Earlier this week, I read an article about Francis Chan's recent talk at a live Facebook event. He gave details on why he left his mega-church several years back and began the movement of planting house churches across the city he lives in. As I read it, I felt like everything he was saying were thoughts in my heart I have never quite been able to communicate out loud. I found myself mentally questioning what the current "typical" church looks like today and left wondering, What should the Church look like?
(If you haven't gotten a chance to read the article, go read it now or else the rest of this post probably won't make much sense)
I'm still not completely sure how Francis was invited to speak to the Facebook employees (although, I think it's pretty amazing!), but if you want to listen to his entire talk in detail, the whole thing is incredibly inspiring and I would definitely recommend it. It's up on Youtube.
Towards the end, he was asked a question about his current church model (We Are Church, more on that in a minute) and what they could learn from it. This is what led him to begin sharing his thoughts and struggles through his time in ministry as the lead pastor at a 5,000 member mega-church he once planted. His concerns came as he questioned whether his congregation was truly producing the type of family relationship that he believed Jesus called the Church to be representative of in Scripture. The type of church that is known for its "love for one another" (requiring more than a 30-second welcome on Sunday morning). The type of church that is a body of believers each "utilizing their spiritual gifts" (instead of just sitting and listening to him use his spiritual gift). And he admitted that it never sat well with him that it took millions of dollars to operate this model (drastically reducing the resources that were able to be going out into a needy and hurting world).
These are all things that my husband, Josh, and I have had long, hard conversations about; as we wrestled and fought with Scripture (and sometimes each other!) to determine what a biblical, church model should look like. These are the dark, behind-the-scenes of ministry, that no one seems to want (or are able) to talk about publicly. And then here comes Francis - unafraid of what man may think and genuinely concerned about standing before God one day and having to give an account for the way he spent his life.
For Francis, that looked like a radical change in his ministry. He left his mega-church, and started a network of church planting called, "We Are Church" that is a house church model designed to grow no bigger than about 30 members. In this model, he sees the church diving into the word of God and studying it for themselves. Each church has two (unpaid) pastors, and each member is accountable for their family of believers and intimately involved in the spiritual health of their body. The goal of this, ultimately, is to send them out to be spiritual lights in a dark world and to continue the mission of spreading the gospel, making disciples and consequently, birthing new house churches.
Sounds very "New Testament church" familiar, huh?
The only concern I have with this model (house church) is that there are limits.
A few years ago, we started a small group in our home with about 5 other couples. It was one of my favorite times of ministry and I enjoyed eating, praying and studying the Bible together with these friends that, truly, felt more like family. Then, as I began sharing about our group and what we were studying and learning, I started getting requests from others who wanted to join! After multiple times of having to turn people away and encourage them to "join another group" or "start their own," we felt compelled to begin meeting in a larger building and expand our small (turned large) group into smaller "sub-groups." Eventually that "small group" grew to about 80 people! But there was still a sense of large fellowship with those we had established relationships with, without losing a sense of the intimate community. Basically, we just grew as a church.
The example in that, is that if everyone in a house church is truly living out the mission of not just discipleship, but evangelism, then you won't be able to keep people away. And the need for a bigger building will eventually come.
Why not just start another house church? I guess would be the question. That would seem fine in theory - but if the key is building relationships, then wouldn't the people out sharing their faith need to leave their current house church once they led an unchurched person to Christ to continue discipling them in a new one? Or would they plug that person into a different house church with strangers and hope they find a relationship with someone else?
I think it's possible for it to work. But it's also possible for there to be flaws. Hence, the "no church is perfect" conondrum we have been wrestling with for decades.
Let me talk for a moment about another church model. One that I have become very familiar with over the last few years and believe has a biblical precedent as well.
You may have heard of it - it's the multi-site church movement happening amongst mega-churches that outgrow their capacity. They are expanding their reach by planting new "campuses" in neighboring cities, in order to maximize their resources. The benefits of this church model is that instead of starting several new churches in the same area that share similar beliefs and ideology - you have one Church, united in purpose and mission to reach multiple communities.
But still, while this model is working to grow and reach more people numerically, the real spiritual growth happens in intimate relationships.
The church we are currently a part of, Chets Creek, is an almost-twenty year old, multi-site, mega-church and is a great example of how something BIG can still grow small. Every Chets Creek campus is heavily-driven by Life Groups that meet every Sunday morning. In fact, one of the most surprising things to me when we first joined the church last year, was just how many people were in a Life Group! Chets also puts a great deal of financial investment and resources in missions and other church plants (around the city of Jacksonville, locally and nationally) which is highlighted and celebrated in a weekly "Missions Moment" during the service, so the congregation can see exactly where their tithes and offerings are going. The environment is not centered around a "one-man show," but is relied greatly upon other staff and volunteers that serve faithfully in areas they are gifted. Chets is also committed to launching multiple campuses that can replicate this model to better reach the neighboring communities. Josh and I are grateful to be a part of the North campus that just launched this past January.
Why do I share all this? Because Francis Chan is on to something. Church, and more importantly Christianity, means nothing if it is not producing disciples who genuinely love God and love each other. It is not about pep talks, or spiritual highs, or motivational speaking. Sure, that can all take place - but not at the expense of neglecting life on life, bearing with one another, carrying each other's burdens type of relationships. Church is a family. And, like anyone who has one knows, family is messy.
But healthy families also grow. And what is sustainable for one family (i.e. one child vs. eleven) may look different for another - house church to mega-church and everything in between.
So to answer the title question... what should the Church look like? Honestly, I'm still trying to figure that out. And while there is no perfect analogy, I have settled on this:
It should look like the best Thanksgiving family dinner you've ever been a part of. Every person plays a role in the preparation and the participation. If someone is missing, everyone feels it. And when there are guests, they are welcomed with open arms and great big hugs. Whether it's a house church or a mega-church that you belong to - the most important thing, is that you have found a place where you can experience the love of Jesus and truly belong.
I would love to hear your thoughts, as well... what do you think the Church should look like?