the best way for several reasons:

  1. The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  2. It is more difficult to be missional–existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
  3. You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together outside of meetings.
  4. Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.

It is far easier to make disciples of those who don’t yet know the Lord, and to work within their existing sphere of influence. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches are the natural result. The advantages:

  1. The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
  2. Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
  3. New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
  4. It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.

What has been your experience?  Can you think of other reasons to primarily work with not-yet-believers?

Photo Credit: Tense (Creative Commons)

 

 

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)

Is your glass half-empty or half-full?

Do you want to be happy or sad?

While there are some people who are unhappy because they need emotional healing from a broken heart, others choose to be pessimistic, to look on the negative side of life.

There are a couple of very interesting verses in Proverbs 15. Verses 13 and 15 say this:

A glad heart makes a happy face;  a broken heart crushes the spirit.

For the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast.

The impression, especially from verse 15, is that we can choose what kind of heart we have. Are we going to choose to be glad, or sad? Some people perceive the same event as a negative; others as a positive.

Do we choose to see the glass half empty or half full. It makes a big difference. In general, people prefer to be around someone who is encouraging and has a joyful outlook on life. Jesus was “anointed with gladness more than his companions” (Hebrews 1:9). If we want to be winsome to those who don’t yet know the Lord, we would do well to have a joyful attitude towards life.

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You want to see someone become a Jesus follower? Try spiritual warfare

For the past two months Tony and I have been engaged in some of the most intense spiritual warfare of our lives.

We were in Taiwan when we received a phone call detailing a situation very close to the heart of our family.  God challenged us to be willing to pray and intercede over it, and especially that one of the people concerned would surrender their life to the Lord–something we had been praying about for years. We knew from previous experience what this could mean–every spare minute engaged in intercession and warfare. It would mean that some nights we would be up half the night in prayer–not because we had chosen to but because the Lord would wake us. No more lazy evenings watching TV. Up early in the mornings so we could fit in extra prayer time.

The verses that we sensed we were to pray over particularly come in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

A book by Paul Billheimer, which I highly recommend, called Destined for the Throne: How Spiritual Warfare Prepares the Bride of Christ for Her Eternal Destiny first alerted me many years ago to the fact that these verses apply primarily to non-believers. We are to destroy every proud obstacle that keeps them from knowing God. And the way we do this isn’t through human logic or argument and discussion, but through the spiritual tools Jesus has given us–praise  and thanksgiving (Psalm 149:6-9), the Word (Ephesians 6:17), claiming his promises (Romans 3:4; 2 Corinthians 1:20), binding and loosing (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18), the blood of Jesus and the word of our testimony and the fact that are willing to lay down our lives (Revelation 12:11).

Within two days, we saw our first, very small breakthrough.

Shortly after this at one of our home church gatherings, everyone broke into small groups to pray about the “impossible situations” they were facing in their lives–for example, two families wanted to pray for people with serious drug and alcohol problems. Maybe 5 or 6 people were prayed for.

Within a month, the person Tony and I were praying for had found the Lord due to a remarkable series of circumstances–thank you Jesus, we are so very grateful–and had led someone else to Christ.  Another one of the other “impossible situations” had become a Christian too  And it is very clear that God is working in two more.

Yes, the timing was right in our particular battle, but spiritual warfare will result in people finding Christ.

The end of this story has not been written yet–it is still an ongoing journey. We have won the first battle and that gives us confidence that we can press through to see the war won. We know that Jesus has won the  overall victory.

If anyone would like a list of the verses we use in spiritual warfare, let me know.

I’d love to hear any stories where you have seen something similar.

 

 

Photo Credit: One lucky guy (Creative Commons)

 

 

Shhh! It’s a surprise celebration

On Saturday we held a party–a celebration of thanksgiving that Rosaura has been clean and sober for a year. After 30 years of alcoholism and drug addiction, including cocaine and crack, and many rehabs, she was instantly set free from her addictions–no withdrawal symptoms and no relapse. Prior to this, the longest time she had been sober was for 30 days in rehab.

About 40 of us were there, including her family and friends as well as our home church. Amazingly, it was still a secret. Rosaura thought she was going out for a meal with a friend, and they were just stopping at our house to pick someone up. Her kids had gone out for the evening (so she thought) but, of course, they were at our house. Imagine her surprise when she came in and all of us were waiting there to greet her.

Following the meal, Jose, her son, told how he had come to the church that meets in our home and prayed for his mom. The very next week she agreed to come with him, and it was there (while Tony and I were in Russia) that she was prayed for by a group of young people and brand new Christians and God set her free. Then Rosaura told her side of the story, and how faithful God was to her, because within a month, Jose was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she was able to take care of him because she wasn’t high on drugs.

We then offered to pray for anyone else with addictions. Two people came forward, both probably pre-believers, one on their own behalf and the other on behalf of their son. Jose (with amazing authority for a 16 year-old) and others prayed for them. God is at work in these lives too. Theirs is an ongoing story that maybe, one day soon, I’ll be able to tell.

We also prayed for other needs that were represented there. A pregnant lady, a recent believer, prayed for someone for healing. The pregnant lady has a lot of faith for healing. Earlier this year, she had been told that without surgery there was no way she could have a child, but God worked a miracle, telling her clearly from the Scriptures that she would have a child, and  she believed him. The church prayed for her and within three months, she was pregnant.

Others needed jobs. Others were struggling in different ways. People gathered round and prayed for each of them. The Holy Spirit was present in power.

And we celebrated!

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.

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