This post is a follow up on trend number 4 from the last post, that we will see an increasing acceptance of simple/organic church principles across the legacy church spectrum.
Back in the UK, in the 1970s and 80's, we were involved in what was then known as the "British House Church Movement." It was a heady, exciting time taking place against the backdrop of the charismatic renewal that swept much of the world, and it transformed the church landscape of the UK. Although it became a megachurch movement because we did not have a theology of multiplying the small, for its day it was a radical, forward-thinking movement embodying many of the principles we now hold dear–things like non-religious Christianity, every member participation etc. We reckon that about one third of British evangelicalism was transformed by that move of God over the next decade or so.
Fast forward a few years to 1996. We are now in the States, having gone through 9 years of God's favorite training school on the backside of the desert, and God starts speaking to us after 9 years of silence. The first thing he says is,"You'll be a part of a move of my Spirit again." The implications of this as we asked the Lord about it is that we would see a move of the Spirit that would have a similar impact on the church landscape of America.
When the simple/organic movement began to gain momentum a few years ago, it was generally dismissed as, at best, irrelevant. We were the radicals, the minority with some crazy ideas. We never dreamt that these ideas would become mainstream. But this is happening right in front of our eyes! For example, Austin Stone, one of the 100 fastest growing churches in the country, is a megachurch here in Austin. Earlier this year they held a conference called Verge. It was sold out within a few short weeks. Around 2,000 people attended, almost all from mega- and legacy churches, with more than 4,000 joining online. What is interesting is that the majority of the speakers were simple/organic/house church proponents–people like Neil Cole, David Watson, David Garrison, George Patterson, Alan Hirsch. They spoke about missional communities, Luke 10 principles and church planting movements. This coming year, Verge is joining with Exponential for the largest church planters conference in the country and the theme will be similar.
Not only that, Austin Stone actively encourages their people to start missional communities with unbelievers, not insisting that those people and those they reach, come back to the mother church. Maybe because of this relaxed approach, most choose to stay in close relationship with them. Here in Austin, several of the mega churches are actively seeking to reach out with the missional community approach. They recognize it as the only way to effectively touch every part of society.
The Lord has given Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of Northland: A Church Distributed, in Orlando, a new task. They are to facilitate the start of 1 million house churches around the world. In typical Northland fashion, they are doing this by partnering with other groups who are more directly involved in missions or house churches, and they seek no credit for their part in what is created.
Like it or not, (and personally I am very excited about it even though I recognize some of the potential pitfalls) simple/organic church concepts are in the process of becoming mainstream. Many mega- and legacy churches see this as the way forward. God is speaking to them, and he's saying the same things to them that he is speaking to those of us involved in simple/organic churches. And to be honest, as some of these churches embrace the principles of reaching out to the world via missional communities, they have the potential to change our cities even more than we do because many of them have large numbers of young, radical, on-fire disciples who are longing to reach out into their communities.
The secular media is taking notice. There are an increasing number of articles such as this one about house churches. According to the latest Pew Forum figures, 9% of Protestants worship in their homes. Legacy churches of all kinds are embracing simple/organic church principles and attempting to implement them within their context.
My question is, how are we going to react? Those of us in the simple/organic church movement have several options:
- Are we going to criticize because they aren't doing everything right (according to our thinking)? That we have the "pure" form of church and unless they do it our way, they are taking a lower path.
- Are we going to cheer them on from the sidelines?
- Are we going to work cooperatively with them, rejoicing in all that God is doing in their midst, helping where we can, accepting their help where they offer it?
Personally, I'm for number 3. What could happen in our cities if we all work together and nobody minds who gets the credit?