Scattering Gospel Seeds

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens.  And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NLT

Planting the Gospel is an exercise in seed scattering. How that seed lands and is nurtured has become the strategies for church planting we are currently familiar with. Regardless of whether a strategy is focused on a particular set of sustainability criteria, most plants start with a small group of Christ followers who long to see the Gospel enacted in the places they find themselves. Often these small groups begin meeting in homes to pray, to discern, to disciple and train one another towards an official launch.

In some ways, using the planting metaphor, house churches could be the starter plants you bought at the nursery, then nurtured to be grown-up plants enriching the neighbourhood. Often, house church gatherings are transplanted out of the home and into a church facility so they have room to become larger in that one place.

But what if the intent was to never leave the backyard? Matt Dabbs, who planted a backyard church in Alabama during the Covid summer of 2020, intends to remain a backyard church that scatters Gospel seeds to plant the next and the next and the next. It reminds me of a planter here in BC, Andy Lambkin, who has been doing the same thing since around 2011. We interviewed him a few years ago, and we include the link HERE for your quick find if you missed it or want to read it again. 

In the meantime check out Matt’s story about the power of scattered people planting the Gospel in his backyard:

The Power of the Scattered People of God 

By Matt Dabbs 

Over the course of biblical history, God has used scattering as his method of choice for future kingdom growth. 

He did this when Joseph went to Egypt, setting up the growth of the Hebrew people in Egypt and the eventual Exodus. God did this in the Exile, scattering many of his people to other lands, where they developed synagogues and outposts of God’s people far and wide. 

Paul and other missionaries later found starting points for kingdom conversation in other countries as the fruit of the Exile scattering. God uses scattering to plant the seeds for future kingdom expansion. 

In Acts 8:1–8 the church underwent tremendous persecution. Here is what Luke tells us, 

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. 

The most experienced among them, the apostles, stayed behind. The others scattered. The lead minister didn’t scatter. The “everyday” Christians scattered, and as they scattered, they preached the word wherever they went. God did miraculous things, and the result was a great job and kingdom growth. 

God has long history of using scattered people, and using people to grow the kingdom. 

The question is this: Is God doing this in our day? The answer to that question is multifaceted. God has been doing it in an organized way through the sending of missionaries for a very long time. But what about in an Acts 8 way—not the scattering of the formally trained but the scattering of the “everyday” Christians? 

My hope and prayer is that the post-pandemic moment will create an Acts 8 moment, where the people of God have been shaken up, scattered out, and will preach the word wherever they go. 

In all the staying-home time, many pastors realized that the people in their churches were fully capable of having church in their home and doing the work of ministry. Many reached out to neighbors. Some started house churches. The question is this: Will this continue and last or is it more of a passing moment? Many will return to their churches, and that is a good thing. And some will hear another call… that their eyes have been opened up to the possibility of the parish church, hosting house church in their own neighborhood. 

Like all the other scatterings of the past, time will tell what kind of impact this latest scattering—which was more like a staying—and growth will have on the cultural and religious landscape in the United States and beyond. My hope and prayer is that it will result in a greater diversity of approaches to how we “view and do” church as a whole. 

This is not to say that some might abandon the traditional model, but that it would be complemented with a partnership with more organic approaches. We are better together than we are apart! 

It was the pandemic that brought our worship into my backyard in 2020, and during that time, God laid it upon our hearts to continue with that mission, resigning from my full-time preaching minister position to plant a church for the very first time. We have seen growth, and we have been encouraged by the sheer number of people who are wanting to start something new! 

God is on the move and what may seem like a setback (going to Egypt, being exiled, persecution, and now the pandemic) may be catalysts for future kingdom growth and paradigm shifts that will have a lasting impact on the landscape of the Christian world for generations to come! 

Matt’s article was reposted with permission from discipleship.org  

House by House

By: Shannon Youell

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

(Synagogue:  a community house of worship) 

In my previous blog HERE I wrote that church planting can be accidental outgrowths of our right-in-the-neighbourhood missionary impulses of evangelism and discipleship.   

In the early New Testament church we find missionaries going to households where people, who were either Jewish believers or curious and/or God-fearers,1 lived. Often those would be people who lived near and around the evangelists.  Think of Jesus in Luke 10 and “people of peace” but right in your own neighbourhood/community.  There whole households heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus our Lord and Savior and were baptized.  Those ‘households’ then became the church, people who assembled to tell the stories of their faith, eat together (which included the Eucharist), learn together, pray together and share the gospel with one another and others in their community. 

This is in contrast to missionaries starting a service in an area of town that drew people to a building to participate in those same rhythms together.  That came much later.  There is no indication that the first missionaries were looking to erect a common meeting space that would be called the ‘church’, but that these localized, contextual ‘households2’ of faith were indeed the Church.  

One might argue that the ‘first’ church was comprised of those who were followers of Jesus prior to his ascension plus those added three thousand at Pentecost as countering the idea of church in households, but the reality is where did those three thousand go for daily, weekly meals, prayers and participatory worship?  At times they gathered in larger numbers around the temple in Jerusalem but the thrust of life and missionary impulse happened in these smaller ‘households of faith’ that facilitated and were leaders of this new Way.  This is where the ‘adding of numbers’ continued and expanded.  Often the period of the 1st and 2nd centuries and into the 3rd are cited as the most robust period in history for people coming to faith in Christ thus indicating that people predominantly came to faith through interpersonal relationships and the witness of seeing the lives of believers in their everyday rhythms and practices. 

In 2008 a study was done on how many Christians it took to gain 1 convert.  The study concluded that it took eighty-nine.  Eighty-nine to one is not a good ratio!  However, at the same time the author(s) looked at how many Christians to gain 1 convert it took in house churches with a missional ethos:  3:1 & 4:1 were realized in two independent studies.  That’s a large gap.  Whether that 89:1 ratio were 89 people along the path of life who influenced the 1, or a calculation of church membership over new conversions, one cannot miss the correlation that it takes far fewer relationships when people are in regular proximity and in regular social groups together.   If those same 89 where in the smaller more localized churches the extrapolated conversions would be 22.   

Personally, I don’t see the demise of larger church gatherings as a near future event – they will always have a place and purpose.  But I do see the need for followers of Jesus, especially those who have a heart for those who are not-yet-followers to discover ways to engage with them.  Though not limited to any one group, millennials in particular have left the church in stunning numbers, yet for those who have left but not rejected faith in God, they yearn for smaller, more interconnected communities of fellow sojourners.   

What does that mean for our larger gatherings?  How might we re-engage absent millennial Christians in the rhythms and practices of faith?  How can the church make the most impact in evangelism and discipleship in a post-Christendom world that though seeking spiritual conversations would not consider a church building the place to engage them?   How might our church gatherings begin to foster “community houses of worship” in actual houses again?

As churches begin to gear up for a return to meeting together, primarily in buildings other than homes, this is the prime opportunity for us to consider these and so many other questions.  Rather than the question being ‘when can we meet together again’, is the most missional question can we can be asking is ‘in what ways do we meet again?’

Let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.   

Micro-church Momentum

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. 

Covid Opportunities

January 26th 2021 CBWC Supported Webinar

By: Shannon Youell

Hello 2021!  We have entered our eleventh month of living in a Covid-19 world.  Eleven months ago, we as church leaders and congregations were scrambling to figure out how we continue to be missionally faithful presences in our neighbourhoods, encouraging and discipling our churches.  As we’ve tackled the challenges that have slammed into us, I am hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes.  Many are hanging on waiting for when things can go back to in person meeting so the church can carry on their practices of worship, prayer, discipleship and joining God in his mission.  Others are catalyzing the opportunities within Covid to rethink, reimagine and reorient their ecclesiology and asking good, hard and revealing questions. 

Many have become aware of things Covid is exposing in our lives, our relationships, our work and our worship and how it is accelerating what was already happening. Often what we see is not surprising, we knew it was lurking around us all along and we managed to keep it from breaking the surface, but there are also things exposed that surprised us as well.  The challenge, I believe, is to be open to the Spirit of God to work in the things exposed as opportunities rather than curses that lead us to discern how we are church both amid Covid and beyond.  

One such church is New Life Church in Duncan, BC.  I spoke with Pastor Ken Nettleton a few months ago about the shift this congregation is making in reidentifying themselves as a people on mission with God in their local neighbourhoods and beyond.  As Covid descended last March, the strategy they adopted is a three-fold model of:  House Church, Village Church, Cathedral Church.  Each is dependent on the others with the shared purpose to “train and equip Jesus’ followers in the mission they are on”.  This, of course, sounds like the mission statement of most churches.  But the delivery is different.  (for a brief overview of how each element connects to the whole click HERE  

Full disclosure:  New Life had already been working to reshape themselves, especially in the area of small groups.  Their experience with small groups is likely your experience – add-ons to Sunday Services viewed by many congregants as optional and consumeristic.  Ken and his leaders also conceded that while attendance was increasing and baptisms were happening, “measuring church health by attendance, buildings and cash” is the wrong metric.  Rather, church health is measured by engaging relationally with each other and asking, “important questions of ‘how are you following Jesus this week inwardly and outwardly – how is that going?’ and being really intentional about that.”  Shifting the metric meant also acknowledging that intentional committed discipleship happens primarily between Sundays, not on Sundays.  “We needed to structure Sundays to resource our House Churches instead of expecting committed Sunday attendance but optional small group attendance.  We wanted our people to eventually see their small group (House Church) as their most important community gathering.”      

So, New Life focused on small groups, renaming them House Churches, and is working on shifting them in people’s lives from optional ‘add-ons’ to the most important gathering of the week.  And thanks to Covid these House Churches have become right now the only community – where a small group of Jesus followers gather and are pastored by the House Church leader – a volunteer identified as someone called and willing to be equipped by the pastors to shepherd 8-15 people.  These House Churches begin with the youth group who are organized and led in such clusters and carry on into adult ages.   

Ed Stetzer, planter, missiologist and host of the New Church Podcast describes the differences in Episode 63.  He says that home groups are ministries of the church whereas house churches are churches:  they baptize and administer the Lord’s supper; they teach and preach for the purpose of deep, intentional, accountable disciple making; they have a mission.  Ken agrees, and again points out that Covid has created exactly this opportunity to reorganize, learn and grow.    

Ken also notes that house churches must look ‘outside’ themselves.  “They have to go out into this valley as 35 churches that are New Life, each having a specific mission in this valley – and the mission isn’t the same.  We should be having an impact all over this valley, working with non-churched people who are also committed to addressing issues of justice and mercy, and bringing Jesus with us as we do.”  

Again, it’ is important to point out that New Life had already committed to shift in this direction prior to Covid, and see this pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate what God was already up to in our Canadian culture.  “As I prayed about things, God impressed upon me that many of us have been asking Him to renew and revive His Church for a long time, and that we shouldn’t be surprised that the answer to our prayer would look like this.  “What were you expecting my refining fire to look like?” were words that burned into my heart, and I had to admit that God’s activity almost always brings external pressure and change.”   

 As 2021 unfolds and we are all hopeful that we will begin to see restrictions relax, New Life is bringing imagination and good questions as to how best to gather in the ‘Cathedral’.  As Ken explains, not all things work as well in House Church in a similar way that not all things work well in Cathedral.  That is why all three aspects of House Church, Village Church, and Cathedral are integral and necessary.  The strategy is to continue using the opportunities Covid has gifted us with as we wrestle with asking good questions and reimagining, through prayer and discernment, how God is shaping his church for the future.    

What opportunities are you seeing in your church community?  In what ways has the Spirit been encouraging you to reimagine being church?  What good questions are you asking yourself?  

Come join CBWC January 26th for a CBWC supported event for Pastors and their teams in an interactive webinar with Ken Nettleton, Cam Roxburgh and Tim Dickau and myself.  We will hear stories both ours and yours and have time to ask good questions together.     

 Details and Registration HERE