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.



  1. This is a very interesting post, Katie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's especially interesting to me because I've thought about it myself quite a bit.

    The other side of the coin is that a group of people that get to know one another well and carry on doing so can become as close as any family. And that closeness is good and can be infectious. 'See how they love one another', unbelievers said of the early church; they were astonished by this closeness.

    Can we have our cake and eat it? I think perhaps we can.

    Rather than assuming a large group needs to divide (and this is, I think, a very common assumption), we might do better to think in terms of starting and nurturing new groups. This way the original group can continue but the number of groups increases. It requires one or two people to meet with the new group and help with support and advice, but they can continue to meet with their original friends as well or plan to return once the new group is self sufficient.

    All of this is implicit in what you have written, but I wanted to highlight it.

    Of course, the most important thing is to listen to what the Lord is showing us in our own situation and obey him. He knows best. Sometimes he may want a group to divide, other times he might want a group to plant out but remain together.

    Let's be as flexible as possible in our own thinking and planning and as malleable as possible in our listening and following!

    Thanks again for a cracking article, full of good ideas and advice as always, and thought provoking too.

    Bless you,


  2. Chris,

    Thanks for your feedback, comments and exhortation!
    You have made some great clarifications and emphasized what's important - i.e. always, always follow the leading and direction of the Lord.

    I think that I see many use the "intimacy" flag to simply cover their lack of desire to reach out to others. I've seen that complacency in the traditional and organic church far more than a desire to multiply (by reaching out to pre-Christians) and as a result here in the West, we don't see much multiplication, but instead the forming of simple churches based on locality or existing relationships.

    I think the intimacy factor in a simple church can create a close-nit fellowship of awesome love and value, and in no way am I denigrating that, but if they keep it to themselves, they will never reach the lost and those who need to see such love and thereby proclaim "they are known for their love of one another".

    I agree that relationships can deepen and become even better than family! That is a great example because even families change their structure as they mature. Children leave the home and find spouses and have new families but never lose the love and intimacy of their originating family - in fact, the relationships become richer as grandchildren are included!

    Your a blessing Chris! Thanks for reading my blog and giving me your feedback - I appreciate it! Keep strong in your fervor for the Lord and His Kingdom, His People, and His Purpose! It is a privilege to know you brother!!