June 27, 2008
I recently read Neil Cole's book, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (2005). He has written others, especially outlining a simple and repeatable way of discipleship called Life Transformation Groups (in fact, another one just came out), but this book describes his work in church planting.
Cole led a church in southern California that is worth a book by itself. From that ministry he was asked to take charge of his denomination's church planting enterprise. Many models of church planting exist, and some of them are more productive than others. Baptists have perfected the church split, not the best model. However, many churches have been spawned through this approach.
In Organic Church, Cole describes where his ministry led him. Eventually he found success in small, reproducible churches that take the idea of the church being "organic," a living organism, and reach into areas least reached in southern California and around the world. In fact, he moved his ministry out of his denomination because they could not keep up and the restrictions of preconceived ideas limited the growth of the Kingdom of God. His movement utilizes the house church idea and refines it by going back to scripture for guidance (now that's a radical idea).
Don't get hung up on the house church concept as the only way to church plant. If you do, you will miss a gem. In addition to lots of great illustrations from over 800 church plants (and that was in 2005), Cole provides some wonderful rethinking on what it means to make disciples from a biblical perspective. The book is worth the read for his reflections on these principles; they are transferable to any kind of church ministry. We need to listen to see revival in our day.
Let me illustrate with one principle. Jesus went to the house of Israel. They rejected him. One point he made comes out when Jesus says he came to save sinners. The "healthy" do not need it. The principle leads Cole to teach that when we go to a targeted area we make sure we go to "sinners." He will knock on a door in a neighborhood or an apartment complex and tell the resident that they are starting a church in the rec center or a house or wherever and would like to invite them. Usually they are shut down. Then they ask if the person could point out a neighbor they think most needs a church where their life could be changed. Evidently, neighbors always point to someone. When that person starts to change, the original "finger" pointers come to find out what happened. Interesting!