Monday, May 09, 2011

Invisible: Organic Church

A group of local organic church members recently got together to make a list of things that are "wrong" with Organic Church. More specifically, to identify weaknesses in the simple church and to think of ways we can address these challenges.

The first one I wanted to talk about from our list was that "Organic churches are often invisible to the community."

In our discussion we reflected on the fact that house churches don't have large signs out front, and don't market themselves the way traditional churches do. Because of this, it's often likely that a house church could exist for years right down the street from another house church and not even be aware of each other. Not to mention the fact that people in the community are also not aware that the house church meeting is taking place in their neighborhood.

So, what are the solutions to address this concern? I'd like to start out by isolating a few specific items first and addressing them individually.

*House Churches aren't as good at marketing themselves as traditional churches are.
Why is this? One of the main reasons is that house churches are not, by nature, attractional model gatherings. That is, the point of a house church is not to attract or to gather as many people as possible each and every week. In fact, in our house church family, our goal is to gather with as small a group as possible every week. If our group were to suddenly have 20 new people start attending our gatherings every Sunday, we'd have to split our group into two or even three other smaller groups in order to continue to maintain the quality of our fellowship together.

Simply put, in the house church, bigger is not better. Now, that doesn't mean that we don't value evangelism. Our group just baptized 3 people last weekend, but this was after several months, even years, of relationship and discipleship over time.

Here's the difference. In traditional churches I've served at in the past, our goal as a staff was to find new ways to attract a certain segment of people - young marrieds with children. We strategized ways to attract them. We flat out marketed our church to them with booths at local fairs and logo branded water bottles passed out at shopping malls and worship concerts in the park, etc. If we were successful we'd have 10 or 20 new people show up that Sunday morning and they'd eventually decide to join our church and tithe: SUCCESS!

Now, with the house church it's almost completely upside-down from that. In our house church we prefer to meet regularly with other disciples of Jesus; people who are seriously trying to follow Jesus in their everyday life and who want to connect with others who simply want to learn how to put the teachings of Jesus into practice daily. We're not perfect. Far from it. If anything we know how weak we are and we know that, without the help of the Holy Spirit and the support of our church family, we'd never make it alone. If we kept on adding new people all the time we'd dilute our ability to share deeply with one another - because there are some things that you'll share with a group of five or six that you would never share in a group of 25 or 30 people. Also, if we were to grow too large too quickly, we would struggle to build relationships with one another and the quality of our community would suffer.

So, what do we do? Well, first of all we don't attempt to artificially increase the number of people who fellowship with us. At the same time, we do not attempt to eliminate people or turn anyone away who wants to join us. In essence, we do our best to let Jesus build His Church. And you know what? He does!

When our family first planted our house church we did not recruit anyone to come with us. Only one other family, and one single woman from our previous traditional church came with us (and only because they wanted to, not because we convinced them to). Everyone else who has ever come to our house church has found us, we have not found them.

Secondly, I want to address the issue of being invisible to the community we're planted in. To me, this is a more serious problem. We've always felt that our calling was not only to plant a house church in our home, but that God was planting a church in this specific neighborhood. In other words, we were here in this house because God had a plan (and He still does) to love the people on our street through us.

So, from the beginning (about five years ago now) we started reaching out to the kids in our neighborhood. At first that involved leading Kids Church in our home on Sunday mornings. Mainly because Wendy and I had been children's pastors at our previous church (and we loved teaching kids together), and also because by inviting the kids in our neighborhood to come on a Sunday morning we would figure out which families already went to church somewhere and which one's didn't. Most of them, we figured out, didn't attend anywhere on Sunday mornings.

Later, we hosted pancake breakfasts for everyone in our cul-de-sac on the Fourth of July and we intentionally went out of our way to meet our actual neighbors, invite them over for dinner, take out their trashcans for them, and serve them in whatever ways we could. In essence, we determined that we would become missionaries to our neighbors.

Over time, (and this is an ongoing story), we got to pray for families in real trouble. We got to encourage them. We got to share Jesus with their kids. We got to see their kids fall in love with Jesus. We got to share groceries with families in financial need. We got to tutor their kids in math and spelling. We got to babysit when they were in a bind.

Suffice it to say, our neighbors know that there's a church on their street, and they know that we love them and that Jesus loves them. We're still hoping to make a deeper impact for them and to bring the Kingdom of God into their lives in a more powerful way, but we also know that God wants this even more than we do and He will lead us as we continue to submit ourselves to Him.

3 comments:

Alan said...

Sounds good to me!

John G said...

This was very helpful!

John G said...

Patti and I did something like the teaching of the neighborhood kids. Great idea. Thanks.