Felicity Dale over at Simply Church once shared ideas from the World House Church Summit held back in November 2009 in New Delhi, India. In particular, I found interesting what was shared in regards to house churches ceasing to multiply when they become permanent structures.
House churches should be neither independent, nor permanent. If they are they will not multiply, but will only have shifted people from the pew to the sofa. Instead, they should be an interdependent network. Each house church is a debriefing center and a sending center that sends people out.
A starfish has no brain or head. If you cut off the arm of a starfish, it will grow into a new starfish. A house church does not require a CEO or a commander. Any of the people in it can multiply it out. The leader is more of a facilitator that cares for the household...
...Church planting is a process. Jesus stayed a few days in Samaria (John 4). Philip, the evangelist, preached the gospel powerfully there and many sick people were healed and baptized (Acts 8:4-13). Then Peter and John (apostles) came and worked with them too (Acts 8:14-25). Different people used their different giftings to see the church there come to maturity (Acts 9:31).
I have to confess that it has taken us 10 years to understand what Felicity shares above. Most of the church planting types I relate to are focused on starting churches. Once we have something up and going, we think, "Great, let's now look around and see who else we might train who might start another one." We have this mindset of permanency. If the house church continues to meet regularly, it is good. If it dissolves after a few months, that is bad. Or is it?
As I reflect upon this, nearly every single church plant connected to our house church network that I can think of, resulted from Christ followers not staying in their home assemblies. Instead, these laborers were discipled, and then sent out to make more disciples. When we make new disciples, churches are planted. The longer we stay together, the more comfortable we get with one another. Soon we want this to go on forever. We want our kids to experience the same we have experienced. We inevitably start organizing, programming, and hiring people to do what we do not have the time to do. Soon, we become the focus of ministry. What we have set into motion begins to define who we are. Before long, 10-20% are the ones engaging in some level of church ministry, while the rest become consumers. Is this what Christ really intended for His Church?
What if the church is something meant to be less permanent, and more fluid? What if we understand Christ's declaration, "I will build my church", to be about his Universal Church (all the saints throughout history), and not the building of local church assemblies? In reality, we are the ones out there trying to build His church. We are the ones trying to do Christ's job for him! Rather than equipping/sending centers; we have organized, programmed, and structured our churches to the point that permanency is what is seen as normal; when in reality, from the viewpoint of Acts, quite abnormal.
Part of the problem is that we have it in our heads that church--whether gathering in a house or a temple--is something solid that must visibly survive if it is to retain its value . In Acts we see the church as more fluid, more about "seeking first the Kingdom"--not the local ekklesia. The above Acts scriptures indicate a church-on-the-move. She is more about being the church in a lost world, and less about going to an organized, programmed, structured place.
I wonder what would happen if there was some way we could reboot our understanding of Jesus and His Church to be more in line with the concept of debriefing and sending centers, and less as permanent structures? Are permanent structures less able to multiply than those which are fluid? What do you think?