Brian Mashburn’s post today reminded me of something I needed to write. Brian’s post is titled “Change how you do church or watch your church die“.
The traditional way we build churches is sort of a competition. Group “A” will locate a town with no church like their brand in it and they will plant a church there. Then they will try to grow that church, especially numerically. In truth, the goal, even if unspoken, is to be the largest church in town one day. I think its settled that the way success is measured is by Sunday a.m. attendance isn’t it?
Consider a new way.
A congregation wants to evangelize Yourtown, USA. Three young couples who have been discipled and are mature believes are willing to move to the town to plant a church. So they move, find housing, get jobs, put the kids in school, and start meeting in the living room of one of the couples. The group grows, and soon outgrows the living room. Here is where the story changes.
(Back to Yourtown, USA for a moment. Lets suppose this town has 8 major apartment complexes, 4 large subdivisions, and a large trailer park. There are jobs, a favorable climate, acceptable tax structure, and people are moving in.)
The traditional way, is to begin trying to find a larger space, first to rent, until they get big enough to purchase land and build a building. And many thousands have done just that. In a few years they have lets say 200 solid members.
What if when Bob and Carol’s space becomes too small, they simply start a simultaneous group over at Ted and Alice’s apartment complex, and when that space gets to small they begin another at Bill and Susan’s trailer park meeting room, etc, etc, etc.
You tell me which is more Biblical and a more effective model.
Traditional: In five years there are two hundred members, two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday night. There are Bible classes, the church is supporting foreign missions, people are happy and things are going well. People are members from all over the town, there were 7 baptisms last year and some other families joined whose jobs brought them here. The young church has a full-time preacher, a youth minister, two elders, and a huge mortgage. Pretty typical huh?
Non-Traditional: In five years there are 12 cell churches. Each of them meets weekly for teaching, praying together, communion, worship, and mutual encouragement. Each member of each group lives in the apartment complex, subdivision, trailer park, etc. For instance, Ted and Alice have 9 couples in their group and are about to birth another in a nearby community where a member’s brother and his wife live. Ted and Alice and the other 8 families minister to the people who live in this complex, first, and then to others. When someone has a death in the family these Christians are there with food, a listening ear, baby sitting, money, or whatever help they can give. Ted and Alice and their group try desperately to love the people of that complex in Jesus stead. They will see people who have been loved open to the gospel and the Lord will add to his church.
Twelve small communities are being saturated with Christian love, concern, and modeling life as it should be lived to a watching world. Each of those complexes, subdivisions, and trailer parks are well aware of these good people who want nothing but to love them.
The leaders of the several groups meet once every few weeks to pray for each other and their people, to brainstorm, to plan large group community fairs, picnics, ect where the whole town (and all the groups) can be invited. Three men, who each lead a group, are elders. Any problems that cannot be sorted out by the people themselves is shared with these three men who decide what is best and right.
Which model is better?
I contend that the very best traditional church, where most of what happens happens inside the “building” can never reach a community as well as the newer model. There is no competition between groups in the new model because when a group gets to about 9 or 10 families (or less) they have already been praying about where to begin a new church. (they are churches you know…) There is no salary to pay, there is no mortgage payment, so guess what? The people have more discretionary dollars to use to help others and support missions.
In my view the new model is an ego crusher. There is no big “I” and little “you”. There is just Christians being salt and light to the people who live near them. They are Christ’s ambassadors to the people they play ball with, bowl with, eat BBQ with, etc.
It might be a new way or the highway!
The attractional model of doing church once worked pretty well. No more in my view. If we don’t find a way, some way, to actually be involved in our neighbors lives with love, and help, and healing, and hope, we are a dying breed. There are some churches, even mega-churches, that are doing a great job of ministering to the communities they serve. They are meeting the needs of the people in tangible ways and making opportunities for gospel conversations. They are rare though, and I think becoming more rare.
I can imagine dozens of house churches all over a city sitting in living rooms, or on back porches, watching a live stream of a man of God teaching the Bible on a big screen TV patched to a computer. What does the future hold? Only God knows. I do know that where ever God’s sheep are that is where the church is, big or small, traditional or non-traditional. Jesus is still building it and until He comes for it, we get to work with him in his mission.