Mark Galli wrote a piece in Christianity Today musing about the future of the organic church movement. Although he’s on the outside looking in (would have been better coming from someone who has actually participated in the movement), he does raise some interesting questions about the viability of the movement. I noticed in particular his thoughts on current leaders of the various organic churches (whom cover a wide spectrum of ‘church’), and echo his sentiments on the potential of losing many unhappy people in the future.
Organic church. The term is fluid, but it contains at least three ingredients: Frustration with the-church-as-we-know-it, a focus on people (vs. programs) and mission (vs. institutional maintenance), and a vision to transform the world.
Organic (missional) church is kind of like high speed internet. When you get off your 48.8kbs you’ll never go back. To many leaders of the organic church movement, going back to the regimented and perhaps legalistic programmatic grind of the institutional church (be it evangelical or mainline), would be a tough pill to swallow (or koolaid to drink).
Imagine, you could be connected into a community that seeks to join God in the places he’s already working, to redeem the places where you’re already networked. To do that you’ll have to spend time with neighbors over dinners, pray for people who are going through rough patches in their lives, have block parties, frequent the coffee shop/bar, and gather with like minded people on a regular basis to worship.
Or, you could go to a box every Sunday morning between 10-1130AM, listen to someone talk to you for 45 minutes, take in the latest Chris Tomlin CD, and boot it back home in time for the football game.
Perhaps I don’t shed positive light on the ‘other’ way, but for some this is the dichotomy posed.
It should not come as a surprise if an organic church fails that the leadership would simply fade off into the distance given the monotonous alternative. My sense is the potential to lose proponents of the organic church network is high if the networks fail, and other related networks fail as well.
Although, as the article mentioned, the movement will inevitably fail, there are some key components that we should be mindful of moving forward that could potentially slow the emergence of cranky organic church participants.
1) Success is not measured in numbers. The old church growth models peg growth at X % for a new church plant and if you do’nt meet that requirement you fail. Failure is usually because you didn’t have a good enough/charismatic leader, or of course, because the money ran out.
Success in an organic movement is tracked by successful transformations in people. Not how many people said a prayer or attended a service, but how many people in your life are being changed.
That means what used to take an altar call and a 7 day revival meeting, now takes 7 years to journey with a culture devoid of any religious memory (the post-Christendom society).
2) Timeframes change. As we measure success differently we have to be mindful that timeframes change. As noted above, it’s now a 5-10 year investment into people, mini transformations as they embark on their spiritual quest and as God leads them towards himself. Longer timeframes will also mean greater longevity.
Under the old church model church planters went with 100% support from sending church. We’re still trying to find out the magical number for this, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have church support in $$$. However, when our expectations change from a 1-5 year commitment to a 5-10 commitment and investment in your local neighbourhood, you start to consider alternatives to make that vision a reality.
(Neil Cole would extend this 5-10 year commitment to a 4th generation timeframe!)
3) Be bi-vocational. On a 10 year plan it’s not feasible for a sending church to pay your 100% salary. In fact, reducing salary (largest expense of the church plant) by half only doubles the longevity of a plant. Some form of bi-vocational model to start is probably the best course to take.
4) Network yourself. If your network/community fails are you left alone? Although it IS a lonely place to step outside of the box and start a new movement, you are NOT the only person to come up with the organic model (or like it in the process). Find local communities that rival what you’re doing. That will ensure if you do for some reason need to shut the metaphorical doors, in the least you’ll have a place to connect into that represents your foundational ethos.
These are some expectations and thoughts that could extend longevity of the organic church, encourage others to launch into the movement, and cut the losses when things do go South.
There is much more to be said about how organic and attractional churches could work together rather than remaining mutually exclusive, but that would be another post.