Several months ago my wife and I were observing the fact that some of the things we were doing were not producing the results we were expecting. We felt like we were adrift and needed to hear from the Lord regarding what we should do or what needed to change. So we took a few days off and went away to seek the Lord. We found a beautiful cabin the mountains of southwestern Virginia and determined to find our way as we listened to the Lord. To make it brief, what we discovered was that because of my ideal view of what the church should be, I had become stingy with the calling and gifts that the Lord had freely given me. I was given these gifts to minister and equip the Body of Christ, but because of my dreams for Church as God sees it, I was withholding what Jesus had given to me.
The solution is not yet clear other than I need to stop being exclusive and be willing to serve the Church regardless of how she functions. Therefore I committed myself to the Lord to serve his bride no matter what she looked like. That brought be to a place to consider what a more blended church would look like and the process to bring her to a more organic, simple expression which gave me the opportunity to write up this strategic plan. By “coincidence” after this time of seeking the Lord, I had received Neil Cole’s newest book (with Phil Helfer); “Church Transfusion – Changing Your Church Organically From the Inside Out” which greatly influenced some of my conclusions and observations. I recommend this book greatly.
The following strategic plan is in no way exhaustive or set in stone. It is still in the theoretical stage, and will certainly need to be tweaked as the opportunity to apply this plan is pursued. The idea of merging the concepts of organic, simple church to a traditional attractional model church is revolutionary. Although some have accomplished this with success, it is still experimental and risky. With the Lord’s direction, can an already established congregation be lead into a more simple and organic church life?
FIRST, THE PROBLEM
One of the major weaknesses in the local church in America today is that it has taken on a business model more than that of family. Neil Cole has said; “When you imagine the amount of resources, energy and time invested in a service held only one day a week, it is remarkable. With all the importance placed on this event, you would expect there to be a lot of scriptural directives to make sure people get it right. But if you search all of the New Testament looking for the commands or injunctions having to do with this important weekly event, you will find them sadly missing. Instead you will find verses, chapters, and entire books that speak to how we are to live together as a spiritual family”
In the many churches today, results are measured by the size of meetings and income rather than the number of those who are being obedient to Jesus. Jesus said to make disciples of all nations by teaching them to obey what he taught. We have reduced that command to gathering members so that they conform to the traditions of men and pay for the “vision of the house.” The senior pastor has usurped the role of head of the church from Jesus and the congregation now looks to the senior pastor as their source for inspiration, spiritual food, comfort, guidance, and he is responsible for the ministry of the church. The five fold ministry may be recognized as valid and welcomed, but never to the degree that the congregation becomes equipped to do the work of the ministry. Ministry is still relegated to the clergy class, office holders and pastoral staff. Unfortunately those gifted in one of the five fold gifts have been elevated to “super star” status. The supernatural ministry of the presence of Jesus has been limited to spiritual manifestations, but never allowing him to actually be the head of the church in all activities.
This business model has caused the local church to be viewed as competitive with other portions of the Body of Christ. This drives the local church to become bigger and more entertaining, thus consumer driven. The pastor is expected to perform via his sermon along with his worship team and other attractions during the service. Finances, talent, time and energy is devoted to making the worship service everything the consumer congregation expects it to be. Unfortunately this leads to a church that has little time for making disciples, developing relationships in the community and simply being family together. Grant it, discipleship may happen amongst the leadership and ministry teams, but the congregation is merely spectators. If discipleship does become a priority it is attempted through preaching or institutional classes and seminars which focus on academics rather than obedience to Christ. This causes discipleship to be diminished to an intellectual understanding of doctrine and church practice rather than relationship with Jesus and being able to hear him and obey him.
The work of the Church in the world today has become complicated and systematic rather than simple and organic. Therefore the goal of this change would be to lead an existing congregation from its present condition to that of an organic, simple church focused on mission rather than events. Where disciples are being made and hopefully citizens within the surrounding communities are being transformed by the gospel in every area of their life. Those who call this congregation their local church would be equipped to do the work of the ministry of Jesus not just within the confines of the local church events, but also in the world where they live. In fact greater emphasis would be given to the latter. The church would then be a true expression of God’s Kingdom bringing the gospel to where they live, work and play.
Here are some facts and trends to consider:
What is happening in the USA?
- 65 million attend church, 25% of population
- Only 4 to 5 million have a great commission focus.
- In 1995 – 375,000 churches.
- In 2000 – 324,000 churches.
- In 2002 – 300,000 churches.
- There is a 50% divorce rate in the church.
- Eight out of ten pastors want to leave the ministry.
- The number of men involved in church is declining.
- Many children leave the church in their teen years.
Neil Cole states: “Churches lose 2,765,000 people each year, between 3500 and 4000 churches close their doors each year for the last time; while only 1100-1500 churches are started. Not a single county in all America has a greater percentage of churched people today than a decade ago.”
George Barna has discovered that:
- 4 out of 10 born again Christians do not attend church totaling 10 million.
- 15-20 million do not attend a traditional organized church.
- Majority of those making a decision for Christ in an evangelical church were no longer found attending church after eight weeks of making their decision.
- Over the next 20 years the number of Christians seeking spiritual fulfillment in traditional churches will decline.
- In 2007, 70% of Americans relied on traditional church expressions, by 2025 this number will decline to 30-35%
- There will be alternative expressions of spirituality (house & market place churches) will rise from the current 5% to between 30-35%.
In light of these statistics, the church is certainly in need of a change, a reformation, a return to a more organic, simple model revealed to us in scripture.
WHAT WOULD THE PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY, GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND GOALS OF THIS ATTEMPT TO TRANSITION FOR A TRANDITIONAL, ATTRACTIONAL MODEL TO A SIMPLE, ORGANIC CHURCH?
Jesus is Primary – Jesus is the center of all that is said and done. Jesus is Lord will be the core affirmation then everything else will follow. From a Revelation of Jesus to Mission – Disciple Making to Church Happens.
Traditionally we establish a church, and then we develop programs and events with the intention to make disciples.. Knowing Jesus comes by revelation. This revelation of Jesus comes first, and then discipleship happens focusing on the mission and life of the disciple. This is the activity that causes real church to happen. Jesus’ will is to always remain the head of the church. So we are to reveal Jesus to them, disciple them and while this is going on, church happens! This also puts Jesus in his rightful place of building His church rather than men building his church.
Be Incarnational/Missional – It has been said that “What we draw them with is what we draw them to.” That being said, the church must attract them to Jesus rather than to human achievements, personalities and programs. Although attractional churches make it easy for some seekers to visit them, incarnational churches go to where the people are instead of spending time and energy attracting people to come to a service. We see our God as a missionary God and we are a sent people.
Walk in love – Agape love is to be our motivation. Agape is love without expecting anything is return. It is the same love in which God loves us. In relationships with one another and the community, our goal will be to express the love of God to all. Our attitude towards other churches in the Body of Christ will be that of love and not comparing ourselves to them, but blessing them.
Main focus is on Making Disciples – Discipleship will be the purpose of all activities. The simple, organic church discipleship desires to make no man or women dependent upon one leader or any source (such as curriculum or meetings) for spiritual growth and maturity. The goal is to make the disciple totally dependent on his relationship with Jesus using the Bible and his relationship with the Lord as his primary source. The only tools needed for the follower of Christ is his Bible and his life being applied to God’s word. Simply, they need to learn to feed themselves rather being dependent on a preacher to feed them. It has been said “to make a disciple all you need is two people who are willing to surrender to Jesus, the Word of God, and then use life’s circumstances that Jesus has given you as the curriculum, and maybe do this over a meal or a cup of coffee.”
Resist Dualism – Dualism is the practice of seeing life divided as sacred and secular. Our goal is to see all of our life sacred. God is not just in church or worship services. We must see him in all aspects of life. Many times we have two spheres of life – our church life, and our life in the world. This is in error. You are the same whether in church or at work or visiting family or at play with your friends. When a part of our life is separate from our spiritual life or Christian life (church life); that part of our life is the breeding ground for idolatry. When we see all of our life under Jesus’ lordship and sacred, our spiritually is genuine and real. When we give our life to Jesus, our life becomes His, therefore all of our life is sacred.
Recognize the Priesthood of All Believers – Everyone has a part, a gift, and no one is better than another. Every believer must function as a priest and king. The church is a gathering of these priests and kings; a chosen people doing the Lord’s will. Since Jesus builds his Church, we can trust that He has placed those within the congregation with the much needed gifting to accomplish His purpose both generally and unequally for that specific congregation.
WHAT WOULD SOME OF THE GOALS BE TO ACCOMPLISH THIS TRANSITION?
Here are some basic goals that would guide the congregation to a simpler, organic expression of church.
- Transition the church from a traditional/institutional/attractional model to a simple/organic model.
- To use the facility (which many times has an historic and cultural identity in a community) as a bridge to the community that expects church to be in a building and that has Sunday services. This will facilitate and spiritual environment where when there is gathering, it leads to scattering. The building will be seen as a tool and not a sanctuary or temple.
- To make disciples who follow Christ and are able to mature regardless of the condition of organized Christianity or society, but based upon their relationship with Jesus and their family in Christ.
- To equip the church to do the work of the ministry via the gifting/function of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher.
- To acknowledge the church as already sent into areas of the community to reach those who may never come to a church service; establishing discipleship groups in homes, businesses and social gathering points.
- To prepare the congregation to reach/disciple the nations (people groups) that have come into our communities as well as those who live in areas of the world where the gospel has not been preached.
- To multiply the numbers of disciples that then make disciples themselves. Growth will not be measured by those who attend a service, but by those who are actively doing the ministry of Jesus as He has gifted and called them.
- To serve as a base for other simple, organic, and house churches who need a place to gather with other believers for times of celebration, instruction and fellowship beyond their own small gathering.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE STRATEGIC STEPS THAT NEED TO BE TAKE?
It is difficult to be exact regarding a complete strategy without having an opportunity to dialogue at length with an actual congregation. But there are several strategic steps that need to be taken in order to accomplish the goals mentioned earlier. All of these will need to be established in prayer and a gentle spirit. These steps will certainly overlap so they are not meant to be a hard fast sequence of events.
Get to know the congregation. The leadership of the congregation needs to get to know each person individually and learn about their dreams and visions. They should want to spend enough time with them to know where they were in their relationship with Jesus and the church. During this stage, not much would change within the activities of the church including the worship service. If any changes are made it would be done with a clear consensus of the active church members and for the purpose of instruction. There will also be a intentional plan where each of the members of the congregation get to know one another as well.
Prepare the congregation for change. This would be done through teaching both during the main service as well as in small groups and informal gatherings and visits.
Begin to introduce simple, organic church practices including the development of small groups in homes, the marketplace and gathering places outside the church facility. These gatherings would be developed in response to a valid paradigm shift amongst the congregation and not a dictated mandate. Let Jesus lead. These gatherings will include the following (not necessarily in any specific order):
- Meal/Lord’s Supper – There will be regular meals at the church facility as well as other places where they would gather.
- Praise and Prayer – Focusing on Jesus.
- Sharing what God has done, and is doing, as well as words of encouragement and revelation.
- Ministry – exercising the gifts focusing on one another’s needs. Traditionally referred to as “body ministry.”
- Ministering God’s Word via teaching, dialogue, discussion and exhortation.
The Sunday service will be focused on celebration and reporting together what the Lord is doing in our lives. There will be corporate training and encouragement in the form of teaching and exhortation. I Cor. 14:26 will be the standard or “order of service”, therefore being a participatory meeting.
Watch for leadership to emerge as each one does his part to serve, both in the context of the activities of the congregation and in other areas of their own life.
Begin to undergird and support those who have a specific burden or call, equipping them to do the work of the ministry. The ministry of the church will take shape based upon the gifting and callings of those whom the Lord has brought together. This is opposite of the traditional model where the pastor leads the congregation to do the ministry in which the pastor feels must be accomplished. Certainly the pastors and other fivefold leaders may have areas of ministry that they have a burden for, but these will not be the only ministries established, but it will be from the congregation as a whole. The congregation would encourage that as they gather, they would then scatter to reach their local community and the world.
Prepare for growth. As the saints begin to do the work of the ministry throughout the region, harvest will happen. Therefore there will be groups of believers in many settings and sizes as well as the Sunday gathering at the main facility. Growth will be spontaneous and beyond the control of what can happen at the main facility. Growth will then be in the hands of Jesus who builds his Church, rather than man controlling and manipulating the growth.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?
There will certainly be challenges regarding this strategy both internally and externally. Change is hardly ever welcomed.
The Congregation – The challenges amongst the congregation will be in the area of understanding and then agreeing with the proposed changes. Therefore, approach these challenges with love and gentleness but without compromising our purpose. Time and patience will be of utmost importance. Knowing when to wait and when to initiate takes the wisdom of the Lord. Therefore, the congregation will need to spend much time together not only in discussion, but prayer as they seek the Lord’s will together.
In the areas that seem to contradict simple, organic church. This will be in the areas of the clergy/laity issue, using a traditional church facility, being part of a perceived institution such as a denomination or “covering” organization, distribution of funds, and those who come expecting to be part of an attractional/program centered church. Each of these areas will need to be discussed, taught and understood. This will take much time and patience as well.
Expectations from the denomination or “covering” organization. One of the greatest challenges will be to get them to not only understand what is being done, but to accept it and give us space to experiment and follow the Lord’s leading. Our desire would be to always follow scripture rather than tradition. This may be perceived as rebellion or foolish by some, but I would attempt to maintain a loving respectful relationship and hopefully this experiment would prove to be a model to help the churches of the organization to become more fruitful and effective in making disciples and transforming communities with the gospel of the Kingdom.
Concerns regarding finances. Most organic, simple church folk do not subscribe to using tithing as a binding principle but see it as an Old Covenant law and practice. This does not mean that giving is not practiced; in fact statistically it is usually greater in organic, simple churches as much as we can tell. There is a strong belief in biblical giving from a New Covenant perspective which has greater sacrifice than the Old Covenant. There is very little measurement of who gives and how much other than the results of what we see many networks accomplish. Funds are usually not gathered for buildings, programs or clergy, but to help the poor and accomplish mission. The congregation can continue to take up offerings, and encourage those who may be gathering outside of the Sunday morning service at the church facility to participate in giving as well. But if they determine to use their financial gifts for other reasons, they should be free to do so.
How will the challenge to pay for the facility and staff be met? The staff will need to be providing a service that is not merely tied to the institutional activities of a church, but are truly providing a service to the congregation. Of course, this should never be true in the area of discipleship and ministry, which is the main purpose of the church. Instead funds are provided for those who are accomplishing tasks whose time requirements prohibit them from working in the marketplace.
Keep in mind that working in the marketplace is not less spiritual than working in the church. In most simple, organic churches which are small and usually home based, there is no need for a paid pastor or minister. In a blended model, a full time senior leader could easily justify receiving a salary based upon responsibilities and time commitments. The key is for the senior leader never to allow folks to become dependent upon him, but to be dependent on the Lord for all things. Full time ministry does not position us to have a closer walk with the Lord, or to have a special relationship that allows us to hear God better, nor does it qualify us to lord over others. It should be merely practical and not mandated.
All that being said; offerings would still be taken at most events and the understanding of biblical financial principles will be part of the discipleship process.
Concerns regarding the facility. Make the facility available to the community. If needed. the facility could be rented by several congregations which would help to pay for the upkeep and expenses of having a facility and possible supplement the cost of any staff including the senior leader. See the facility become more of a community center for the surrounding area. This would lead towards the facility being used throughout the week rather than one or two times.
It would be continually affirmed in word and practice that the facility is merely a tool of the Lord, but not a sanctuary or temple. It would be clear that the body of Christ, the people, is the only temple or house of the Lord.
As mentioned previously, this is not an exact science, but an experiment in doing church in a way that is familiar to many who are meeting in houses and are detached from a traditional denominational structure. But many are now attempting to bring the simple, organic way of being the church into their traditional context. This will not be easy; in fact organic, simple church can be more difficult than what we are used to doing. This is not because in its methods or practices we find greater difficulty, it is really much simpler. But, it is because we are not used to going in that direction or doing things that way. It is so much easier to do things the way we always have done and know how to do them. We have all heard the famous quote; “The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In this age we live in, we must seek and do something different in order to get different results. This dilemma is truly at the heart of the challenge.
It reminds me of when I used to drive in the snow before the roads where plowed and the ruts in the snow were deep and if you went into them you were sure to get stuck. Therefore you had to force yourself to drive out of the rut, straddling the ruts and fighting the tendency to fall back into them. This was very difficult, but fighting the wheel and staying out of the rut was the only solution. It is the same regarding changing the way we “do church” as we make our way in these changing times to reach our communities and bring transformation to those who live among us by the simple gospel of the Kingdom. We can drive into the ruts with ease. In fact we can just drift normally right into them; we don’t even have to fight the wheel! But if we do this, we find ourselves stuck and going nowhere.
I believe the simple, organic way of being the church is more than a model, but it is the way God intended his church to be and be seen. As we see our nation become more and more distant from the gospel, plus embracing a more post-modern worldview, we must be brave and trust the Lord to lead us beyond our previous understanding and traditions. Thus we see the changes around us as a tool of the Lord and not a barrier to the gospel and relationship with Jesus.
What do you think? What have you experienced in attempting to assist a congregation to function in a more organic, simple way?
 Cole, Neil, Church Transfusion – Changing Your Church Organically From the Inside Out, Jossey-Bass, 2012
 Cole, Neil, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, Jossey-Bass, 2005 pg 40
 Neil Cole states, “Church attendance, however, is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective.” Cole, Neil, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, Jossey-Bass, 2005. Introduction
 Source: Dawn Ministries, 2007
 Cole, Neil, Cultivating a Life for God, ChurchSmart Resources, 1999, pg 11
 Cole, Neil, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, Jossey-Bass, 2005, pg. 95
Frost, Michael and Hirsch, Allen, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church, Hendrickson Publishers, 2003
Hirsch, Alan, The Forgotten Ways – Reactivating the Missional Church, Brazos Press, 2006