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?

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Several weeks ago I wrote about how church has become so complicated and how the machinery frequently gets in the way of just being the church. This past week I got a series of emails from a friend of mine who is visiting the Horn of Africa. This area of the continent includes Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Kenya. He was there observing and training a growing group of church leaders whose greatest complication in life is not being killed because of their faith in Christ (how’s that for a complication?). The threat of death adds a unique level of complication, yet the “church” is growing exponentially, in uncomplicated ways!

Two years ago, in just one region of the horn of Africa there were 32 churches within this movement my friend observed. Today there are more than 700. Across the entire horn of Africa 4 new churches were planted every day during 2006. God is at work in astounding ways and is transforming people from all backgrounds, from witch doctors to children, and from mothers to grandmothers. It seems no one is exempt from this movement of God.

I know there is a strong and growing house church movement in America, but nothing on this level. Reading this story has caused me to wonder what would happen if the house church movement experienced this kind of impact in America? Could we handle something of this magnitude? Would we steward it appropriately? Would we recognize it with the same level of legitimacy as we do in other parts of the world? Or with the same level of attention we’ve given to the mega church? What would happen in this consumeristic country if we really reverted back to what was common practice in the early church? What if we allowed things to become this uncomplicated?

I read Phil’s comment to my last post entitled, Who Needs Church? and I began to wonder what would happen if Barna is right and people in large numbers really became the church and quit assembling themselves together in the buildings we currently call churches. I hate to say this, but I wonder if for many people that’s more of the concern than whether or not people forsake their belief in God.

Although I don’t think we’re going to begin seeing huge numbers of churches going up for sale anytime soon let’s go with this thought of more and more people assembling themselves as the church in homes, restaurants, golf courses or wherever. What’s wrong with that? Are these “new churches” more accessible for their friends? Would they invite their friends into their inner “church” circle? Back to Phil, what about Hebrews 10? Would the writer be ok with church around my kitchen table or at a restaurant with three other couples?

I must confess that part of this sounds very appealing to me. How about you, is this scary or enticing? What are your thoughts?