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Christian Living

What Is a Micro Church?

Bigger isn’t always better and the micro church proves this

In another post we discussed the emergent church. Today we shift the discussion to micro church. Emergent church and micro church, are these alternate labels for the same thing or different? The answer is maybe.

The concept of a micro church can go by different labels. Other names, some of which might be more familiar, include simple church and organic church. Some micro churches are house churches, but not all of them. And some house churches are micro churches, but, again, not all.

It’s easiest to describe a micro church by looking at its characteristics:

Streamlined Structure

Micro churches have only a minimal amount of structure and just enough to allow them to function. Their organization tends to be flat as opposed to hierarchical, with a more egalitarian operation.

No Paid Staff

At micro churches people minister to one another and serve as priests to each other, as we find described in the New Testament. They don’t have a need for paid clergy or to maintain anyone on a payroll.

Priesthood of all Believers

Since micro churches have no paid staff, they have no clergy. This isn’t a problem since they embrace the priesthood of all believers. This means that the people in the community minister to one another, teach one another, and help one another.

They feel no need to subjugate this to professional ministers. Because of the nature of their faith they are automatically priests.

Deemphasized Sunday Service

The micro church doesn’t place as much emphasis on a Sunday morning service as traditional churches do. In fact, they may not meet on Sunday or even once a week. Their gatherings may not even resemble a church service.

At micro churches, weekly church gatherings prepare people to go into their community and serve. Click To Tweet

Missional

The micro church has a vision to serve. They have a mission. This makes them missional. However, their mission is not inwardly focused but outwardly focused.

Their internal gatherings, be it like a Sunday service or something else, are to encourage and prepare the people present to go out into their community and serve. Therefore, many micro churches have at its core one particular vision, a mission, around which people gather.

Focused on Multiplication

The micro church isn’t concerned with growing its numbers, but it’s vitally interested in growing influence. Micro churches seek to do this by helping others start their own micro churches to address other needs in the community.

Their simple structure makes this easy and fast. This is why they view themselves as organic. They’re constantly growing, changing, and reproducing more of their kind.

Perhaps Emergent

In a previous post we defined the emergent church as an effort to reclaim church practices from a biblical perspective to reform them to be relevant in a postmodern culture.

In considering this definition and the above characteristics, it’s easy to see a connection between the emergent church and the micro church. This doesn’t mean they’re the same, however.

It just means they tap into a similar underlying angst of spiritual speakers to pursue community and help the world in new and unexpected ways, ways that the traditional church has missed.

I embrace both the emergent church and micro church concepts as practical and effective ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world seeking relevance and purpose in a confusing existence.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What Did the First Church Do?

Four Keys from the Early Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus begin to hang out. This is the first church. What did they do?

In the book of Acts, Doctor Luke records four key things:

  1. They learn about Jesus (think of this as a new believer’s class; after all, they were mostly all new believers).
  2. They spend time with each other (that’s what fellowship means).
  3. They share meals.
  4. They pray.

In addition, they meet every day at the temple (outreach) and in homes (fellowship). They share all their possessions. They praise God – and every day more people join them. This is what the early church did.

There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, worship, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the actions of the early church give us much to consider.

Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 1-4, and today’s post is on Acts 2:42-47.]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Paul Teaches What to Do at a House Church Gathering

What Scripture Teaches About Meeting Together Is Far Different Than Our Sunday Services

We talked about three options for a house church gathering: duplicate a typical service, participate online, or just hang out. Each of these three approaches have their strengths and weaknesses.

However, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives us some ideas of what we could do for a house church (1 Corinthians 14:26-27). He gives five activities that could take place: singing, teaching, sharing a revelation, speaking in tongues, and giving an interpretation.

But before we dig into these five areas, let’s look at some other key items first.

When You Gather

Paul says when you gather, not if you gather. This reminds us that getting together with other followers of Jesus should be a regular occurrence, not random (check out Hebrews 10:25).

This idea of meeting together can occur on Sunday morning or can happen at any other time. The Bible doesn’t command the day or the hour when we should meet, nor is the timing sacred. Gathering Sunday morning is merely a practice that developed over the centuries.

Each Person

Next, let’s look at the phrase that precedes Paul’s list. He says, “each of you.” This means everyone should participate. The idea of all those present taking part suggests an egalitarian house church gathering, where everyone contributes, and everyone ministers to each other.

This instruction removes the divide between leader and follower, which happens in today’s church services. On a typical Sunday morning a few people lead, while most people watch. This means that a few people are active during church, while most sit as passive observers, as if going to a concert or attending a lecture.

Five Actions for House Church Gatherings

Instead Paul wants everyone involved, where each person can minister to one another. He lists five activities that should take place in our house church gathering.

1. Sing a Song

When we meet together, we should sing a hymn or share a song—likely more than one. This could mean playing a musical instrument so that others can sing along. For those who can’t play an instrument or lead others in singing, a modern-day option might be to play a recording of a song. Anyone can do that.

It could also mean—it probably does means—launching into a song or chorus a cappella as the Holy Spirit leads. This requires no preparation at all, just a willingness to listen to the direction of God’s Spirit.

2. Teach a Lesson

The same approach applies for giving a word of instruction. We don’t need to preach a half-hour to an hour-long sermon. In this case less is more. We can often communicate much by speaking little. Saying something concisely in thirty seconds may be more meaningful than droning on for thirty minutes. Again, no preparation required. And everyone present can do this.

All we need is a willingness to share something that God taught us during the week, or that we learned through studying Scripture. In addition, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to share during our meeting. It can build off what someone else has already said, or it may be a new topic.

3. Share a Revelation

The idea of having a revelation to share will seem normal to some and a bit mystical to others. Think of a revelation as special knowledge that God has given to us. He could do this through a writing we read or an action we observe. And it can be through Holy Spirit insight. Regardless of the source of our revelation, Paul wants us to share these perceptions with those gathered.

4. Speak in Tongues

The last two items on the list may, or may not, be a comfortable activity in our group, depending on our practices and comfort level. The first of these two items is speaking in tongues.

The Bible talks about speaking in tongues, and Paul instructs the people in Corinth to do it. It’s biblical, and we should consider this for our house church gathering. But it may be optional, because Paul later says, if anyone speaks in tongues. This implies it’s not a requirement. But he does say that if people speak in tongues, only a few people should do it and then one at a time.

5. Interpret the Tongue

After someone speaks in an unknown language, someone must interpret it. Implicitly, if no one can interpret the message, then the person shouldn’t share it. After all, how can words that no one understands build up the church?

Holy Spirit at Our House Church Gathering

Much of the activity for a house church gathering means listening to the Holy Spirit and responding as he directs. Implicit in this we will encounter times of silence—sometimes lengthy—as we wait and listen. Silence unnerves some people, so if this idea of waiting for God to speak is new to you, move forward with care as you build up the ability to sit, listen, and share. Hearing from the Holy Spirit, however, is central to our house church gathering.

Everything we do at a house church gathering must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. Click To Tweet

Build Up the Church

To conclude his list of five items, Paul says everything we do at a house church gathering must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. Doing or saying anything to elevate ourselves or draw attention to our abilities benefits our ego. This detracts from the group.

Instead we should humble ourselves and do things for our common good. This will advance the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

10 More New Testament Practices, Part 1

Consider the Example of the Early Church and Then Follow It

We’ve already talked about the three main ways Jesus changed our perspectives for following him when he fulfilled the Old Testament prophets. The early church applied this by meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need. As Jesus’s priests they minister to those in the church, tell others about Jesus, and worship him.

That’s a great foundation for how our church today should function, but there’s more. Consider these New Testament practices that we will do well to follow today.

1. Holy Spirit Power and Direction

The Old Testament focuses on God the Father and looks forward to the coming Messiah, Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus shows up as a central figure in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Then the Holy Spirit takes over for the rest of the New Testament, amplifying what Jesus set in motion.

Even so, Jesus is the central figure of the Bible—with God the Father pointing to him and God the Holy Spirit building on what he accomplished. Aside from being the key figure in the Bible, many say Jesus is the most important person in all of history. I agree.

Jesus does all his work on earth in about three years. He spends that time teaching his disciples and preparing them to take over when he returns to heaven.

Despite this, however, they aren’t fully ready to assume their critical role when he is ready to leave Earth. Instead, Jesus tells them to wait, wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit power is the missing element they need before they move forward and advance the kingdom of God. In this, the Holy Spirit plays a leading role. He’s prominent in the book of Acts, guiding the early church and empowering its members.

The book of Acts mentions the Holy Spirit fifty-five times, with close to a hundred references. It’s clear that the Holy Spirit acts in Jesus’s place to lead his church.

In one instance, Jesus’s followers debate a theological issue about circumcision for new converts. After they reach a consensus, they write that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

Listing the Holy Spirit first suggests he took a lead role and the people aligned with his perspective. I wonder how often we do just the opposite, where we decide and then try to manufacture Holy Spirit support.

Another time, as the church worships and fasts, the Holy Spirit tells them to send out Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2). The Holy Spirit also speaks to Philip (Acts 8:29), Peter (Acts 10:19), Agabus (Acts 11:28), and Paul (Acts 20:22).

But the Holy Spirit isn’t just in the book of Acts. He appears in nearly every book of the New Testament, including Revelation.

For Jesus’s church, the Holy Spirit is in charge. He leads their meetings and directs all that they do. This is the first of our New Testament practices to follow.

2. Worship

We’ve already talked a lot about worship. The appropriate worship of God is a central tenet of our faith. The Old Testament mentions worship in 179 verses. The New Testament continues this theme with seventy-five more.

Many come from the Gospels as well as Acts. The book of Revelation mentions worship more than any New Testament book and comes in second overall, just behind Deuteronomy.

This makes it clear that worshiping God is in our history, our present, and our eternal future. Worship is the second of our New Testament practices,

In the most profound verse about worship, John reminds us that God is spirit. Therefore, those who worship him must worship him in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

But what exactly is this verse telling us? There are two elements: Spirit and truth.

First, we have the Spirit, with a capital S. This means Holy Spirit. To fully worship, we must worship through the Holy Spirit. He will direct our worship and guide us. We must follow his lead and do what he says.

Though we often think of our worship as a physical act, there must also be a spiritual element to it. And the spiritual aspect is the more important one.

Second, we must worship God in truth. This means our worship must be honest, pure. To worship God in truth suggests integrity.

This means that we don’t make a show of our worship to impress others or gain their attention. That makes for disingenuous worship and doesn’t honor God. It doesn’t matter what others think of our worship, it only matters what God thinks.

The opposite of not making our worship a display for other people is holding back our worship for fear of what others may think or say. We must feel free to worship God as the Holy Spirit leads us.

This is how we worship God in Spirit and truth.

3. Prayer

In addition to worship occurring throughout the Bible, we also have prayer. Half of the books in the Old Testament talk about prayer, and most of the books in the New Testament address the subject. Prayer is the third of our New Testament practices.

James writes that the prayers from a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). Paul tells us to pray in all situations (Ephesians 6:18) and confirms that everyone should pray (1 Timothy 2:1).

The book of Revelation gives us some insight into our prayers. Three times John connects prayers with incense, which God receives from his people. First, we see golden bowls of incense which represent our prayers (Revelation 5:8).

Then we have an angel who offers the incense and our prayers before God’s throne (Revelation 8:3). And last, we see the smoke of the incense mingling with our prayers, rising to God (Revelation 8:4). Whether we use incense or not in our spiritual practices, these passages in Revelation gives us a powerful image of how God receives the prayers of his people.

When it comes to praying, however, many people think of the Lord’s Prayer. Though a better label might be the Disciple’s Prayer. This is because Jesus gives the prayer to his disciples as an example of how the pray. It is their prayer, not his.

The Lord’s Prayer—sometimes called the Our Father, after its opening line—occurs twice in the Bible. People are familiar with Matthew’s version, with many having memorized it and with some churches reciting it as part of their worship practices (Matthew 6:19-13).

The version in Luke is far less familiar. It’s shorter and more concise (Luke 11:1-4).

Neither of these prayers are for us to memorize or recite as much as a model to follow. Here’s an interpretation of how we can apply it to inform our prayers.

  • We open the prayer by reverencing God.
  • Then we ask that his kingdom will come—implicitly with us helping to advance it—and that we will accomplish God’s will here on earth.
  • In the one personal, tangible request, we ask for our daily bread. That is, we ask God to provide for us each day what we need to live. It may be food or something else that’s essential.
  • Then we pray that God will forgive us, just as we forgive others. And if we withhold our forgiveness this implicitly allows God to withhold it from us. Hopefully neither will happen.
  • We end with a request that God will steer us away from temptation and give us victory over Satan’s attacks.
  • And some versions of the Bible tack on one more phrase. In this we celebrate his kingdom, his power, and his eternal glory.

But this is just one example of how the pray. The key is that prayer is an essential part of our faith journey.

Jesus said “When you fast…” not “If you fast…" Click To Tweet

4. Fasting

Another concept that occurs throughout the Bible is fasting. To fast is to go without food for a time. This isn’t an act of mortification to abase ourselves before God or try to gain his attention.

Instead it’s to focus our thoughts on God, seeking to better connect with him and align our thinking with his. When fasting, one recommendation is to take the time normally spent eating and use it to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit.

There are two key teachings in the Bible about fasting.

When Jesus instructs the people in his epic message that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about this practice. He says “When you fast . . .” Not “If you fast . . . ” (Matthew 6:16-17).

From Jesus’s perspective, fasting is not an optional activity but an expectation.

Second, Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2). He serves as an example to us all. Since he fasted, is there any reason why we shouldn’t?

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t require that his disciples fast, but this is a short-term reprieve because he is with them. He adds that once he leaves, it’s time to resume fasting (Luke 5:33-35). Since he has returned to heaven and is no longer here on earth, it’s again a time for us to fast.

Fasting is the fourth of our New Testament practices. Jesus wants us to fast, and so we should.

5. Community

The early church also spends a lot of time with each other. This isn’t a once-a-week meeting for an hour or two. It may be an everyday occurrence (Acts 2:46, Acts 6:1, and Hebrews 3:13).

They don’t live their faith in isolation. They need each other. They thrive on community. Just as the godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit function as one, so too do Jesus’s followers (John 17:20-21, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and 1 John 1:3). Through mutual support they edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

This is how they grow in faith, with iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). It’s two—or more—people traveling down the road together, keeping each other on the right path and headed in the right direction. It’s picking up another when they stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Living in community is the fifth of our New Testament practices. It is central to who they are and what they do. Without the encouragement and support of each other, they’ll certainly falter in their faith. Together they are better.

Together they can remain focused on Jesus and all he calls them to become. Community is key in making this happen. Think of this as true biblical fellowship (Acts 2:42 and 1 John 1:3-7).

What do they do when they hang out? They spend time in prayer (Acts 1:14, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, and James 5:16). They worship (Acts 13:2 and Romans 12:1). They also sing (Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:16, and James 5:13).

The more established disciples of Jesus teach the newer followers about the basics of faith. Think of this as a new members class (Acts 2:42). And we’ve already covered how they share their material blessings with each other and listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Come back next week to learn five more things the early church did, five more New Testament practices.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Stay Home to Go to Church

Ideas for Having a House Church

Over the years there have been times when I couldn’t go to church. I’m not talking about the Sundays I was ill or traveling. Instead, I’m referring to times when the church canceled its service. These have included weather-related problems, power outages, no heat, and construction issues. Each of these instances affected only one Sunday, and the next week everything returned to normal.

However, I can now add another reason to this list of why churches may close: to stop the spread of a potentially deadly virus in the midst of a health pandemic. When this occurs, we stay in our home for church. We have house church.

Here are some ideas to have church at home.

Duplicate a Typical Service

We could plan for and provide the elements of one of today’s church services in our home. This means having someone lead worship, pray, and teach a lesson at our house church. If we wanted, we could even take an offering.

This provides the opportunity for better interaction and greater participation. It also requires a great deal of preparation for those who will lead. The more people who will gather in our home to experience this type of church, the more meaningful this can become. Doing this one time would be hard. It would be even more challenging to sustain it over many weeks.

Participate Online

As an alternative, we have many options online that can bring a church service into our home. These include podcasts of sermons, videos of services (either in part or in full), and live streaming. From the comfort of our home we can listen to messages or watch services as they take place. This allows us to experience the main elements of a church service with little preparation or effort.

What we lack from this approach, however, is community. Aside from our small gathering of family or friends who sit in our living room to experience our house church, we have no opportunity to interact with others. These online options do not include the ability to connect with other followers of Jesus.

Just Hang Out

To address the lack of community that will occur when we passively tap into online church services and resources, we have the option to get together with the goal of spending time with each other (see Hebrews 10:25). Of course, if only the people in our house—who we’ve already been hanging out with all week—are present, we won’t gain much more in doing so on Sunday. However, if we can invite friends or neighbors over, this could provide meaningful, spiritual community—if we pursue it with intention.

A house church is where everyone can participate, and everyone can take turns ministering to one another. Click To Tweet

Follow Paul’s Advice on a House Church

Each of these three approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. However, Paul gives us some ideas of what we could do for house church in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:26). For now, don’t focus on Paul’s list but let’s look at the phrase that precedes it: “each of you.” This suggests an egalitarian house church, where everyone can participate, and everyone can take turns ministering to one another.

Can we do that? Of course, we can. (Read more about Paul’s house church instructions.)

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Communion at Church

Though we cite scripture when we take communion, we don’t do it in a biblical way

Most Christian churches celebrate communion in some form in their worship practices. Though they do this in different ways and with varied frequencies, the central process is similar.

As a basis for their practice of communion—also called The Lord’s Supper or the Holy Eucharist—they cite biblical explanations of when Jesus instituted this practice.

Three of the four biographies of Jesus give us details about the first communion. These appear in Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20. Paul also recaps this in his first letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

These passages are often part of our modern practice of communion, either formally as part of a liturgy or informally in explaining the practice or as the elements are in your introduced.

Because we invoke scripture when we take communion, we assume we’re doing it in a biblical way. Unfortunately we aren’t. Though we crouch the experience in scripture, we have veered far from what it should be, from what Jesus expected us to encounter.

To understand communion we need to look at the occasion when Jesus introduced this to his disciples. It happens as they celebrate the Passover meal. Exploring this situation lets us know the meaning behind communion and informs us how we can rightly experience it today.

The Context of Communion

First we must note that both Passover and the setting when Jesus introduced communion happened during a meal. When is the last time you took communion as part of a meal?

I suspect your answer is seldom or never. And that’s the point. By separating the sacrament of communion from a meal diminishes its true meaning and turns a celebration into a ritual.

If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to make it part of a meal, not as a separate ceremony.

The Setting of Communion

Next consider the setting of where Passover and the first communion were celebrated. Passover occurred in the family home, with friends gathered and possibly some neighbors invited over.

It didn’t happen at a religious service or during some large gathering. Instead it was in a private setting, an intimate gathering with people close to you.

Jesus followed this when he celebrated his final Passover meal with his disciples. They met in the upper room of a home, and Jesus surrounded himself with his closest friends here on Earth.

They shared a meal and during that meal he introduced the symbol of the bread to represent his body and the wine to represent his spilt blood.

If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it in our homes with our family and friends, not in church.

The Frequency of Communion

Some Churches take communion every week, others once a month, and some quarterly. A few churches do communion at random times without any prescribed schedule.

So how often should we take communion? The answer will surprise you. It’s not weekly, monthly, quarterly, or randomly. There are two possible answers, which we can glean from the four accounts in the Bible about the first communion.

In these accounts Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), and Paul adds the phrase, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NKJV). Well how often is that?

If you want to disassociate the phrase “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” from the annual practice of Passover, then the only interpretation indicates every time you have a meal. That means we should practice communion each time we sit down to eat.

That’s three times a day. And if we practice communion that often, we run the risk of it becoming a meaningless ritual much like the obligatory prayers we say before we eat.

However, since the setting was Passover and Passover is an annual event, it’s likely that Jesus intended for us to celebrate communion once a year, an annual holiday like Christmas or Easter.

Jesus intended for us to celebrate communion once a year. Click To Tweet

Celebrate Communion

If we are to enjoy communion the way God intended, we need to do it once a year as an annual celebration, not more often.

This gives us three principles to follow if we are to rightly celebrate communion: It is part of a meal, enjoyed in the intimate setting of our homes surrounded by family and friends, and done as an annual event.

Noticed that a church building and a church service are nowhere in this understanding. Instead of celebrating communion at church, church should teach us how to celebrate this with our family in our homes.

When we do this, we will reclaim the celebration of communion as it was originally intended, how Jesus practiced it, and as the Bible describes it.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

How Can You Shrink Your Church?

We Live in a World That Thinks Bigger Is Better, but That’s Not Always True

Our modern-day society evaluates things based on size. We celebrate magnitude, with bigger being better.

This includes church. We often assume that bigger churches, in terms of both facility and attendance, equates to God’s sure blessing and his implicit approval. But we are wrong to do so.

I once attended a conference where many of the attendees were ministers. Invariably every conversation I had with a pastor included a mention of or a question about church size. I expected this and resolved not to play their game.

Some wanted admiration, but I refused to stroke their narcissism. Other pursued affirmation, and I determined not to falsely feed into their insecurities. This happened with every conversation. The social time at this conference drained me.

No one was content with the size of their church. Everyone wanted to lead a big (or bigger) congregation—or at least head a fast-growing church. It seemed these pastors’ esteem or paycheck was at stake. This doesn’t seem God-honoring.

Though businesses talk about rightsizing and downsizing, I never hear of churches thinking that way. And while businesses often divest themselves of assets and product lines that don’t align with their goals, and thereby lose customers in the process, churches seldom do.

Though we shouldn’t run a church like a business, perhaps this is one lesson we should learn from corporate America.

Shrink Your Church

Instead of pursuing church growth strategies, maybe we should look for ways to shrink your church. Might we experience greater spiritual success if our gatherings were smaller?

Here are some ways to shrink your church:

Think Small

Large churches, as well as some medium-sized churches, struggle in helping people form connections and build community. This is the impetus behind the small group concept.

What a large Sunday gathering can’t provide to attendees, small groups can—assuming they’re run right. But a small church doesn’t need small groups because their small size facilitates connections and community.

Jesus focused on twelve people and gave special attention to three. His actions should guide our desire to think small and to then act that way.

Have an External Focus

Most churches have an inward focus. They give their attention to the needs (demands) of their members to the exclusion of their surrounding community. At best a church may allocate 10 percent of its budget and time to people outside their group. What if we made it 100 percent?

Eliminate Paid Staff

A church with a payroll has skewed perceptions and priorities. Members insist on being served and employees react to keep their paychecks coming.

What would a church look like with no paid staff? It would be simpler for sure. More people would be involved. And it would be smaller. This would be a good thing.

A small church doesn’t need a building. Click To Tweet

Sell Your Building

Owning a facility is a burden. It costs money, demands time, and sucks the attention away from people. People matter; a building doesn’t. So go ahead and sell it. It will free you. Besides, a small church doesn’t need a building anyway.

Send People Away

When a congregation grows too large, get rid of some of the people. But first empower them. Equip them to go out and start something new: a house church, a community outreach, or a service endeavor.

Send them out and don’t expect them to come back. That will keep your church small and advance God’s kingdom, too.

Pursue Spiritual Depth

Many have said that most churches are a mile wide and an inch deep. They have no spiritual depth. They perpetuate a superficial community, functioning as little more than a Christian social club. Instead, seek spiritual intensity over trivial pleasantries.

This will push away the noncommitted consumers and feed those with a true spiritual hunger.

Stop Counting

In the spiritual realm, numbers don’t really matter. So stop tracking them. Don’t fixate on attendance and offering. Forget quantity. Dump the bigger-is-better mentality. Instead, think less is more. Because it is.

This vision to shrink our church is not hyperbole. These recommendations are a serious challenge and aren’t intended as an intellectually provocative treatise.

Yes, this is counter cultural to our celebration of size. This turns conventional thinking upside down. It will be difficult to pursue and offend many in the process. They’ll reject us and retreat to church as usual.

Does this sound familiar?

Jesus was counter cultural and eschewed conventional wisdom. His way was difficult, but only because it was so different. He offended many with what he said and did. They rejected him and returned to their religious status quo.

Don’t expect many followers if you shrink your church and pursue a small church mindset. That’s okay because smaller is the goal.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: The Church in the House a Return to Simplicity

The Church in the House a Return to Simplicity

By Robert Fitts (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Robert Fitts opens The Church in the House with a mission statement for a house church. Once he has readers engaged in the subject, he then builds a biblical case for house churches, including a detailed discussion of what is and isn’t a church (or the church).

Book Review: The Church in the House a Return to Simplicity

Using the metaphors of a wheel and a vine, he advocates the vine as an ideal picture of church growth—living, spreading out, putting down new roots, and so forth—versus a wheel image that portends centralized control and a rigid structure.

He concludes the book with practical information about starting a house church, how that looks, and what it entails. For those so inclined, the bibliography offers a suitable list of resources for future study.

This book serves as a great primer for those seeking to learn the rational of house churches. It also functions as an apt resource for those pursuing the vision of a house church. For both groups, it is a short and easy read, packed full of useful information and insights.

[The Church in the House: a Return to Simplicity, by Robert Fitts. Published by Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001, ISBN: 978-1929451074, 120 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Elephant

Why Small is the New Big for Today’s Church

By Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

Rabbits reproduce quickly and with abundance, while elephants do so slowly and infrequently; this is a metaphor for the church. The established institutional church is likened to the elephant, while the house church is compared to a rabbit.

Noting that house churches (also called simple churches, organic churches, or missional churches) can be started easily and at little expense, they are an effective way of making disciples. Making disciples, the authors point out, is what Jesus told his followers to do.

He did not say go and plant churches, or even go and convert people, but simple to go and make disciples.

The Rabbit and the Elephant is filled with practical teaching on house churches, which is backed by solid support from the Bible.

To add relevance and make for a convicting and compelling read, ample personal experiences of the authors are included to illustrate points and put real faces on the principles they share.

The purpose of the kind of house church they advocate is not merely to be internally focused, for the benefit and comfort of its members, but for outreach.

The house church is essentially to be evangelistic, making disciples in the process. Towards this end, a simple, nonthreatening, non-confrontational method is offered.

The Rabbit and the Elephant contains 23 short and concise chapters, which effectively build on each other. It also contains a helpful appendix answering commonly asked questions and even the endnotes contain useful insights.

The Rabbit and the Elephant is a “must read” for anyone in or pursuing a house church—or for those in a traditional church yearn for more.

[The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small is the New Big for Today’s Church, by Toney and Felicity Dale and George Barna. Published by Tyndale House Publishers Inc, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-4143-2553-8, 233 pages, $17.99.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: he Meaning of Life

By James Rutz (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

In The Meaning of Life, author James Rutz takes a new look at some of the standard thinking about God.

He examines anew God’s creation, corrects common misconceptions about what heaven and hell are really like, revisits history to address its central theme and approaching conclusion, addresses the problem of evil, and takes aim at clarifying some of the Bible’s perplexing passages.

His purpose in doing so is to remove the intellectual stumbling blocks to faith. However, all this is merely a prelude to his main objective: offering “an enticing alternative to old-fashioned, Sunday morning Christianity.”

The Meaning of Life

Although The Meaning of Life is a standalone book, Rutz does make multiple references to is prior work, Megashift, which was published the prior year. Both works take vastly different approaches and cover a different theme to arrive at the same place: house churches.

Toward this end, Rutz first suggests that it is time to “reboot the church”; then he encourages readers to “make an end run around the church” by starting their own (their own church, that is, not their own religion).

Rutz proceeds to reel off a string a house church benefits where participants can experience “team life,” with “24/7 support”; “have mutual accountability”; “form deep, loving relationships”; “find solutions to many…deep seated problems”; realize “tremendous empowerment”; “gain a new authority”; discover freedom and a “greater identity as part of the royal priesthood”; and be offered “the ultimate challenge – daring high-stakes, history-changing adventure.”

In addition, there will be the free worship of God, where his presence is clearly felt. “When the [church] meeting is open,” Rutz notes, “the Holy Spirit is allowed to direct things as he wants, His presence can be heart-stopping—like nothing you’ve ever experienced.”

Rutz then offers a dozen rules for those who desire more out of life. He concludes The Meaning of Life with five keys to help readers understand the problem passages found in the Bible.

[The Meaning of Life, by James Rutz. Published by Empowerment Press, 2006, ISBN: 9780966915846, 138 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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