Thursday, August 30, 2012

Questions Continued: What About Stagnant Fellowship?

Question:  We are stagnant in our house church and we don't grow.  Some in our group don't want to grow, and they say we should stay as we are, but others do want to grow. What can we do?

First, let's start with the premise that multiplication is good! Christ in us produces life, and that life produces more life! Fertility is part of our natural, and spiritual DNA.  We are created to overflow the life of Christ into others, and that results in multiplication!   When Jesus called out to Matthew one day as a tax collector who was just out taking care of business, he wasn't reaching out to just Matthew.  Matthew was connected to a whole group of people, and he immediately invited his friends over to hang out with Jesus at his place.  That resulted in many more people coming in contact with Christ.  When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan Woman at the well, she immediately left and shared all she knew about him with others she was connected to in her village.  The Church in Acts grew because they were intentional about sharing the Good News with those around them, even if that meant danger to their lives.  Christ is out seeking and saving those who are lost - then and now.  How He does that, is through our contact and connectedness to others through relationships.
  There are many in the simple/organic church practice that are content to never grow - either by addition or multiplication.  They prefer to remain a nice little comfortable (and usually predictable) fellowship of familiar faces.  Many such people couch this insular focus in sanctimony, or in the belief that they will lose intimacy.  The reality is that many people are just looking for a reason to prefer the safety, security, and the familiarity of stasis. Some people just don't see a problem with stagnation.  In fact, some prefer it.
The word stagnate is a verb, and verbs describes an action or a state of being. Stagnation describes a state of inactivity, or standing still of something.  It is to be idle, vegetate, rust, cease to grow, and to exist in a changeless situation. 
This word describes much of what happens in our fellowship gatherings - traditional or simple/organic.  Why?

I believe that most people naturally gravitate to stagnation and we have to intentionally fight against it if we don't want it.  Think of rust forming.  It will eventually form on metal because of the elements in the metal itself and in the environment.   In order to combat rust, you must constantly be doing the things that combat it, or at least, hold it at bay.  The same is true with stagnation in simple church fellowship. The older we get, our love of comfort, our struggles with insecurities and fears, if we are tired and overworked, if we are lazy or complacent in nature - these are just a few factors that inevitably lead us towards stagnation.  Sometimes it is just easier to settle into stagnation, rather than fight against it.  

A few ways to keep from stagnation:
  •   Keep the value of being missional in your fellowship together.  Coming together is NOT just about "us"; the "me" generation.  Fight the tendency towards selfish agendas. The best way to stay missional is to tap into the internal motivations of each person in the group.  God has put into each of us inclinations that are natural missional expressions for us as individuals, and as a group, that He desires to use us in.  I've written a lot about this in past blog posts, one most recently, (see the first post in Common Questions from July 30).  
  • See each member as a potential and likely church planter and act on it.  Most people are able to begin another simple church with the support and encouragement of the current fellowship.  A new simple church can start with couples and/or with their families, using LTG's, affinity groups (i.e. motorcycle riding clubs, scrap-booking clubs, study groups), with apartment residents, neighbors or co-workers.  The possibilities are endless.  As we teach in Greenhouse (, we need to "lower the bar on how to have church, and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple". (Being a disciple means making MORE disciples btw!)  When faith is acted upon, it is contagious and spurs one another on "towards love and good deeds"!
  • Have agreement on starting new simple churches from the beginning.   If you don't do this, people will quickly slide into wanting the simple church to stay "as is" indefinitely.   Starting new simple churches when your around 15-20 people who regularly participate each week, should be a part of your commitment together to grow from the beginning.
  • Be aware of the tendency towards stagnation and exclusivity.  Regularly examine if your simple church is becoming stagnant, ingrown, insular and not a fostering a welcoming environment for new people. We can all relate to the "cliques" of adolescence and sadly, even adulthood!  Many of our simple churches believe they have unique, intimate, close, committed fellowship, and those around them think they are more like a clique or even cultish!  A church I was in years ago, was once accused of being exclusive and elite by other churches in that denomination, and it was true - we were, and sadly even proud of it!                                                                                                               
  • Be comfortable with ending the fellowship.  Scripture is full of dichotomy's - the way to greatness is through humility, the first will be last, pruning for fruitfulness, death that brings forth new life.  Simple/Organic churches are not meant to go on, and on, and on, in the same way with the same people indefinitely.  So much of the paradigm of the continual congregation comes from traditional churches that have been there for decades, mainly because they have a building to support, a denomination that keeps it going, the history attached, and religious behavior that falls into rote. In scripture, we see the fluidity of fellowships that change with life, relationships, and the Spirit of God working in purpose differently and according to His Plans. Our relationship to one another as believers and members of The Body, Bride and Church doesn't change, but our venues for that will and should if we are following the Spirit.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Questions Continued: What About Structure?

What is the structure of the simple, organic home church?
Here in the West, we live in a culture that is in love with structures, systems and manuals of operation. This is a significant factor in our perception and practice Simple, Organic Church.  Not only do we have to consider our culture, but also such things as; personality, age, familiar practices, lives that are scheduled to the max, our work, ages of children, traditions, etc. All these can and do influence our attitude towards wanting more or less some degree of structure when it comes to fellowship paradigms.  I often use a line of continuum as a visual example to explain this thought.  The left side of the continuum represents a point of highly structured practices. Traditional churches, especially those with liturgies would be on this end. The other end at the right, is what I describe as  fluid practice - where there is little, if any structure, and more like liquid or gas that is not dependent upon structure and even permeates around and through it. Much of missionary and evangelism work would be considered more fluid because it is not contingent on a special event or meeting.  Rather it happens spontaneously, and with divine serendipity moments. People find a place of comfort and practice somewhere on the continuum.

  HIGH STRUCTURE---0----1---2----3-----4----5----6----7---8----9----10--- FLUID

  Jesus practiced his fellowship all along the continuum, but remained mostly on the fluid end.  The book of Acts gives us examples of more structured fellowship.  I don't think structure of our fellowship is the main issue, but rather what you do when you come together that is important.  The key to fellowship being simple and organic, is being like Jesus who "only did that which the Father was doing".  So that means seeking the Father for His Will for the simple church.

So the first question to ask is; what is God directing for this simple church in this season of coming together?  

Is it to focus on a deeper understanding of the Word, doing outreach together, maturing new believers, deepening family intimacy, spending quality and quantity time in prayer or worship, ministry equipping, fun and relationship building, releasing others to begin new simple churches?  
Like life, our fellowship should be viewed in holistic terms that change with the rhythms of our lives and the themes that God is working in and through us at this time, and not stagnant meetings which become rote over time.  Once we know what God is focusing on in our lives, and how much structure that requires, we can structure our time together for that to happen.

For example, in one simple church we began, it was apparent to all of us that God was bringing us together for a season of encouraging one another in the specific and unique ways that each of us was feeling led to minister in.  It was a season of "coaching one another" with the truths of the Word, prophetic words, prayer support, encouragement and accountability.  Our structure supported this happening. After about a year, God released everyone to these ministries and the group disbanded.  The relationships are still there years later, but the time of that simple church reached it's end. Another group came together for a season of working on our marriages so we structured our time to include some DVDs that taught on marriage issues, had some great "date" nights together, spent some nights in ministry prayer for specific couples, and we didn't include the children in this simple church.  And in another simple church we led, children were very much a part of it so we structured eating together with "kid friendly" foods, playing together as a simple church with games, stories, toys etc.  We did worship with a ton of instruments that the kids could play (shakers, bells, chimes, drums, etc.),  kept the study of the Bible short and applicable to the kids in the group, and ended early in the evening to meet bedtimes.  In this simple church we were far less structured, and because of having the children participate, our times became quite fluid.

The reason and purpose for the simple church determined the structure and duration of the fellowship we experienced.

Most people who begin to practice Simple, Organic, Missional Church start out by bringing with them all the familiar structure of what they knew in traditional church, i.e. the same time/place each week, someone leading worship, usually the same person doing the facilitating/leading each week, scripture study, prayer time, fellowship time, and it's pretty much the same from week to week.  Nothing much has really changed except they went from big to small, and from a building to a home.  They change very little in what they do and look like from the traditional church they left.  Many call this "honey, I shrunk the church" syndrome and it's very common.

Some of the major strengths of Simple, Organic and Missional church practice is that it is mobile, intimate with God and others, it is done easily by anyone, can change without bureaucracy, adapts to circumstances, and supports everyone in their participation.   As we like to say in  the CMAresources Greenhouse is to; " lower the bar on HOW we do church, and raise the bar on being a disciple". 

Here's my take - If we think of church like a family, then we know that the structure of family gatherings changes with life and the seasons God takes us through to mature.  For example, when my kids were young, we had set times for dinner and everyone was home and around the table. As they grew older and more involved in activities like sports, drama, dance and such, and my husband started working nights, we shifted our meals and lives to accommodate these changes in our life as a family.  The structure of our dinners changed, but our relationships didn't.  What else didn't change was the interactions, involvements, and commitments with each other because our relationships determined our fellowship - not our structure!  We were still family and spent time together but what that looked like changed, and still continues to do so!

The Bible is clear about the things we should accomplish in our relationships with one another as The Body of Christ.  Some of those listed are; encouragement, prayer, the Lords Supper, each using their spiritual gifts, admonishment, confession, the study of the Scriptures, the sharing of resources, and many more!  This happens through the holistic interaction of our lives with one another.  It doesn't all have to happen at a scheduled and structured time every week with a few.

Of course, most of us need some element of structure because we don't live very fluid lives, but rather from "event to event" and pack our calendars full with our time slots.  So since that is how much of western world lives, I'd recommend checking out what my friends Tony and Felicity Dale have put together as a great resource which covers the many details and basic paradigm of having fellowship in the home at the House2House website.  You can find it at 

The next post will be on why Simple Churches don't grow and often become stagnant.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Questions About Simple, Organic, Missional Church/Life

  • How do you make disciples who make other disciples?
In the motorcycle riding and safety classes we teach, one of the questions during the classroom portion is: "Who is responsible for safety on the road?"  The answer is all of us, those of us riding a motorcycle AND those who are driving cars are all responsible for safety.  The same is true of disciple making.  All of us who are followers of Christ are responsible to disciple others.  We make ourselves available and willing, and God does all the work.

Here is a direct quote from a letter I recently received from Jim in Wisconsin who is passionate about making disciples.  Jim says, "You see friends we are all disciple makers.  In this past week, Linda and I are seeing that those who we disciple, are making disciples, and those people are making disciples.  It is all completed by our loving God.  I stand by my 3 L’s of making disciples; LISTEN, LOVE, LEAD BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. "

Jim said it great! If everyone understands that making disciples is all of our responsibility as those who follow Christ, it then becomes an issue of obedience, and not of "calling", "profession", or someone Else's job. 

So, once that is established...............

Be around those who are not Christians and be available to introduce Jesus in many contexts.
Then you have relationships with those who are not presently, but may become, disciples.  This means you START with those who don't know Jesus yet. The process of making an disciple happens before someone is even a Christian.   Jesus was making disciples out of the rag tag group of men and women who were following him WAY before they even understood who He really was!  All they knew in the beginning, was that this was a guy who made them think differently than anyone else ever had.  He also did some very unusual things, and he was touching their heart in ways that nothing else ever had before.
 My husband and I started making disciples out of our three children before they ever made a commitment on their own to follow Christ.  We talked about Jesus like He was alive and always interacting with us.  We spoke to Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit like they were right there in our midst, and eager for our attention.  We asked Jesus about issues and guidance in decisions, and relied upon Him for healing, safety, provision, etc.  Our children got to know Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit in character, love, forgiveness, faithfulness, provision, etc. through the natural challenges, joys and issues of our daily lives.

Making a disciple means having an authentic relationship where you continually bring the truth of Christ and His Presence into the relationship, and that happens from the moment you meet someone.  I have many friends in my life who don't follow Jesus "yet", but still are interested in me praying for them, encouraging them, and sharing truth into their lives and circumstances.  Others don't even want that, but they just like to "hang out" together for the time being.  Either way -  I rest, knowing God is one One who brings men/women to Himself in faith, so I just keep sowing and enjoying the relationship for what it is.  I let God do the big work of revelation, conviction, salvation, and conformation to Christ.  I just make myself available and "ready to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." 1 Pet 3:15.

 I knew a young woman years ago who started coming to the church I was attending, who was somewhat interested in knowing more about being a Christian.  She was living with her boyfriend at the time, and she was watching pretty violent "snuff" type movies as her entertainment. We began a friendship together, and I brought Jesus into it with our conversations.  It didn't take long before she was asking me if she should quit both living with her boyfriend, and watching these movies if she was seriously going to be a Christian.  You might be surprised that my response to her was not what I wanted to say which was; "yes, quit both of those activities right now!" Instead, I said to her, "if you want to be a Christian, that means you have a relationship with Christ that allows you to ask Him what He thinks about these things.  Ask Him, and see what He says to you about it, and then do what He says."  I continued to hang out with her, treating her as a friend and someone I truly enjoyed being with, and waited to see what Jesus would tell her.  It didn't take too long before she said to me one day, "I moved out of living with my boyfriend because I felt Jesus wanted me to".  And then a few weeks after that she said, "I don't want to watch those movies anymore.  I'm not sure why, but they don't interest me anymore like they used to." 
 I was watching Jesus make His own disciple, and was blessed to be a part of the process!  This woman has been very missional over the years in her faith, having many different simple churches in her home, and she has been a light to many in very dark places.

Making a disciple means to point others to Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of their faith.  To encourage them to listen to Jesus (as opposed to you, or some great book or teacher) and then obey what He says.  Not everyone wants to be a disciple.  Many never made that commitment when Jesus Himself was right in front of them!  However, if we are listening and obeying and sharing our love of Jesus with others all around us, fruit will result from it, and some will chose to follow The Way and The Way Maker. Life produces life.
In the flesh, we have tried to make disciples who follow a denomination, a charismatic leader, a fellowship large or small, a social/political agenda, or something else OTHER than Jesus.  We have the fruit of those efforts - nothing!  Jesus is the only thing that will produce new life - period.

Making disciples is about KNOWING JESUS and teaching people how to do that through prayer and the Word of God, and then obeying what He says to us. There are no special gifts, skills, education, training, certificates, or seminary that is needed to point people to the "author and perfecter" of our faith.  Just a desire to seek Jesus, listen to what He says, and then do it.  Anyone can do that! 

By removing the hindrance of the "necessity of special training" that is needed to make disciples, it sets people free to do what is natural to them if they have a relationship with Jesus and with others. 
When our kids were very young, they were the incredibly good at making disciples of those around them, and we expected and encouraged them to do so!  We didn't say, "bring them to mommy and daddy, and we'll teach your friends how to know Jesus", but we encouraged them do it, and we saw God back them up with His presence and power!

For those of you who love tools, a great one in helping people become disciples who learn to seek God, listen and obey, are the LTG cards through CMA Resources ( Check out their website and order a few.