By: Shannon Youell
“Meeting shoulder to shoulder in a building is only a model, not the mission. Marry the mission; date the model.” Andy Stanley
The church will be working through the changes Covid-19 has accelerated for years to come and if we keep God’s mission in view, then these can be good and fruitful changes. The idea that the only way we can be the church is to gather in a particular place or way puts the focus on a model of being the church. Not being ‘married’ to the model opens the mission to places and spaces where our traditional model is struggling to engage in.
One of the models that is currently giving the mission momentum has been around since the church was birthed. Ephesus had perhaps 200 house churches or using the more current moniker micro-churches; people in near proximity to one another through geography, culture or context, who gather to worship, share around the table, celebrate, gospel one another and be missionaries where they live, work, play and pray.
There are some who feel threatened by this idea, yet believers have been meeting this way for centuries both since Christ, and before within the Jewish communities of faith and practice. There is a misconception that it can only be church if certain criteria are present – an element of truth for sure – but often the criteria of what constitutes an official ‘church’ are around institutional structures, sustainability and membership rolls – or to put it in the more common language used – buildings, bucks and butts. And these criteria are more often than not lived out in a Sunday morning gathering. Coining Andy Stanley’s expression of these types of gatherings as ‘shoulder to shoulder’, they are but one model of joining God at work in his mission to redeem, reconcile and restore relationships between God and humans, human to human and human to all of creation through the message, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
‘Shoulder to shoulder’ gatherings in various models of the traditional church meeting continue to find growth through people who would consider visiting a church at least once, according to much of the research. But what of those who would not ever consider visiting a church, or have been disaffected, hurt, marginalized or are just ‘done’ with church or those to whom church and a life of faith in God has never been on their radar? .
In the last blog I wrote about the shift from content to connection and why this is crucial for the church to pay attention to. Our younger generations are not looking for content in as much as connections and they are also less likely to go to a church building to hear a lecturer teach about Jesus. They are more inclined to have seeking conversations in a small gathering of relationships to which they are a part foremostly because relationship has already been established.
Micro churches, of which house churches are one expression of, are a model that facilitates that. And they are easily reproducible – they rely on trained lay leaders who recognize the call of Jesus followers to become missionaries in their own geography, culture and context.
There is a beautiful outflow when different models of church co-exist and work together on God’s mission in the world. Our traditional models, which include any congregations whose primary function builds and resources community around a Sunday-centric service, can well be in position to plant multiple micro-churches into the communities around them at the cost of intentional discipleship and training of their own congregants as local missionaries.
Micro-churches are primarily led by lay leaders who are accountable to one another and to the elders and pastors of the planting church or denomination. These become networks of house churches planted by a single traditional congregation or denomination yet can also have a level of autonomy in how they express being the church. Other models are similar to some multi-site models where there is still lay leadership but they are more tied to the planting congregation or denomination in how they structure and worship.
The micro-church planting movement has many expressions, formed around geographical, contextual, or cultural demographics that determine gatherings in houses, coffee shops, pubs, and special-interest groups. Here is where we see people who may never cross the threshold of a Sunday morning church in a larger type gathering, finding safe places to explore and discover our God who yearns for all to come to Him.
In what ways might your congregation explore becoming multiplying, church planting congregations within a discerned context of micro-churches? Contact us, talk to us and let’s work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ together in some exciting ways in the 21st century.