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?

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.




Blurring the distinctives

One thing I've observed over recent years is that the Lord is blurring the distinctives between groups of Christians.

Photo credit: Several seconds (Creative Commons)

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. 


Organic/missional principles in a legacy environment

Mega churches are starting missional communities in many areas around the country.  (Exponential, the largest conference available for church planters, has several organic church people speaking at the main sessions this year –I've even been asked to take a workshop!) But I  haven't yet heard that many stories from slightly smaller churches.  However, here's a great story of what can happen in a more typical legacy environment.  It's slightly longer than my usual posts, but you'll enjoy hearing what God is doing.

Jim Street contacted me, and when I asked for his story, shared about Listening Posts–which are based on the Life Transformation Groups started by Neil Cole and Paul Kaak.  Here's part of what he wrote:

"I started Listening Posts after attending one of Neil's Greenhouse events. The one I attended was led by Ed Waken. I was looking for a way to engage legacy church folks in a more missional way. Some are, frankly, a little afraid of bold evangelism and many have been shaped that way by churches which have left the 'heavy lifting" in evangelism to paid staff. Further, they have been well trained by the attractional model of doing flashy things up front. 

Anyway, I thought the emphasis on listening would provide them a way to be out in the marketplace, etc. without feeling intimidated at the prospects of being "bold evangelists." (Little did they know they would find those opportunities once they got out there! ha! The Lord has sent many people our way.)

We have the same emphasis on reading scripture but have not insisted on the more direct approach to accountability. I've taken the approach that if they are listening to the Spirit as He speaks to them through the word that they will have plenty to share when they get together. We also pray for 3 people but are emphasizing what I call 'implicating prayer'…that God would use us as answers to our prayers as God wills. 

Our church is very small…about 60 members. About 40% of our adult members are currently involved. 

I approached Atlanta Christian College, where I teach in their adult program, about the possibility of engaging their students in LPs, especially as a way to get them off campus and into the community. They went for that and so LPs are a major component of their students' spiritual formation. Not sure how many groups we have there but there are many.

I have also taught LPs in almost every class I teach. Pastoral Counseling (where I teach that the church and not the pastor-as-therapist-in-residence is called to provide the care and counsel for the people.) I have suggested that LPs would be a good way to get out into the community as a way to provide such care and counsel to the lost and hurting. 

I also teach LPs in my class on Administration and Leadership, which I teach as admin and leadership of a missional movement…I use Alan Hirsch's Forgotten Ways as the text. There the emphasis is more on the missional side of ministry but, in many ways, mission through the provision of "tiny missional communities of disciples of Jesus."

I also approached a large legacy church on the SW side of Atlanta, one pastored by an old friend, about starting up these groups. They are on board and I am hearing some incredible stories of transformation as people actually sit down and read the scripture together and open themselves to the moving of the Spirit!

I spoke a couple of weeks ago to another large legacy church, a church, which at one time, was a very large mega church but which has now shrunken down to less than 400 members. They meet in a gargantuan building. The Lord impressed on me that they should start at least 50 groups by the end of January…and that's what I told them. (One very well-heeled woman has begun one with another woman I know who is a recovering drug addict with an armload of felonies…homeless, unemployed, penniless. Wow!

We are seeing people come to the Lord through this ministry, seeing people being reconciled, being transformed…people who were afraid of being seen with a Bible in a public place boldly praying in those places. 

It is a great, great thing to behold!

I am pressing on to speak in as many churches as I can as a way to encourage people in legacy pews to get out into the community where they listen to God, to one another and to the world. 

It's all about discipleship, community and mission and these little groups are helping people get that. 

Sorry, if I rambled on too much…I'm stoked. 🙂

And, it's great to be stoked at 60! "