I think this is really asking the question, “What is the church?”
The concept of “church” has changed a lot over the centuries. The Project SoIL team didn’t set out to plant a house church, so to speak. Instead, we want to honor the Lord by doing church really really well. Inspired by Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church, we spent a long time praying and asking God the question, “What do you want your church to be?” We think the answer is profound and should not be determined simply by “the way it’s been done as long as I can remember.”
Here are five motivations (I could list more) for why we feel God is calling us to plant a particular kind of church.
1) We are the church
The Bible has much to say about the church. It’s the bride and body of Christ. It’s the assembly of God’s people. It’s the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. Etc. There may be a lot of room to interpret what each of these metaphors actually means, but one thing is clear to us: There is no sense in which followers of Jesus “go to church.” Instead, we ARE the church. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we are God’s ambassadors and the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. That was the first tectonic philosophical shift that changed our thinking and directed our steps.
2) The mission is making disciples
Jesus was super, ultra, painfully clear: Our mission as Christ-followers is to make disciples (Matt 28:16-20). What does that mean? Well, “disciple” is a churchy word for “one who patterns everything in her life around becoming like her teacher.” Luke Skywalker was Yoda’s disciple. It wasn’t enough to just write down a few clever things he said at a Jedi Academy lecture; Luke wanted to become like his master. So is it with us and Jesus, only more so. In fact, the word “Christian” means “little Christ” (“Christ” being Jesus’ title – the Greek word for “Messiah”). To say I follow Jesus means I’m becoming so thoroughly imprinted by my Teacher that people have trouble telling us apart. When people look at Christians, they should see Jesus. That’s “discipleship.”
So, if we’re going to build any kind of gathering of followers of Jesus and call it “church,” then one of the most important things about it has to be that we dedicate our lives to the mission on which Jesus sent us. We must be disciples who make disciples. In other words, we want our church to be a bunch of people who love Jesus, who are becoming increasingly like Him, and who are trying to help others fall in love with Jesus and increasing become increasingly like Him as well.
3) Consumerism and professionalism are American values, not Kingdom values
I think we can all agree that consumerism has pervaded pretty much every aspect of modern Western culture, including the church. But what we don’t often talk about is how easily church can become a place where a big group of people shows up to watch a couple pastors be professional Christians. We want to create a church where everyone participates in the work of the Lord. No consumers grading the professionals. No professionals being paid to perform for the consumers. Just a bunch of people loving and serving and walking toward Jesus with the other people in their lives.
4) We want space enough for everyone to belong
We’re planting our first church in O’Fallon, IL. As of 2017, O’Fallon’s population is 29,272. The population of St. Clair County, in which O’Fallon resides, is 262,479. What if 10% of the population of O’Fallon came to know Jesus, and wanted to gather together as His church? We’d need a building that could hold about 3,000 people. Just for O’Fallon. That would cost millions of dollars and take a huge amount of work and energy (and money) to maintain.
OR, we could meet in homes. Pretty much everyone has a home. If we don’t insist on meeting in a single, central, special-purpose building, then every single person in St. Clair County could come to know Jesus, and we wouldn’t have to use a dollar to build a building to house them all. And there’d be space enough for all of them to bring friends. Meeting in homes means there’s space enough for everyone.
5) We want to focus our resources on ministry
Lastly, we don’t want to spend the money given by God’s people on maintaining buildings, paying clergy salaries, buying insurance plans, etc. We want to use that money to serve people … to obey Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, establish justice for the oppressed, and so on. If we have no building, then we don’t need to spend the time, energy or money to maintain that building. We plan to operate our church on less than 5% of tithes and offerings.
So, we plan to meet in homes
I’m sure we’ll talk much more about this over time, and I’m sure this brief post has raised as many questions as it’s resolved. But I hope you’re getting a flavor of why we’re doing what we’re doing.
We don’t want people to think of church as a place to go; rather, it’s their identity. We want the best possible model for making disciples. We want to encourage people to dedicate their lives to following Jesus, not consuming the services of “professionals.” We want space enough for everyone. And we want to steward the resources of God’s people wisely. All of this, to us, leads us to meeting in homes and forgoing a central building.
One additional point I do want to make before we close, however. Sometimes people think of house churches as a way of escaping the authority or structure of the “traditional church,” because they feel that church is stuffy or overly oppressive. We agree church shouldn’t be “stuffy” or “oppressive,” but we also believe that the greatest freedom and joy is found inside God’s law, under His authority … not striking out on our own. This isn’t a bid to escape these things, but to separate them from traditions that need to be reconsidered in our day.
Therefore, we are planting an EFCA church, fully under the authority of our denomination. I am a soon-to-be-ordained pastor. The church is led by a plurality of elders. And we submit to the authority of Scripture as the inerrant word of God (in fact, here’s our Statement of Faith, if you’re interested; we affirm the denomination’s statement verbatim). We are not making a bid to get out from under authority; we are specifically and intentionally placing ourselves under authority — of Jesus as the head of the church, and of elders and denominational leaders as His representatives. But we are also specifically and intentionally building the kind of church we believe will best honor the Lord and accomplish the mission He has given us.
So, slavish attachment to traditional structures… OUT!
Obedience to God’s word and submission to Jesus’ rule in our lives… very very IN!
Pray for us.
Please do pray! Signup to receive our newsletter. Comment below. We’d love to hear from you, especially if you want to partner with us in thinking through how to best be the church. And I look forward to sharing more about our journey in the months and years to come.
God bless you as you serve Him!