Steve Bremner

Author, Podcaster & Writing Coach

What Do You Mean by “Organic” Church?This post is a 9 min read

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Recently Lili and I joined The World Outreach Center as our US ‘covering’ or missions agency. Its director and founder John Cava was one of my teachers in Bible College, and oversaw my internship when I first went to Holland nearly a decade ago.

Joining with a US-based organization will provide US donors a place to send their donations if they want to partner with us and receive a tax credit, and we didn’t want to just join any organization that may take us. We felt a solidarity in vision and purpose for making disciples through ‘organic’ means.

When I reached out to start communication with him, we found ourselves on the same page about practically everything as we talked and caught up over a few Skype conversations.

But one thing he said to me triggered a snowball avalanche in my thinking ever since that I’m still chewing on, and helped me start this series of posts:

“Organic church” means different things to different people.

Boy, how true that is!

I’ve found that as I’m involved in pioneering something in Peru that is meant to be a disciple-multiplication ministry that merely happens to be organic, people assume what we’re doing in Peru is planting house churches. It may result in that, but it’s not our focus necessarily.

While It is true that we meet in our homes, and have our discipleship school in our apartments, we don’t identify ourselves based on the type of buildings we meet in. But to simplify conversation, maybe to my detriment and adding to the misconception, I just say “yes, we basically are”. For me, it’s the same as telling people I’m basically from Toronto instead of explaining that I’m actually from Peterborough, but Toronto’s is the closest international airport because hardly anybody has ever heard of Peterborough.

Same with this.

The name we’re using is “missional community“. Even that means different things to different people. We’re referring to a social space between 20 to 50 individuals, who are all on the same mission: to multiply and make more disciples themselves. Our focus is not the meeting(s), and all the components that go into that, such as location and time, but the people itself. The family more so that the structure.

For example, while you may have individuals attending a church and meeting weekly or regularly in a cell group, we find that the average cell group or Bible study can be anywhere from as little as four people to a dozen or maybe 15 or whatever. But it is never much bigger less it become a full on meeting where people can slip through the cracks more easily.

A missional community on the other hand is not necessarily the same thing or the same size, but bigger. I’ve heard Mike Breen refer to it as larger than a cell group, and smaller than a mid-size church; just large enough that a visitor can visit and stand in the corner and observe, but small enough that they can feel welcomed and share if they’d like to.

Small enough to share, but big enough to dare.

This is the structure we’d like to give the discipling culture we’re cultivating in Los Cedros (our neighborhood), Peru.

Typically when you get together with an extended family, it’s probably centered around a meal (think of Thanksgiving or Christmas). Then, during the rest of the week and month, you probably see a few other family members daily or multiple times per week. You are closer to some members than you are to others.

This is what a missional community — at least for us — is meant to resemble.

I’m not “against” institutional Church!

That all being said, what strikes me is that when I explain this to people, or post something that refers to it on the internet, or I write on my blog, how often some people are quick to assume that I’m pro organic/house church/missional community because they think I’m against institutional or “structured” church.

Nothing could be further from the truth. My desire to function in this context is not reactionary to any negatives I’ve seen in ‘the system’.

I’ve come to realize that when I say “organic” or “home” church, some people automatically assume I’m doing what I’m doing in response to being frustrated with institutional church, or that I’m in rebellion to former leaders of mine.

Or that I don’t like church so I’ve started my own without being in submission to anybody, and meet in a home since we don’t have the resources to buy or rent a building.

Or that I’m taking some kind of stand by only aligning myself in home churches and I secretly (or openly) hate large or institutional churches.

I’ve also known people who became turned off and formed their own cult home church that didn’t interact with anybody else outside their group, and they went off the deep end into some bizarre stuff. So on the one hand I can understand people’s concern.

However, the usual particular misconceptions don’t apply to me, nor do they apply to a lot of others out there who are pursuing this culture for creating disciples of Jesus. I’m not against large churches. Jesus preached to multitudes. He didn’t literally disciple the multitudes, but he did feed them, heal them and teach them.

There’s a place for mobilizing large numbers of people who love Jesus. I just don’t view having thousands of people sit in a mega church watching the back of each other’s heads once per week as effective at creating disciples on a life-on-life basis. But this large temple gathering has its strengths that the other smaller social spaces can’t afford. I’ve shared here and here that one can’t effectively build relationships in merely attending large gatherings once a week. This may serve as a starting point for meeting other believes to meet with and develop more profound relationships with, but shouldn’t necessarily be considered the goal or the end game.

What does an extended family look like?

When we look at the life of Jesus, starting with just his own intimacy with God the Father (1 to 1) and move outward, it looks something like this;

  1. Jesus had a very close and small circle of friends, John, Peter and James (Intimate, fewer than 3 people)
  2. The original twelve apostles he mentored and discipled and spent most of his time pouring into, which the three closer friends were also apart of (Personal, between 5-12 people)
  3. There was still another social space here as others, such as extended family members of the disciples were around for, such as mothers, and other female friends such as Mary, Martha, etc…(Oikos/Social space between 20-70 people)
  4. The largest gathering would be when Christ preached to the multitudes, fed the four and five thousand, and other such examples (Temple gathering, 75 people and upward)

To help I’ve added this diagram (photo credit: 3DM, who call these the “four spaces”).

screen-shot-2012-03-16-at-11-48-31-am

You may notice from the diagram (if you’re a visual learner) that each of the four spaces tends to be a cluster of the previous size’s social space. That’s to say a handful of small groups make up what you’d call the Missional Community, and a cluster of the MCs make up the larger “temple” gathering.

It should be noted that Jesus didn’t make disciples out of all these multitudes (number 4). In fact, after feeding the 5000, John’s Gospel records that many people deserted him the next day. So size itself is not to be our goal, and can betray our true level of effectiveness in making disciples.

In the first three groupings I mention, we see different levels of interaction Jesus had with individuals. The smaller the group, the more intimacy and deeper relationship that can be had. It’s with respect that I suggest disciple-making happens much more effectively in spaces number 1-3, and number 4 serves another purpose. However, many falsely assume all of the above can happen in one (or two) weekly meetings with a large group of people.

It should also be noted that each of the four spaces has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Not one is better than the other, but for certain goals, such as I’m laying before you concerning disciple making, not all of them are ideal.

With respect to extended families in the natural, they are related by family or blood, most obviously, but also they might eat together often. They do informal things together, such as playing games or attending an event, as well as formal or planned things. It is this culture of the Body of Christ (number 3 listed above) that here at Oikos Cedros we’re pre-occupied with developing in order to fulfill the great commission. Where things happen naturally, and then we worry about the meeting place and the details of how it is to be organized, rather than starting with a meeting and a location and trying to persuade people to attend it.

Yet despite this, many leaders begin with number 4 and work their way backwards and move towards having their members included in small groups and Bible studies. We then hear from time to time of pastors stepping down from ministry due to moral failure in ways that honest accountability in the first and second social spaces would have helped them overcome or deal with.

We hear of other pastors burning out under the weight of carrying a lot of the workload in space number 4 because statistically, 20% of the people are doing 80 % of the work. If done right, it’s harder to be a pew warmer in the smaller spaces, especially if the leader(s) are setting the tone and developing a discipling culture where everybody is doing the work.

Reader beware, I’m just getting started with my thoughts on organic church. In my next post, Organic vs. Organized, I’ll follow up with more in this direction.

Recommended Reading:

If you’d like to get a copy of the audio version of Organic Church: Growing Church Where Life Happens by Neil Cole, head over to audibletrial.com/fireonyourhead and get a copy free with your *30 day free trial*, or click on the photo below.

 

Get a free copy of Organic Church with your Audible Trial

   

 

Related Posts:

5 Things The House Church Movement is Getting Right

5 Things The House Church Movement is Getting Wrong

[Podcast] What Is Missional Community? With Shaun Wissman & Mark Burgess

[Podcast] Is It Necessary For Christians To Attend Church Meetings? With Dr Stephen Crosby

About Steve Bremner

Steve the coffee drinker is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books. Note: this post may have contained affiliate links of which the author receives a small commission if you purchase something recommended in the post.