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Sling Church

Sling Church

Over the past few months I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about the house church movement. I believe that the house church model is, after many years, gaining some traction in the United States. It’s very exciting to me, and I am looking forward to the House2House conference in Dallas later this month.

I have also noticed the rising interest by the mega-church in the house church movement. Their version of the house church, however, might be considered a whole new entity altogether. It is what I am beginning to call the “Sling Church.”

Larger churches want to use technology to project their teaching into house churches. Typically, that technology is either a DVD series, a live streaming feed, or more recently, using “Sling Boxes” to send a teaching feed from point A to point B (point B, of course, being your television set).

A Sling box is a small device into which you plug a camera or other video feed. Then, using your personal computer, you can pick up the feed from across the Internet. For about $200 bucks one can have a global presence via video. The Sling box compresses the feed and manages the communication process in a very cost effective, no-frills-it-just-works, kind of way. There are other ways, of course, to do this, but the Sling box is an easy and cheap method that most church staffs can handle setting up and operating.

So, with the Sling box in operation, you can enjoy your favorite mega-pastor while sitting in a semi-circle in your own home. You are, in fact, enjoying “Sling Church.”

I am sure that there is a “market” for Sling churches, but, are they house churches? I don’t think so. The big idea behind the house church isn’t that it meets in a house. It’s that the leadership is home-based and the group is small. It a local brew, not a product of a large scale bottling and distribution company. House churches are more about the community and less about the teaching. The Sling Church is really an extension of the mega-pastor’s influence. It is an extension of the “mega.”

One of the beautiful things about the church is that there are many forms. When it comes to the mega-church, I am “all good” – I have no need to criticize it just because “it is.” Something does rub me the wrong way, though, as there seems to be an insatiable desire to spread the mega-churches influence into bigger and bigger spheres of influence.

Are these mega-chruches “local churches?” Technology is forcing us to rethink the church. It used to be that one could refer to the “local church” or the “church universal.” Not so anymore. I cannot help but think of them in a sort of “Walmart-ish way.”

That’s why I don’t like calling these efforts, “house church.” The thing that makes the house church unique, though, somehow seems to be getting lost in this newly emerging model.

Let’s call it something different so that we can more readily identify what it is.

It’s the Sling Church.

Who’s a better missionary?

Who’s a better missionary?

The House Church
Touching Neighborhoods Globally

Which church planter do you think is better prepared to start a church planting movement in their new culture? Jim or Wendy?

Jim was an experienced church planter from the sunny Southwest states. He had been on teams that had started 2 churches sent out from Grace Community, a large church of about 10,000 people. When they began their new churches, it had been with a startup group of 500 people. They were well-funded and they worked from a carefully crafted plan. The team they had put together was carefully selected based on gifting. Jim’s new challenge, however was radically different. Jim had moved to arctic Siberia to begin a church planting movement among nomadic, Eskimo-like people who live in the tundra, typically in government housing projects or as nomadic herders (or both!).

Wendy, Jim’s team mate, was from a house church in the Midwest. Her parents had started a couple of house churches when she was a teenager and after returning home from college it was only natural for her to get involved. Her church met on Monday evenings, shared a meal together, and then enjoyed a time of fellowship. There was virtually no program and hardly even a leader since all members of the group were encouraged to participate. When the group reached about 25 in size, they agreed to split up into new groups. Over the years, Wendy had seen a couple of dozen of these small churches birthed.

Could it be that the house church movement holds the best hope for raising up a generation of church planters? Some think so.

The House Church Movement

According to statistic compiled by pollster George Barna, the house church movement in American numbers anywhere from 5 million to 20 million people.(1) This wide range indicates that we don’t have a firm grasp on the size and scope of this movement. Another interesting fact is that most (66% to 78%) also attend a traditional church. So, even those involved aren’t exclusive in their application of the house church idea.

When the lens is widened past the United States to include the global church, a vastly different picture comes into focus. House churches dominate many Asian Christian movements, notably in China. From my travels to various missionary teams around the world, house churches are much more common goals for missionaries than the traditional model. Certainly in areas where persecution has forced the church underground a “house” model of church makes a great deal of sense.

House Churches Among the Unreached

When I was a missionary in Croatia I came back to the United States and brought a pastor with me to visit some churches who were potential partners in our forming church. As we walked into a large mega-church building to setup our room for that night’s presentation he was shaking his head. “Sto?”, or “What?” I asked him, and he replied, “This one classroom is larger than any meeting space we have in Croatia.” This large classroom was not something the pastor could project into his own context.

Whether the issue is persecution, money or any number of pragmatic obstacles, the simple church model is naturally suited to the realities of cross-cultural church planting among the unreached—particularly in ‘closed’ nations.”

Church planters who have experience ministering in smaller settings and understand the dynamics of how the Holy Spirit leads in these contexts are equipped to reproduce this model worldwide. Those within the missions community have long known that entrepreneurs with humble expectations are oftentimes the workers who make things happen over the long haul.

Yet another factor to consider is how we fund and support the on-field missionary. Data found in the report, “The State of Church Giving through 2005” shows that charitable giving has grown along with per capita disposable income. Unfortunately, it also shows that the amount of that funding that goes toward “benevolence” (which includes missionary outreach) has not changed. (2) This leads to the conclusion that while we give more to church, the church gives less to the world. Consider this from a Time magazine article on the simple church:

Indeed, house churching in itself can be an economically beneficial proposition. Golden Gate Seminary’s [church planting professor D. Allan] Karr reckons that buildings and staff consume 75% of a standard church’s budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine “if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful.” (3)

House church members should not look on their congregational size as an indicator of small global impact. In the area of finances, small churches pack big potential.

Connecting the House Church to the Unreached

As most house church planters know, a church is not a building and one doesn’t “go” to church. In a parallel paradigm, missionary agencies should not be organizational institutions. Instead, we need to understand them as “apostolic networks” of church planters. If we make this leap, there is seamless integration with the nature and mission of the house church. There is one more element to add to this mix, however, and that is the nature of where the churches are planted.

When missionaries use the term “unreached” they are not talking about unsaved people nor are they referring to unchurched people. They are referring to entire cultures that have no access to gospel. The biblical paradigm of the ethne (greek for “nation” or “ethnic people group” is not within the scope of this article, but the church, including its manifestation of the house church, is commanded to engage across these cultural borders.

Apostolic teams of church planters benefit from a solid system of preparation and on-going support. There is also a connection with administration, employment and visa issues, member care, and a host of other issues that missionary agencies can provide. House church structures may benefit even more from these support systems than traditional churches.

Unfortunately, many house churches do not recognize their own potential to impact Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Tribal societies. Much of the “emerging church” literature has been focused on outreach to post-modern societies. While there is much work to be done among the post-moderns, there are vast populations that live outside of the West that hunger for a relationship with the living God.

As an insider in missionary agency leadership circles, I have observed that some agencies have decided that it is more expedient to work with mega-churches because of their potential to fund large projects. However, for those agencies whose goal is to plant churches (like the one I work for, Pioneers), large-scale projects are often counter-productive. We benefit from missionaries who have lived and breathed the house church “air” as it makes the path to field success much shorter, and straighter.

House church leaders should be aware that some missionary agencies are very motivated to connect with them. Yet, the decentralized nature of the house church makes it difficult to develop a meaningful dialogue. We long for deeper relationships and the opportunity to be re-formed by house churches across North America. Help us to better understand and reach out to you.

Conclusion

In sharing my heart with you I hope that all expressions of Christ’s church have a place at the missionaries’ table, the house church included. I know that I speak for more than Pioneers. We look forward to seeing how we can join hands in a way that sends more missionaries into the most spiritually dark neighborhoods in the world.

We live in the era of history in which the church of Jesus Christ is experiencing its greatest growth (yes – I mean, even more than in the first century!). House churches can and should play a larger role in this. The truth is that house churches, outside of the West, already are! The question for the house church in North America is this: Will they join with God in raising up millions of new, simple, congregations?

1. http://www.barna.org. Barna has a great number of statistic on the house church movement.
2. The State of Church Giving through 2005 Abolition of the Institutional Enslavement of Missions. 2007. Empty Tomb. p. 13.
3. Why Home Churches are Filling Up – TIME. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1167737-3,00.html (Accessed March 4, 2008).

Pirates!

Pirates!

Matt Green sent me the above Youtube link that shows Ed Young, Jr., megachurch pastor from Fellowship Church in DFW, Texas, lamenting “Church Pirates.” According to pastor Ed, these Pirates join your staff and then have the audacity to go out and start their own churches after collecting a following within “his” church.

I am very hesitant to criticize any pastor. I believe that they have a very difficult job and are very often held up to standards that are not very fair. I have to make an exception in this case, however, as it reveals a confirmation of a stereotype that I have heard about megachurch pastors, namely, that they see the church as a business. I should also mention that pastor Ed invites blog comments. So…

I had a bad attitude welling up in my heart as I listened to this snippet as he is so negative about a person doing church planting without…. without…. without what? His blessing? The last time I checked I didn’t see any biblical injunction to avoid church planting because _____ (fill in the blank) didn’t bless it.

He (repeatedly) makes the statement, “You cannot do this in the corporate world…” as if starting a church in the shadow of a megachurch somehow breaks an unwritten monopoly rule. He goes much further and mocks the church planting “Pirate” for saying it was from the leading of the Holy Spirit. That’s a pretty mean spirited accusation.

He leans heavily on the word “loyalty.” That should be a scary word. Loyalty should be something given, not demanded. When pastors start demanding loyalty it’s an indication to me that they have already lost it. Do people belong to a church? Or… does the church belong to the people? This is a theologically challenging question to answer. I would not be as quick as Ed is to assume that the sheep belong to anybody but the Shepherd, regardless of where one worships.

I admit that I fear the megachurch pastor. When a pastor becomes so influential that they command a substantial following they begin to eclipse the priesthood of the believer. I know that there are great megachurch pastors out there. I am not philosophically or theologically opposed to the concept of the megachurch. However, my shepherd is Jesus.

If my pastor spoke like this (thankfully, he doesn’t) I would definitely be looking for the next pirate ship out of the cove.

Marketing Genius

Marketing Genius

I received a copy of the “Marketing Genius” book summary this week. I think it has an interesting little snippet about mapping the current environment. They look at the following:

Hot Spots – This is where demand converges and everybody wants to play (for example, all phone companies want to deliver multi-media capabilities).
Cool Places – Trend setting product design and development (currently it is electric cars among the auto industry).
White Spaces – Nobody is there quite yet, but new opportunities will emerge (cashless wallets).
Black Holes – Technology has shifted substantially and obviated some entire market players (iTunes kiling record stores, for example).

What would be some examples in the church and missions world?

Here are a few of my ideas:

Hot Spots: Church planting, multi-site (for mega-churches),
Cool Places: Missional churches, Business as Mission
White Spaces: Truly distributed e-churches? New denominationalism (when mega-churches start their own churches under their “brand.”
Black Holes: Denominations

Are Western missionary structures part of the “Black Hole?” Hard to say. Westerners, like all Christians, will always have an obligation to GO. So, the role will change, but I don’t think it can be dismissed.

Book reference: Marketing Genius by Peter Fisk

Last Week at LeadNow

Last Week at LeadNow

Do you know about the RightNow Campaign? Great group of people. Check out their website. I was at the LeadNow event they put on last week and took following note.

Here they are… raw and unedited from my Blackberry.

Dan Kimball

Does not see himself as a confrontive person, but sometimes it can happen.

Matthew 2:1-5. No room so they lowered the man down through the ceilings. His friends loved him so much… He was teaching the teens, but they didn’t really get it. “It’s just another story about Jesus.”. Dan started wondering, “Do you guys really understand this?”. But the kids weren’t getting it. So… Let’s go on a roof. They all went up on the roof of the church. They were then with Dan more as they were beginning to see it. Somebody in the immediate area started yelling, “Get them off the roof, it’s not safe, etc.”. Dan realized that if you are really going to make a difference, you have to take risks.

“I could not sit there and let those teenagers hear the story but not take it as a life changing story.”. This was a silly little thing I did, but the point is that we as leaders have to take some risks. Things in church-world are not all “hunky dorey.”. There are so many people today who are outside of the church that we had better take some risks in order to communicate them. I am not suggesting the wrong kind of trouble, but being respectful but change oriented.

Dan didn’t have a Christian upbringing. He bought a Bible and was trying to read. He saw a little church sign advertising something about a Bible study. He peeked in and saw six chairs, half-full with some elderly people. One of them named Stewart, invited him in, and he went. It was very unusual for him. He related the story of his starting to attend this little church and how counter-cultural it was to him (Dan himself was a punk rocker and very counter cultural himself). Over the course the following months Dan was impacted by this very un-hip, un-cool church. Ask yourself: who would have been best suited to reach Dan? We typically wouldl say people that were like him (punk rockers, etc.). That is not who God used. That little church impacted Dan. It was their best effort.

The question is: We do all of this stuff – but underneath it all is the question, “Is it because we are saying, ‘Those outside the church and don’t understand grace, is that the thing that’s underneath all of this?'”. Are we saying, “I am going to do what it takes to communicate in whatever way I can?”.

Somebody did this for every Christian. They took the effort to love on you and share the gospel with you. Why is it all worth it? Because they are worth it.

1. They are worth it because God felt they were worth it and sent His Son into the World.
2. They are worth it because Jesus said that they are worth it and prayed for His followers to be missionally amongst them.
John 17:15 – “My prayer is not that You take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”
1 Peter 3:15-17. “…be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you…” Apologetics typically is aimed only at the believers – we need to be more with people and not just in the church.
Evangelism is something that we should be – not something that we do.
3. They are worth it because eternity is a long time and there is a reality of heaven and fell we cannot forget.
– There is a lot of great talk about the Kingdom of God on earth, but Dan asked about the reality of the ongoing Kingdom. Do we really grasp the eternal ramifications of eternal existence and the difference between the two realities.

Somebody “Did it for me,” (told me about Jesus), and am I doing it for others? Dan highilghted a number of verses about heaven and hell. It’s hard for him to think about hell, let alone communicate it to others, yet it is what we understand future reality will be for many. He used a number of Greek terms and other New Testament examples. He quoted N.T. Wright to confirm that he does embrace the concept of hell. He quoted Spurgeon, Patrick, Elaine (from Seinfeld), and Hudson Taylor.

Dan re-emphasized the main point: They Are Worth It. Don’t give up because people are worth it. Be willing to take a risk. He told the story of his resignation because he knew that what was happening at the church he was working at just didn’t prioritize those outside the kingdom. The pastor told Dan to start a new church with his heart for the lost and got behind his vision.