The Apostolic Planting of Simple Church Networks

As I work more than anything else in the area of Church planting and development, I have often been asked by others working in the field to spell out how one could plant a new House Church Network.   This type of Church Planting should always start with your family, where you are. Whilst it is possible to use this method in new areas, it works best in a place where you are to some extent known. For example, anybody trying to apply the following method as a newcomer to a town in Spain, where I work, would find that they either had poor results or weak commitments. I will give some suggestions for people starting in totally new situations at the end on this article.   Your family is the beginning of the first Organic/House/Relational gathering, perhaps with one or two others who have joined you to start the new church. From the very beginning you should stress informality and your commitment to the others in the group (thus mirroring a commitment that you want to see in them, although you may never demand it). It is vital that you bring no preconceived ideas with you into the group, only the Bible may be your guide. If you don’t like dancing in church you must learn to love it, because God thinks it’s neat. If you don’t like people falling over, then you’re going to have to argue with God if it starts to happen in your group. You must do nothing to stop any Biblical move that comes into your Church. If you can’t live with that idea, then please don’t even try to plant a House Church, because you will probably fail and will almost certainly damage any who enter the poor misshapen thing that you may produce. The Holy Spirit is life, and He will certainly not be constrained to your ideas, or mine.   Add 1 or 2 new people at a time (not necessarily believers, but open seekers). Your main thrust at the beginning should be making new contacts and friends, whilst at the same time maintaining those that you have for evangelization within the group. Remember, new folk always bring others with them. Where you make new contacts will depend very much on the culture within which you minister. For example, the Apostles went to the market places. Whilst we lived in Eastbourne we made many useful contacts and friends in the local launderette. Later, when I had a part-time job in a health food store, our contacts came from the clients there. Still later I headed up a counselling centre and almost all of our contacts came from there. Here in Spain, things are somewhat different. Most people meet and make new friends and contacts in bars where people drop in at all times of day and night to have a coffee or a drink. One of the most widely heard criticisms of (especially American) missionaries here in Spain is their failure to understand that bars are where you make contacts in this culture (I even met one missionary that was forbidden by his mission board to enter a bar). WHEREVER PEOPLE NORMALLY MAKE FRIENDS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD BE. I once knew a very shy person who liked hiking, and joined a rambling club. Within a few months she had told everyone in the club about her faith and two or three went to her house a couple of times a week to look at the Bible and/or watch Christian videos. Within a year every member of the rambling club had become a Christian, and she had a sizeable cell- church meeting in her home. You don’t have to be an extroverted “go-getter” to plant churches; you just have to share the most precious thing that you have, your faith.   At the beginning, don’t have “meetings”, just informal get-togethers in the evenings and at weekends. Naturally share your faith, as you have the opportunity, teaching by example. Other things you teach as need arises. For example, pray for the needs of folk. In this way you teach prayer, trust in God and that God answers prayer, all at the same time. Vary the content of your get-togethers; watch a video (Christian or secular - secular videos are great conversation starters). Talk about current affairs in the light of God’s Word, read the Bible, Listen to Christian music, rather than sing praise and worship, which should be a heart response to god and will naturally flow as the folk learn to trust God. Have practical discussion Bible studies, what does the Bible say about marriage, our work etc. You should pray naturally in the group about peoples real and specific needs (not just God bless Dolly, but God, please heal Dolly’s in-growing toenail and help her to stop being so crabby).   Your meetings should be natural, not organised. Not just once a week, but everyday as need arises (Acts 2:46). As the group grows encourage members to open their homes, and move from house to house. Some have thought this a weakness, because the reason for the group (to be a church) may become diverted by a new couple, but in my experience this can easily be corrected when they next meet in your home (which should be the most regular meeting place anyway). There is a small risk of losing some, but this risk is worth it for the saints to be able to live in the liberty of God.   When the group size reaches 10 to 12 you should consider starting a regular Bible study plan.  This should be foundational teaching for the new church and should include: “what is a Christian?” living and growing in the faith, the local church (Organic church principles as explained in the first part of this book) etc. other subjects you should tackle as they come up, not what you think people need but their real, voiced needs. I would recommend MTS (See for details) others have used Alpha Course. These studies will be the first step towards a more organized approach and should be handled sensitively to find a time and place suitable for all. These studies should not be a straight teach. It is obvious that the folk will look to you as leader, but each person should be encouraged to contribute what they have found in the Bible, or even their own personal point of view, but always balanced by the Word of God.   There should be a continual influx of people as a result of active outreaches (Alpha courses, open-airs, evangelistic meals, etc) and as present members introduce friends and relatives. As these new people come along, they should be immediately incorporated into the group. If a beginners group happens to become particularly close knit, there is no reason why this should not become an associated cell straight away, thus precipitating the formation of the congregational level.   By this time your teaching programme should be tackling the local church and the sacraments. As far as the local church is concerned, one must stress that a small group without a grand building is a valid expression of the local church and that all true believers are priests apt to minister to God (whatever their cultural backgrounds may say). They need to be taught that authority normally resides with the elders, who will inform and consult with the members about important issues. Those who exercise ministries of the Holy Spirit should be seen as the gifts to the church that they are, and not as some sort of pope or bishop.   As far as the sacraments are concerned, I believe that many Churches fail in this area, either the sacraments are moved to the congregational level, thus making that the real expression of the church, rather than the Organic/House/Relational gathering. Or, on the other hand, some try to “do it” like the “church down the road”, therefore introducing an unnecessary formality into a group.   Baptism can best be performed within the family atmosphere of the Organic/House/Relational gathering, with other leaders and friends to participate too. If several Organic/House/Relational gatherings have people to baptize at the same time, then the leaders can agree to have a congregational activity. For example all of the cells could meet in a local park for a baptismal service. The candidates would be baptized by a recognized local ministry (Apostle, Prophet or Evangelist) and one of their Organic/House/Relational gathering leaders. Later all could share a communal meeting (Agape) with other members of their Organic/House/Relational gathering, whilst having social interaction with other Organic/House/Relational gatherings.   Holy Communion should almost always be celebrated within the cell, as it has its roots in the Passover meal, which was always celebrated in the family and never communally. Thus it is normal that in a Organic/House/Relational gathering communion would be celebrated as part of a real meal shared together. It is hard to justify Communion in large gatherings. Perhaps the only thing I can think of is when there is a need for a corporate demonstration of unity (e.g. when new churches come into the congregation/celebration, when new leaders or ministers are recognized in the wider group, etc.)   Another significant move at about this time will be the possible separation of the original Organic/House/Relational gathering into two or more new Organic/House/Relational gatherings. This is a vital time in the new group. Stress should be placed on our congregational unity and not on “splitting into smaller groups”. I often use the illustration of a gardener planting seeds. As the seeds grow in the seed tray the gardener carefully transfers the tender seedlings to another situation where they can grow on with more room, sometimes having to transplant them again before they are put into their final position. I have written in part 1 that friends should wherever possible be kept together at this time. In stressing our congregational unity we will obviously have to start a congregational meeting. Look for a suitable meeting place in the community that can be hired on a weekly or fortnightly basis (a community centre, school, library, lounge of a pub or hotel or a restaurant) and then start your meeting with some sort of special celebration, to which you can invite the press and local authorities, thus announcing your presence to the wider community. By now the growth of the church should follow the lines I put forward in part one, eventually leading to celebration meetings and wider growth. I did say earlier that I would say something about folk who are starting in entirely new situations. If you find yourself in this position, perhaps you are a missionary or church planter, spend your first six to twelve months just getting to know the lie of the land. As much as possible involve yourself in community activities (My wife and I are on the local town twinning committee). Make friends, and contacts, do “normal” things. Let those around you see your faith as a natural part of your life. Only when you have the confidence of the people can you then move to the next step. In some cultures this can take a long time. In our present situation in northern Spain it has taken us about three years to become accepted as part of the town, In another place it took us six months, on a new estate in Eastbourne, Sussex, it took us only a month or two. Don’t worry about the time periods that I am mentioning Paul often spent a long time in the places he visited. Looking back on our past work, I find that the Lord moves us on every 2 to 6 years. You must be sensitive to the Spirit. Once you are established, then continue as above. Money Matters:   I don’t intend writing a treatise on tithing and church finance, but I would like to put forward some comments on finance in an House Church network. Fairly early on, teaching should be given on Tithes and Offerings. From the very beginning you should have in your house a box where you, and if they want, your guests can put their offerings. You won’t need to draw attention to it, just put the box in a visible area with a discreet notice, saying something like, “offerings towards God’s work”. Later, if asked, you can expand on what the money is used for; Bible-study material, videos, a bag of shopping for old Mrs X, etc. When you later teach on giving, you will find it much easier if your folk can see that it has a practical end. It should be emphasised that we also share with those who minister among us (NUM 18:21), “we gave money to “X” so that he doesn’t have to work and can spend his time in prayer, Bible study and ministry to us and others.” It is vital that your folk understand that when we support ministries financially, we are not employing someone to do a job, but quite the reverse. We are paying someone so that they don’t have to do ordinary work, thus allowing them time to study, pray and then minister to us. You should stress that this doesn’t mean that we are paying them to be lazy, or lead a frivolous life, and that the ministers are responsible both to God and His Church for how they use their time. When talking about offerings, stress should be placed on the responsibility of each member to cover the expenses of the local church. Offerings should be used to pay the day-to-day expenses of the Church, to buy equipment and property as needed, and as a help fund for members in need. Many churches give a tithe of their offerings to missions. In the Bible, tithes are clearly used to pay for the ministry. In an Organic Church most ministers will work in secular employment, whilst a few will be full-time. There should be a good deal of love and respect when it comes to deciding who should be full-time and how much they should be paid. I feel that these matters are best settled by the ministers and cell leaders together, although it seems logical to me that a cell leader who has no other responsibilities could quite well work in secular employment as well, whilst a cell leader who also ministers to other cells within the congregation or celebration should be supported at least partially through the tithes. Sometimes, I am asked how much a minister should be paid. Some say twice the average wage of the group (basing themselves in the scripture 1 Tim. 5: 17). Others say that they should earn at least the average wage of the group, whilst amazingly some still think that ministers should live in penury. I personally believe that leaders should be paid at a level equal to the upper third of the church in which they minister, plus expenses and an allowance towards their office, transport and hospitality expenses. But clearly each case is different and should be put before the Lord. Ministers should not be “in the ministry” for their benefits package. Equally no church should fail in their responsibilities towards those who minister to them.  




    Next lets look at Scriptural Simple Churches in the Bible


(taken from Organic House Churches and Healing Communities by Keith W. Smith. For a complete copy please contact the author) © 2000 Prof. Keith W. Smith Reprint by written permission only

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