Recently I sat in a room with about fifty pastors (which is an interesting thing in itself and should probably be its own post) to hear a presenter talk about the Organic Church — this particular presenter’s label for house churches (not to be confused with the Neil Cole book by the same name). I went not knowing what to expect really, although since it was a denominationally sponsored meeting I had some pre-conceived assumptions. In simplistic terms the concept he presented was one of taking the church to neighborhoods and gathering in small groups of people as opposed to the large singular gathering each week. 

The presenter was very quick to point out that this was not a replacement for church as we know it but rather a new form, or a new alternative to traditional churches or church planting. Some of the people in attendance weren’t tracking too well with his presentation but most were in agreement with him. That was until he began talking in terms that made it sound like this organic movement somehow needed to be harnessed, strategized, systematized and institutionalized so the denomination could support it and be able to jump on the house church bandwagon.

The presenter spoke in terms of a system for training, accountability, reporting and multiplying. In short, he seemed to be taking something organic (his word) and turn it into a church growth strategy. In the meeting I voiced a concern that should we try and denominationalize house churches we might kill them before they ever got started. I believe in the concept of house churches and believe they will be a significant part of the church fabric of the future. I even applaud the denomination’s desire to understand them and give blessing to those people who prefer to gather in that type of setting. However, if they’re going to truly be organic then let them evolve organically and not strategically.

Although my thoughts on the subject haven’t fully crystallized, here’s my take on things right now. I like the concept of house churches and believe having a small group of people extending the love of God to others around them (and even around the world) can be a very powerful thing. I also believe it’s a very Biblical concept and should the Holy Spirit choose to bless it through multiplication that’s fine, but I don’t see that as the goal. While I think it’s fine for house churches to affiliate with a denomination I’m not sure it’s all that beneficial. 

It seems to me that house churches have the opportunity to “be the church” without having the requirement of keeping church machinery grinding forward. House churches don’t need to focus on increasing their numbers and can instead focus on increasing their love for God, each other and the world around them. I believe there is a place for the traditional church and the house church, and believe they can even co-exist within a denominational framework if people so choose. 

So having said all that, what’s your take? What’s your preference?

I have admired Andy Stanley for several years now and believe there are obviously “good things” happening at North Point. Of course, that depends on how you define good things. More than a year ago a friend of mine who lives outside Detroit told me he was attending a North Point Strategic Partner church. I thought it was an interesting concept to have a church in Detroit fashioned after a church in Atlanta, and where you actually viewed Andy Stanley sermons on the screen. My friend said he was a little skeptical at first but really enjoyed the approach and felt it was being received well. After our initial conversation I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought.

Several days ago I ran across an Out of Ur post that brought the entire thing back to mind, and as I read it I thought, interesting… and disturbing. I always applaud creative approaches, and I really think the idea of a growing church replicating their efforts in another part of the city or even country is an interesting concept. Obviously things are working for them so why not take the same formula and put it into play in another location. It works for McDonald’s and a host of other businesses so why not church? Well, that’s where the disturbing thing comes into play for me.

I feel like church needs to be local. It not only needs to be led by local people but it needs to be contextualized to the local culture. We’re not selling burgers here, we’re sharing the good news of Christ’s forgiveness and experiencing life with each other. The idea is not to build up a kingdom, other than God’s. I’m sure Andy Stanley’s motives are pure but what’s so special about him and his methods of doing church that calls for franchising it around the country? Is this model the next version of televangelism? Is it the new form of denominationalism (like we need another denomination)? Are we losing the idea of the shepherd feeding the flock? Great idea or misguided concept? What are your thoughts?

In the late 80’s I was Worship Pastor in a brand new church in Phoenix, AZ. One Sunday I created quite a buzz when I walked on stage and opened the service by singing the theme song from Cheers. The premise was simple and straightforward: Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name. We sincerely wanted people to think of our church whenever they thought about hanging out with friends; with people who knew their name. While singing this song in church doesn’t seem all that creative 20 years later, I still think it represents a worthwhile goal for a church to pursue.

I’m reading a book called Microtrends. It’s a fascinating look at emerging trends around the world and the implications of those trends for our lives. The author cites a trend of organized religion being on the rise but it is now switching over to what he calls the Starbucks economy and the growth of the Mini-Church. These Mini-Churches (could also be called Boutique Churches) are “tailored to as many individual preferences as we can come up with. These days you can choose your faith, and your prayer community in practically as many varieties as you can choose your morning coffee.”

As I’ve thought about this I’ve wondered what would happen if this trend grew from a micro trend to a much more major trend. This could have a major impact on the church landscape in this country. What if churches were much more boutique in nature and catered to small niches of people. Not only would those who attend know everyone else’s name but they’d probably know much more about one another. On one hand I’m not sure this is all bad. From another perspective this only further supports the consumeristic tendencies so much of the American church landscape leans toward. From still another point of view this could lead to small, elitist churches where only certain people feel welcomed and comfortable.

So, what are your thoughts on these so-called Boutique Churches? Good thing, bad thing? Could it ultimately attract more people to Christ, or just shuffle the already convinced around from boutique to boutique? What do you think this trend could bring about?