God is always on the move. I read a majority of this post below on a friend's website. He had a chance to talk to one of the people who is heavily instrumental in the Simple Church movement that is alive and well in the landscape of Christ-followers globally. I made a few edits to make it read with a bit more fluidity…but you will get the idea quickly. While we were spending time in our faith community this weekend talking about the Spirit, one of our facilitators mentioned the words of Jesus – what makes a "church" is the presence of God – "where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst"…a congregation or faith community is a gathering of "churches" into a common, shared passion and purpose. Most of us get that…what is interesting to me though is tracking what the Spirit is doing outside of what most of us would regard as "traditional" congregational structures. Just to give you a "taste" of what I'm talking about, you can read the interview below…I don't think that any of us can cast doubt on the unmistakeable action of the Spirit in people's lives gathering in these manners…
The church landscape in this country is changing. According to the Pew Forum, 9% of Protestants "attend services" in a home. This figure varies according to the definition of house church…yet some estimate the number to be around 4 million Americans who attend only this kind of expression of "church"–a significant number. Many more would say their primary form of spiritual or religious gathering occurs in a group of 20 or less, as they attend both simple/organic gatherings in addition to their participation in what some might call a "legacy" church (traditional church structure). There are many taking notice of this phenomenon/movement of the Spirit.
It appears that the Holy Spirit is the initiator of this current move–there is no center one can visit, no superstar's conferences to attend. Rather, all over the country, intentionally small gatherings of followers of Jesus are starting in homes, coffee shops, schools, everywhere life happens.
What's going on is far from perfect–some of these simple gatherings have started out of reaction to perceived hurts or injustice by the traditional "church". Many more are doing "Honey I shrunk the church"–exchanging the pew for a sofa but failing to change their DNA. (Neil Cole defines organic church DNA as Divine truth, Nurturing relationships and Apostolic mission.) However, there are increasingly large numbers of healthy simple/organic "churches" focused on discipleship and making disciples.
According to Felicity Dale, here are some simple/organic "church" principles:
- Church is relational: People frequently refer to church as either a building or an event, as in, "I'm going to church." One of the main pictures of church in the New Testament is that of family. You don't go to family–it's something you are. Obviously, healthy families get together frequently, but that isn't what defines them. In the same way, church isn't defined by meetings but by relationship together with Jesus at the center. "Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst (Matthew 18:20)."
- Jesus is King of His Kingdom and Head of His church: The core skill within simple/organic church is that of listening to God and responding to what He says. (The Word is our yardstick here.) Christians often live as though Jesus is a constitutional monarch–head in name only. God delights to communicate with us, and our response is obedience. As we listen to Him, both individually and corporately, community and mission will result.
- Church is missional: For centuries, church has been attractional ("Come to my church!" "Come and hear our special speaker!") But God has always intended for church to be missional–we go to the world with the Good News of the Kingdom. We can reach into every crack and crevice of society this way. Jesus told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), and He would build his church (Matthew 16:18).
- Ordinary people can make disciples and gather them together: Jesus was content to entrust the expansion of His Kingdom to ordinary, untrained people (Acts 4:13). People with no formal Bible school or seminary training are able to gather a few people over a meal to share life together, to delve into the Word of God, to pray for one another (Acts 2:42) and to seek to make disciples of those they come in contact with.
- Luke 10 provides principles for reaching out. In many nations, rapidly multiplying, intentionally small churches led by "lay people" are having a major impact (church planting movements). They use Luke 10:1-9 as their pattern for crossing cultures and making an impact for the Kingdom. Finding a person of peace and starting church in their home rather than inviting that person to join our church, enables us to influence a new circle of people with the Gospel.
- Simple is reproducible: Multiplication is more effective than addition but things need to be simple–simple is reproducible, complex is not. We can start a church by working with not-yet-believers, making disciples from the harvest. If these groups are to multiply, they need to be based on simple patterns.
- Church is participatory: First Corinthians 14:26 states that when we come together, each person has a contribution to make. All of us are important to the functioning of a healthy body. If every member is to take part, we need to model simplicity, whether in our prayers, our pattern of teaching (participatory Bible study is a very effective way of learning and applying truth) or our meals.
- Kingdom is a 24/7 lifestyle: God has written his laws on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10), so living in the Kingdom means living from the Life within rather than according to a rulebook. There is no sacred/secular divide. All of us are meant to be full time in the Kingdom; it is often easier to be effective in reaching out from a secular position.
- Christ modeled servant leadership. Jesus said that we are not to use the world's hierarchical models of leadership that lord over others, but we're to live as servants (Matthew 20:25-28). The CEO model of church leadership is not biblical; church is not a business. The function of Ephesians 4 leadership is to equip others to do the work of ministry.
God is working across His whole body. My prayer is that God will increasingly lead all of us, both legacy and simple/organic churches, to work together for the sake of the Kingdom.