The term, organic, means natural, nonchemical, living, and alive. When applied to church, it refers to something that grows naturally.
Photo credit: thebittenword (Creative Commons)
Two people have popularized the name, organic church within the simple/organic/house church world.
Neil Cole was the first one to do so with his superb book, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, which God has used to teach the principles of multiplication and harvest all over the world. He uses the term to refer to planting the seed of the Kingdom out in our communities where people need the Lord. Here’s a quote from the introduction:
What would it be like if churches emerged organically, like small spiritual families born out of the soil of lostness, because the seed of God’s Kingdom was planted there? These churches could reproduce, just like all living things do.
We have seen churches meeting in restaurants, offices, homes, university campuses, high school facilities and beaches. We’ve had churches meeting in bars, parks, coffeehouses and locker rooms…
Let the church be alive, organic, in the flesh. Let it be birthed in the places it is most needed. Let the church be fruitful and multiply…
In other words, Neil uses the term “organic” to refer to bearing fruit in the harvest. Everything “alive” that God created multiplies, and church should be the same way.
Another person who uses the term, “organic church” is Frank Viola. Frank has a passion for the Bride of Christ. He uses the term to refer to a church that has life within itself–the life of Jesus. Here’s a quote from the introduction of his book, Finding Organic Church:
By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.
So Frank uses the term to apply to a community of believers whose life is centered around the living Christ.
It’s a question of emphasis. I’ve been in enough groups waiting on God with Neil to know that he believes in Jesus being the center and leader of the gatherings. And Frank has a desire to see the Gospel spread. They just use the term “organic” in different ways.
We need both emphases. We need organic church.