I'm hearing a lot about the organic church movement lately. This past week Newsweek and Time mentioned it. Christianity Today also mentioned it. Even Brit Hume mentioned that he is part of a home church this week. According to one of the above articles 7% of Americans are in a house church. Anyone reading this blog post knows that this was not the case just a few years ago. Some are saying that organic house churches out number traditional churches in many countries (that's actually not news), and would be considered in the top three of the US church groups, alongside Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists...now that is news.
I've heard the experts say that we are not a movement. David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements has consistently said so. Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird have a new book called Viral Churches coming out that says that we are not a movement, but that if there is one that is closest it would be us. Bob Roberts said in a recent blog post that we are not a movement.
So what do I think? The term movement can mean all sorts of things. We are definitely moving and, so far as I can tell, we are going in the right direction. We are out of control. No one can point to the person in charge, though there is a short list of the most influential leaders of the movement. No one can accurately count the number of churches in the movement. There is not a single organizational label that can be applied to this "movement," this runs across denominational lines.
I believe there are a few reasons why people do not want to put the label movement on what is happening, and I will share these below. The first three are petty, but just as real as the others. The later points are more substantive critiques. I'm sure ALL of you that say we are not a movement are only spouting the later points.
3 Petty reasons:
1. People have a set picture of what a movement would look like and until they see that they will not ascend to one existing. For many, the way it will look is surprisingly much like what they are doing, just a lot more people doing it. We come to such questions with preconceived notions of what would be the best scenario, and if we do not see it we will not admit that a movement is afoot. I think a lot of that is going on. People have prayed for God to bless their efforts for so long now, and invested their whole being into it so that the hand of God on anything else could just not possibly be right.
2. The old system is threatened by the new and will not grant that the new is good in any way. Yeah, sorry, but I do believe some of this is happening too. For many, their identity, security and success is all determined by how well the institutional church is doing, and so they are left having to say that what is happening is not a movement. This has always been the case, and from history's point of view the people who are attacking the new now, were once attacked by the former movement just a short time ago.
3. God couldn't possibly bless a work as a movement that has a different theological/cultural point of view. Some are so convinced that they have the right doctrine so that God Himself is limited to only blessing people that fall into their own camp. If something is growing and does not have the same theological persuasion than they must be compromising in some way and that is causing the appearance of growth. Occasionally they find a spattering of the same beliefs that they hold and then they would asses that the success that the group is feeling is because they got it right on those few points.
I sometimes wonder if we do not qualify as a movement because we are not Southern Baptist exclusively, but that is another blog post that I will probably not ever write. maybe we do not qualify because we are not truly emergent. Or perhaps it is because we are not Reformed enough.
Warning, Tangent Alert: As good as the reformed doctrine is, I grow very weary of those who view it as separate from all the rest of the Christian family. How stupid is that? Does it seem strange to some of you that when people classify the emerging church movement they have one category of emerging attractional churches and then they have an entirely different category for emerging reformed attractional churches? There is a serious spiritual bigotry going on in Christendom that is not only tolerated but reveled in. We need to learn to embrace brothers who may differ from our point of view (no matter how right we are, after all God Himself predestined that they be in that camp).
The one characteristic common to the above points is pride. We are all a little to full of ourselves. God is not bound by our activities, doctrinal categories or strategies. He also is not going to bless pride. The Scriptures are consistent throughout in declaring that God is opposed to the proud. If pride is causing jealousy and envy in your life, you no longer need to worry about Satan as your arch enemy, God is now opposed to you and that is far worse.
3 Non-petty reasons:
1. We are not seeing the conversion growth rate that Church Planting Movements are seeing in other parts of the world. This is true, but I wonder if that is cause to disqualify what is happening as a CPM. While I would wish that we would see more conversions, we are in a country where the predominant faith of the people is Christian. That has to change the way we view this in the US. While I am not really wanting a renewal movement as much as a true spiritual awakening of lost people, I for one, am not going to tell Christians that they cannot join us. To see the conversion growth rate found in China or India we would have to exclude Christians from joining the movement, and that is not healthy or realistic. That said, this could easily derail the birth of a true movement if we spend all our time, resources and affection on the Christians that come in.
Church Multiplication Associates, which I am part of, is seeing more than 25% conversion growth rate in this environment which is pretty high. Can we do better? Yes. Should we do better? I suppose, but how do we do better is the real question. I am not going to tell Christians that they cannot be part of our movement. I am also not going to start pushing evangelism with external drives that produce guilt ridden evangelists and false conversions. I will just continue listening to the Holy Spirit and trusting Him as the only true evangelist to usher in the new life. Deepening the spiritual life of the disciples so that they are unable to keep quiet about their love of Jesus is probably the best way to mobilize evangelists.
2. Reproduction of churches must be beyond the third generation. Those who know me know that I myself say the same thing. It is not until we see fourth generation disciples, leaders and churches that we are truly a movement in my opinion. This is really a mathematical equation, to see real multiplication each unit must be reproducing. If we are not multiplying we are not the movement we want to be. That said, if we are multiplying, counting the churches and getting accurate information will be impossible, always leaving us vulnerable to pundits who sit on the sideline criticizing us. What we have found out from independent surveys is that we have a very high rate of reproduction (near 100% as 52 out of 53 churches surveyed in one account had daughter churches in that same year). 30% of the churches that have started churches in our movement have started 6 or more churches! 30% have also seen grand daughter churches started, so I would say that if we are not a movement yet, we are on the way.
3. Transformation of society is the true mark of a movement. This I agree with whole-heartedly. As I have said to many who question our legitimacy, it will not be our contemporary critics and experts who will give us our validity, but future historians (yeah, I know, and God). I often think of the future historian and what their perspective will be when I look at things, it helps to gain a bigger and broader perspective.
If we truly saturate our society with vital followers of Christ capable of making disciples, the world will change. But of course, this will not be evident for a little while. I am willing to wait for it. There are ways to have a more noticeable impact immediately such as large social programs, political lobbying by a few motivated individuals, aggressive and vocal assertion of our values in society. We could do that, as others are, but I believe that simply connecting God's children to their spiritual Father in such a way that they listen to His voice and courageously follow His lead will transform society in much broader, holistic and longer lasting ways.
I guess I am willing to say, we are a movement, but our best days lie ahead. So, for that reason, I can live with the less petty critiques as they are actually quite helpful. There is nothing I can do about the petty ones.
My next book, Church 3.0 addresses this subject at length and is available soon. It answers the questions most often asked of our movement and uses those questions to discuss what a true movement looks like. The uniqueness of this book is that it provides an insiders perspective of a movement. It addresses the issues from the place of trying to figure out how to instigate, propagate and release such movements as opposed to simply describing one from the outside.
For those who think we are not a movement I have a final question: at what point would you say, "Yes. there is an organic church planting movement in North America?" How many people will it take? What percentage of the population is required?
Next time I will address what is necessary for our "movement" to have longevity which is the main question put forward by the excellent article in Christianity Today this last week.