Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Some Encouraging Stories of Organic Church Around the World

We do an organic church training which we call Greenhouse. We have trained many trainers around the world. These days there is a training going on every week somewhere in the world, often more than one. 

In the best case scenario we send someone to a place to do the training. A church planter there takes hold of the idea and runs with it. A year later we return to give the same training again followed by a more advanced training for those who are doing the work. Within another year those who have done the work are given the material and become trainers. We do not need to return much after that as the trainers begin to train others in that nation. This has happened in many different parts of the world. 

Several of my books have been translated into multiple languages. Organic Church especially.

Here are a couple stories from the Russian translation of Organic Church and training coming out of the Ukraine and surrounding area:

A Baptist pastor in Armenia, wants to translate the book Organic Church. The Organic Church trainer in the Ukraine says that he found their website and started reading articles and got Organic Church from them. As a result of reading the book and the articles, he made a decision, after years of frustration, to stop trying to get people to come to the church and to start going to them. He has started nine new groups in 3 months. Some of the groups have as many as 15 people. They recently baptized ten people. 

Timmy goes on to write: 

"Another cool story began four years ago when Joel Ragins, an IMB missionary, purchased some Organic Church books from us. Right after he bought the books a visiting lecturer from Houston talked about organic church in Joel’s class at Kiev Theological Seminary. Joel mentioned he had the books and several guys bought them that day. Andre Rozodovsky is one guy who bought a book that day and as result he called me (my contact info is in the book). Andre and I are close to this day and he is a committed and fruitful brother. In the last month I met someone else who bought a book that day. His name is Sergei Sergienko.  He bought a book, but it sat on his shelf for over two years. About a year and a half ago he picked it up. He said it was God’s timing. He had become very frustrated with the deadness and lack of evangelism and discipleship in his church. After reading the book, he decided to take some steps to go into the harvest. He found a person of peace and began to affect an oikos (social web of relationships). There have now been ten people who have come to Christ and were then baptized. I have visited them twice in the past month. They became their own church and they are a really close spiritual family and are extremely eager to learn. I did the organic church seminar with them this past weekend and they were so excited. The husband of one woman (she had come to Christ herself in the past few months) repented as a result of some things that God spoke to him during the time together. It is really cool because Sergei would say that all of this came about because he read Organic Church.

 In general, it seems that many of the seeds we have planted over the past 6 years through our conferences, coaching, books, and website are really beginning to bear more fruit. It seems hardly a week goes by that I do not get a phone call or a letter from someone who wants to talk because they have been impacted by Organic Church and some of the other resources we have been able to provide. Thanks for your part in all of this.

Just wanted to encourage you with what continues to happen in this part of the world.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If church leaders only did one thing to receive the transfusion you talk about in your book, what would that be?

Death: to yourself as a leader, and for the church. Yikes, does that sound too harsh? Well, if it does that is only an indication of how far removed we actually are from the Gospel. You see death is the entry-level course of discipleship for all, not some upper division elective for the most committed. We are supposed to be a people for whom death has no sting, the fact that it is so feared and threatening to us and our institutions is a symptom of a very serious problem. We believe that a true transformation requires changing the very DNA of the church. Changing a person’s DNA is nothing shy of science fiction today...but so is resurrection.

We believe that death and resurrection are indeed needed in order to be born again with new DNA–as a disciple, leader or as a church (a family of disciples). Jesus clearly said that if we cling to our lives we will lose them and if we lose them for the Gospel’s sake we will gain them. We believe this applies to us as individuals and as ecclesia. When we fight for self-preservation we are already dying. When we are willing to die we have found real life. The churches that are willing to die are the most alive and the ones that are unwilling to die are dead already. We are to live by faith and I can think of no better way than to position yourself in such a way that if Jesus doesn’t step in and do what only He can than we would be dead and gone. That is faith. There is no more alive church than one willing to risk it all in faith that Jesus is real and His promise is sure.

There is much more in the book Church Transfusion on each of these ideas and several others. We also present real life examples of several churches, each very different, that have seen a transfusion of life and become fruitful. These are not just high tower theories but real life ideas with practical suggestions and examples.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What three pieces of advice would you give to pastors and congregations that are drawn to an organic church model?

  1. Don’t try to change a church corporately with a program. Implementation of real change must come from the heart of the disciples not the staff offices or a pulpit.
  2. Allow a new pilot project on the side to thrive with its own new culture. Then let that group of people have contagious influence over the rest of the church. Protect it from the people who will see it as a threat. 
  3. Start with planting the Good News of Christ’s DNA in a few disciples that will multiply and spread. Let the health of a few drive the change rather than a top-down approach that never really infiltrates the hearts of the disciples.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What’s the most crucial ingredient for an established congregation that wants a church Transfusion to become more organic?

The way you lead in a man-made, top-down organization and the way you catalyze the outward spread of influence in a movement are not only different but are actually polar opposites. Everything the leader has learned to date about how to succeed in the institution must be questioned, and replaced with a new sense of identity and practice.

We have devoted several chapters to how leadership needs to change. The leader must first die to him/herself because if the church ministry is about a dynamic and demanding personality it is doomed. The leader must not operate out of insecurity but find a sense of security in his/her identity in Christ. The leaders must not create a dependency upon themselves. And finally, they need to shift the way they lead to empowering and releasing rather than corralling and controlling. We have lots of helpful information on each of these subjects with a chapter on each because the way influence occurs in a missional movement releasing church is so different than in an attractional warehouse church.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What is at the heart of the organic church movement?

This is the easiest question of all because it is what we eat, drink and sleep with every single day in our movement. We have always declared that the heart of the organic church movement–indeed all of church–is what we call the DNA of the body of Christ. For us the DNA stands for Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships and Apostolic Mission.

This DNA is not just key ingredients of a model of church it is the core of our life, just as true deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is in our own bodies. So at the very raw center of our movement is love. DNA is how we relate to God, one another and the world around us.

The DNA is the start of life, the code that leads that life and develops the body into what it is meant to be. A faulty DNA produces a mutated form of Christ's body. A right DNA produces a healthy and fertile body and reproduces after its own kind and grows all by itself. The whole DNA must be carried within every disciple in Christ's body–that is what a healthy church is.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why is the organic church movement still so important?

Christianity is still fraught with pollutants. What our founder meant to be a spiritual and organic movement spreading from life to life has instead been an centralized, hierarchical and self-promoting institution developed by men and for men. This has been the case for so long that we have confused the pollutant with the real thing. It is hard to know what is good and healthy and what is not after two thousand years of counterfeit expressions.

In recent days we have made great strides in realizing this and exposing the artificial ingredients that have infected Christ’s body, but we still have a long way to go. If we do not purify the people of God from the institutions of men that keep them encased in artificial mechanisms, than we will never be able to see transformation of neighborhoods and nations with the power of the Gospel. If we continue to declare our own mechanisms as God’s way we will not only be enslaved to a lesser form of spiritual life but we will greatly disappoint those in the world that look on.

I have been asked a series of important questions leading up to the release of our new book Church Transfusion.  I will post those questions with my answers in the following series. This was the first one.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Church Transfusion is Possible and Needed

I have always said that organic church is not a model of church but a mindset. Whether mega or micro, every church must relate organically or it is not truly the body of Christ.

The ugly truth is that churches of all models are struggling to be missional and need help. The help that we all need is not a better set of goals, a new program, logo or a hotter worship band. We need a transfusion of life in the cells of Christ’s body. We have been trained to believe that a cell group or a house church is the basic cell of Christ’s body, but I believe this is not helping us. I have found that a disciple in relation to another disciple is the true cell of Christ’s body. The basic unit of church life is a group of two or three. That is where we need to find the healthy DNA of Christ’s body. If it is not found in the disciples than the DNA is not in the church no matter what the core values or the messages from the pulpit say. Your church is only as healthy as the disciples in your church.

In our new book coming out in a month (Sep. 2012), Church Transfusion, Phil Helfer and I address how to release organic life into the disciples of established churches so that the church can experience a transfusion of healthy DNA.

This book describes five different churches that have experienced such a transfusion. We purposely chose five very different churches to show that the organic transfusion process works in a broad spectrum of models. Two of the churches are over fifty years old. Some are new church plants. One is a mega church of several thousand. One is a Vineyard church, one is a Reformed Covenant Church and One is Southern Baptist. Some have become a network of small spiritual families meeting in homes. Some have a very traditional skin yet a very organic soul. One has become a transformative presence in the arts, business and culture of our world. All are making disciples and starting new works. Each has made a profound difference in their community and in other nations and have birthed other ministries and churches.

In our book there are two parts. The first part shows that change is possible with God and demonstrates what that change means and how it looks in a variety of churches. The second half of the book takes the reader through a very practical process of transfusion that relates to any model in any culture.

Both Phil and I will be at the Sentralized Conference in Kansas City this September speaking about Church Transfusion.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is Bigger Really Better? The Statistics actually Say "No"!

There are millions of people in smaller congregations across the country who live with a feeling that they are failures because their church isn’t as big as the megaplex congregation down the street. This is sad and should not be the case.

A global survey conducted by Christian Schwartz found that smaller churches consistently scored higher than large churches in seven out of eight qualitative characteristics of a healthy church. A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and Life Way Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more. The research seems to even indicate that the pattern continues—the smaller the size of the church the more fertile they are in planting churches.

It pains me that so many churches and leaders suffer from an inferiority complex when in fact they could very well be more healthy and fruitful than the big-box church down the street.

I am not suggesting that the mega church is something we need to end, I am simply saying that we need other kinds of churches to truly transform our world. I also do not want people in huge churches to think that just because they have more people and more money that they are more blessed by God. The stats tell us that ten smaller churches of 100 people will accomplish much more than one church of 1000.

Christian Schwarz says:

“The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100-200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200-300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300-400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”

Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years.

I know such extrapolations in some ways mean little. I also know that conversions is not the whole picture. My point is that we need to stop seeing smaller churches as less successful. The trend currently is seeing the closing down of smaller churches as larger ones increase in size and number and I think this could be an alarming trend given the actual facts when we measure true influence.

When I mention statistics like these I am often criticized as being a mega church hater, and that is not fair. I am not a hater. I am not a bride-basher because I love the groom too much.

It is hard for me to feel sorry for the mega churches when this information confronts them given that they are so often lifted up as the height of success–often at the expense of the smaller church around the corner. My advice: Get over it. I am not thrashing the mega church here, I am simply saying that smaller churches are necessary, needed, and often more fruitful than we have been led to believe. And they often feel less significant in the shadows of their much larger sister around the corner. Lets look at the truth and accept it for what it is and strive to do whatever it takes to make a difference in this world.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Can We afford to Leave the Work to the Mega Church?

I have seen a report of research to determine what it would take financially to reach the US. The report is broken down by cities listing the financial costs to reach particular cities for Christ using the traditional attractional model of church. The results are alarming. Just to reach one city alone would be astronomical and cost more than all Christian non-profit ministries receive in a single year combined.

For instance, The study shows that to reach Atlanta would cost over $63 billion. To reach New York City alone would cost more $418 Billion. Where would we expect such money to come from?

Giving USA
, a non-profit foundation that studies philanthropy in the United States, in its 2008 report found $103.32 billion went to houses of worship and denominational organizations in 2007. That entire amount could only reach the greater Washington DC area and would leave the rest of our country without any ministry at all. But of course, all our current churches and ministries would have to go out of business. This says nothing of missions to the rest of the world.

While a mega church can be missional it may not be the most wise use of resources to pursue the mission. If you want to compare the attractional mega church model against the micro model of church I think the cost alone makes it clear which is a more reasonable approach. I know that this type of content does not make my message very popular. I have tried to be fair and balanced but also share the unpopular truth. Unfortunately the ministries that end up costing the most often end up producing the least.

This is just not a good way to reach a city for Christ, let alone the world. There are better ways. We could reach the cities faster and for a fraction of the cost with a simpler approach to church. One of the sayings in our movement is: "It doesn't cost a dime to make a disciple, it only costs your life."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Grand-Parenting Movements

I believe that a mega church can be organic and missional...but not start multiplying spontaneously. Addition can certainly be possible for a healthy mega church and addition is far better than subtraction or division–which we all seem so gifted at. A mega church is far better at addition than the micro church, so if the choice is addition via mega church or not adding in a house church I would choose the mega church. But I would rather see multiplication than addition, which is far easier to find in the micro church than the mega church. This is the reason I am so invested in the micro church.

Some of my mega church friends may not like this fact, but it is hard to argue with. In our book Church Transfusion we write about how a mega church can grandparent movements by giving birth to a form of church that can radically reproduce. So in that sense a mega church can indeed be part of catalyzing movements, but they must reproduce something very different. This has a tendency to violate the culture of many mega churches, but is nevertheless possible. Perceived success can be the greatest hindrance to movement in mega church world. What merits success (numerical growth via attractional ministry) in mega church world works directly counter to a multiplication movement. Logos and egos are the enemies of real movements, but are often central to a mega church. If a mega church can realize this, and start a different kind of church, it can grandparent movements. That is a tall order, but I believe it is possible, and some are doing it.

All that said, the reality is that many house churches do not multiply spontaneously either. You see the issue is not a church problem but a disciple making problem. As long as we view church as something important for us rather than seeing ourselves as important for the world we will not reproduce, in a home or a cathedral.

Too many of us pragmatic Western Christian leaders want a practical solution that will ensure success. This drives us to adopt models and methods for what only faith can produce. E.M. Bounds once said, "Men are looking for better methods, God is looking for better men."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Micro Churches have the Edge on Multiplication

While any model of church can be missional, I do believe that some models are more effective in multiplying than others. In fact, I am convinced that this is not a debatable premise. I suspect that this is why many do not take issue with me when I talk about how micro churches can multiply spontaneously and mega churches cannot.

Now don't hear me (or quote me) wrong. A mega church can reproduce itself. All living things reproduce when they are healthy. But the rate of reproduction is far slower and produces fewer "offspring" and requires much more intentionality. For this reason they are unable to start a spontaneous multiplication movement of like churches.

There is a reason why David Garrison lists house churches as one of the universal qualities of all Church Planting Movements. It is virtually impossible to spontaneously multiply larger more complex organizations and catalyze a movement of such churches. I will list a few reasons why this is:
  1. The leadership required is too specialized/professional and too much of the ministry is dependent upon such leadership.
  2. The organization is too complex to spontaneously reproduce.
  3. The things that cause success for larger churches (attractional programs) work against releasing the people into the mission. Consumers do not quickly become producers. What you draw them with is what you draw them to.
  4. The method costs too much money to reproduce quickly.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Missional is not a Model but a Mindset Among God’s People

Let me just say up front that I do not think that the model of church is the issue...mega, micro or anything in between. The issue is not how we heard people into meetings (small or large), or even what we do at the meetings, but how we release healthy disciples into the world empowered by the Kingdom of God. That, in fact, is something meetings can never truly accomplish. It doesn't matter if there is a steeple or a chimney on the roof when we do meet, what matters is what's inside the people when they disperse into the world.

I have a new book coming out next month (Sep 2012) coauthored with my long-time ministry associate Phil Helfer called Church Transfusion, which is about releasing organic life into a more established church. In it we strongly state that organic church is not a model but a mindset. It is a way to relate to God, one another and the world with love. We call this the DNA of the body of Christ and we are convinced that it is a universal truth absolutely necessary for life in any church and all churches. The DNA is made up of Divine Truth (connecting with God), Nurturing Relationships (connecting with one another) and Apostolic Mission (connecting with those in the world). In essence, we believe that every church is organic or it is not a church, because all churches are living entities. All organic churches must share in the DNA to have any health and hope to reproduce naturally.

I have seen some mega churches that are very organic and missional and their influence is felt deep into the society in which it is planted. I have also seen micro churches spread and infect a society with a kingdom influence. In essence, your church is only as good as its disciples. The DNA is not something that can be planted with a sermon series, a curriculum or a program. The DNA is carried in the seed of God's voice and must come from within the disciples.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Can a Mega Church Be a Missional Church?

There are many people asking the question if a mega church can actually be a missional church. My friend Ed Stetzer just started a blog series on the subject.

In all the discussion people on every side have a tendency to take the issue personally. I understand this and want to weigh in as objectively as I can.

I have several friends who lead mega churches and I respect them and trust them. There are many in the micro church world that do not trust any leader in a large church, I am not one of them. There are abuses on both side of this aisle. There are very unhealthy mega churches and very unhealthy house churches. If I had to choose between being part of a dysfunctional mega church or a dysfunctional house church I would choose the mega church which would have more places to hide and perhaps be a little more entertaining while I wade into the mire. At the same time, a very unhealthy mega church affects, or should I say infects, more people so it may not be the best choice. I would prefer to not have to choose either. In the next few posts on this blog I will address this issue.