A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity of team-teaching simple forms of church with Milton Adams in France for a week. Through this process urban-missionaries are reaching out in their communities – making disciples of postmodern and secular people. Simple forms of church are reproducible – and biblical. Here are a couple of insights I have gleaned from the New Testament and history. I will share others in the future –
1. All New Testament churches met in houses. Early Christianity was a house-church movement. The first churches that the apostle Paul specifically planted and addressed letters to were at Philippi – one in the ‘household’ (oikos) of Lydia and the other in the ‘household’ (oikos) of the jailer. The earliest church building – at Duro Europos on the banks of the Euphrates River between Syria and Iraq, was a modified house. It dates from 200 years after Jesus (235 CE). Before opposition broke out Jerusalem believers could celebrate in the temple courts, but they regularly met in homes to share the Lord’s meal, pray and fellowship. (Acts 2:42-47) All the churches that we read of in the New Testament met in houses.
2. There were multiple churches in each community. In Rome, the homes in which most lived were very small – somewhat like bedsits, with space for just a few people. In other cities, excavations reveal homes with space for 20 to 25 people – with some luxury homes in Corinth having courtyards that may have been large enough for 40-45. There were at least five house churches in Corinth (in the homes of Aquila and Priscilla, Titius Justus, Crispus, Erastus and Pheobe) and five around Colosse (in Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, and in the homes of Nympha and Archippus) – and, these are just those mentioned. There were no doubt others, in other ‘relational streams’.
3. They were in close proximity to the people. Even if every church in Jerusalem met on a roof-top, an ‘upper room’ able to accommodate 80+ people – and that is unlikely, there would have been more than 100 house churches for the 5,000 believing ‘men’ (Acts 4:4) plus women and children. If each church was 10, 15, perhaps up to 20-25 people – but rarely more; there may have been 400-500 gatherings (churches) in Jerusalem alone. This meant these churches – sharing ‘the Lord’s supper’ with praise, fellowship, discussion of the apostle’s teaching, and meeting each other’s needs – were accessible to their neighbors. In those times personal space was limited, with houses crowded with extended families and open to others in the community.
4. There was a high level of participation. Paul provides a window into the house churches of Corinth: ‘When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All these must be done for the strengthening of the church’. (1 Cor 14:26) Anecdotal evidence indicates that greater numbers in church result in increased numbers of spectators – not participation. A common question asked of me is: ‘How can we get more people involved in witness – and church?’ When I ask, ‘How many attend – and how many are now involved?’ The responses display a pattern: ’30 attend – and 15 are involved’; or, ’80 attend – and 15 are involved’; or, ‘300 attend – and 15 are involved’! NT house churches fostered participation.
In the future we will look at other aspects of simple biblical forms of church – their natural leadership systems, zero cost (for buildings, parking space etc), easily reproducible networks, freedoms, etc.
In this NEWS there are stories that may inspire you to share faith where you are!
Be faithful & courageous
CHURCH PLANTING NEWS – 14 Sept 2012
Discussions at La Grande Terrasse Cafe: Pierre Kempf, who fosters church planting across the south of France, took us to visit Geneviève in Marseille. Sitting at the busy street-side La Grande Terrasse Cafe in up-market Malmousque overlooking the harbor area Geneviève shared how she has become involved in her community since becoming a Christian –
# Ladies parties: With music festivals across France in June, Geneviève organizes ‘ladies parties’ (for 80+ women) at her terrace home.
# These evenings attract young and old, the influential of society (bankers, store owners, architects, teachers, etc) as well as those who are struggling. Pastors mix with participants.
# Discussions evenings: The La Grande Terrasse Cafe provides an ideal environment for evening discussions – on euthanasia, the enslavement of religion, archaeology, social issues, etc
# A quarterly ‘philosophy cafe’ – led by a philosopher friend, engenders lively discussions.
Geneviève is ‘pastor’ in the community: She spends time talking, encouraging, listening, and praying with people – telling stories of quite dramatic miracles (of healing, accommodation becoming available, etc).
She enlists the bakers and store-owners to assist the poor, she assists the sick, old, jobless and ‘morally destitute’. While at the cafe, many stopped to talk – one to tell of a death in the community. Geneviève responds to each call.
Her husband (supportive, but not a Christian) sponsors two nights a year for community people to visit a health restaurant – and participate in discussions.
Geneviève explains, ‘This bar and my home is church to this community!’ She knows that very few from Malmousque will ever ‘go to church’ – so she has brought ‘church’ to her community. The cafe and her home is open for personal discussions, support and Bible reading.
Limoges Church Multiplying: Some attending the Adventist church in Limoges (a French city famous for fine porcelain) for 50 years say that while their church building ‘is full’ – they are not satisfied! Teams launching two new church plants in the city met with local church representatives, their pastor François du Mesgnil d’Engente, south France evangelism coordinator Guy Roullet and planting consultant Peter Roennfeldt, to refine plans. The planting teams expressed excitement in God’s leading to reach people in their ‘relational streams’; church members said they will miss the fellowship of these enthusiastic young adults – but strongly affirmed their mission; and their pastor and his wife Yvette expressed delight that ‘this is the beginning of a multiplication movement’.
Country Life Restaurant – Cultivating New Church Plant: With a high profile position in the centre of Marseille, Bernard Beranger, his wife and staff of the Country Life store and restaurant – look for every opportunity to share faith. They offer health support and counseling as well life seminars, conferences, gospel concerts – and have now launched a new church in their restaurant with a monthly worship time.
Further Australia 2011 Census Data: Although Christianity grew by 3.7% in the fives years to 2011 – it declined in the overall percentage of Australians who identify with Christianity. In 2001 68.0% of Australians identified with Christianity, in 2006 63.9% and in 2011 61.1% (representing 13,150,671 Australians). Some denominations experienced growth – including Baptists (11.3%), Catholics (6.1%), Adventists (14%) and Pentecostals (8.3%). Each 1% of growth for a larger denomination, such as Catholic, represents many tens of thousands – while for a smaller denomination, 1% growth represent hundreds. Commenting on their 14% growth (55,252 in 2006 to 63,002 in 2011), Adventist Rob Steed says a ‘comparison of Adventists in church’ each week, compared to the census, ‘is challenging’. ‘The census is not a measure of attendance at church or Christian practices but it does give to us a very objective way to track trends of religious identification,’ Steed says. In the five years to 2011 other non-Christian religions increased by 39.9% – representing a total of 1,546,335 Australians.
Resources (more resources & stories – www.newchurchlife.com)
Correction: Caleb Mission in Switzerland: The Caleb Mission project was launched in a French city in Switzerland, La Chaux-de-Fonds, not an Italian Community. Next year they will work in French-Italian areas – and hope to extend their ministries. Check out https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mission-Caleb/399004036832042?ref=hl.
‘From Buddha to Jesus’ translated into French: Steve Cioccolanti’s outstanding book on how to reach Buddhists with the message of salvation is now available in French from http://amzn.to/O96So6 .
Membership or Belonging – some ideas to think through!
1. Unchurched people, welcome in a church plant, feel part of that fellowship. They naturally participate in discussions and decisions – along with everybody else. They belong as members!
2. These people believe they are members, for they are welcome and involved. Planting teams treat them as ‘members’ – and they behave as members!
3. The language of the church plant changes. Instead of, ‘Who votes this person into membership?’ it is, ‘Who is delighted that this person believes and has been baptized today?’ They have believed they were members before they believed!
CHURCH PLANTING NEWS