Thinking Out Loud

June 16, 2011

So Which Church Would You Visit?

On Tuesday I created this hypothetical story and then posed a question…

  1. You are just married, no kids, and have moved to a rather small-ish town with very limited church choices within the type of church you’re familiar with; in fact, there is only real possibility according to the information you were given before you moved.
  2. You make contact with someone to get the address and time only to discover that this particular church has had some kind of split with half the congregation staying and half going to a new location.
  3. The person you’re talking with is very helpful and informative, but doesn’t attend either and really can’t offer you a thing as to why the church split and what the particular issues were.
  4. You have to choose between the two; picking something else or staying home isn’t an option in this particular scenario.

So which one do you choose and why?

There is actually a good reason to choose one over the other.  But it might be a different choice for different people.

Let me begin by saying that I think there are strong compelling arguments for both choices.  Especially when you consider that in information point #1, it says quite clearly, “you have just moved.”  Starting at the beginning, at the church which was recommended to you, makes a lot of sense.  It would also give you context to know the situation the breakaway group is coming from.

Church of Star Trek south of Lynchburg, Viriginia; You never really know what a new church is all about, do you?

You’d also want to consider the possibility that the breakaway group is simply a bunch of malcontents.  The complainers.  The trouble-makers.  The chronically dissatisfied.  I’ll grant you that.

You would also want to consider the possibility that the splinter group is the beginning of a cult fringe; the possibility that they broke away over some obscure point of doctrine or some misinterpretation of a scripture passage.  Here are some comments from Tuesday:

  • My gut reaction is to go with the church that stayed and didn’t move to a new location. My reasoning is that I would be very suspicious of why the other group left, was there no effort made for reconciliation if there were obvious differences between the two camps? However, it really is hard to answer not knowing all the details, maybe they left due to theological differences, if so, can they really be faulted?
  • Being Anglican, the church that moved onward would probably have been the group that was more orthodox. Liberals [or revisionists – for revising what Scripture says to allow non-biblical moral standards of behaviours] would stay. Only those keen for Jesus would move on.
  • i would be inclined to favor the group that “stayed the course.” if there are issues within a fellowship, leaving (especially en masse) is a last resort. if they had stayed and prayed, the lord would have made the necessary changes (in the situation or in their hearts).
  • …The group that stayed could have become liberal in its thinking and social in its outlook – or the same could be said of the group that left, departing from the true basics… (One of a couple of comments that tried to break the rules and suggest going to both; which you probably would eventually, but this was about choosing your first visit in your new hometown.)

The deck seems a bit stacked, doesn’t it?

Having said all that…

…I’d choose the new group.

The reason is simply the argument from church history that so many new movements and so many fresh works of God began in places where a group reached a crossroads and decided it was time for change.  I would want to see if the break-off group fits that paradigm and if indeed a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit is recognizable in their Sunday worship. 

I’ve also found in my own life that sometimes it is interesting to be part of something at its genesis.  Plus… I would always be able to visit the original group afterward without having actually arrived and “left” in that particular sequence.

Furthermore, if the new splinter group is off the rails doctrinally, it would be good to find that out right away; but if they are doing a good thing, it would be good to support them at a time when they need warm bodies.  

So… does that work for you, or are those arguments insufficient?

Remember, people blog because they write well and because they are provocative!  You’re allowed to disagree!

May 26, 2011

Small Is Big: Exploring the Simple Church Concept

As churches of all size discover the ‘small group’ or ‘cell group’ concept, many choose to call what they do ‘home church’ or ‘house church,’ the latter term heretofore reserved for entirely different.  So Tony & Felicity Dale, longtime pioneers and advocates for the other kind of house church, have chosen to go with the term ‘simple church’ to describe their efforts and their vision. 

The full title of the Barna Books paperback is, Small is Big: Unleashing the big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches, and is itself a revision of a title from two years earlier, The Rabbit and the Elephant.  (A gratis copy was provided by Tyndale House.)   Unlike its oft-confused counterpart, a true simple church is a freestanding model lacking nothing in terms of resources that a larger church might have to offer, though with obvious downscaling of programs and amenities such as nurseries, youth ministries, worship bands, etc.

Having said all that, toward the end of the book, the authors relate ways in which simple churches and megachurches are in fact sharing resources, and how megachurch staff are studying the intimacy and community of the microchurch to see what might be learned. 

But in another section, where there is discussion of people exiting larger churches missing the diversity and excitement of the larger crowd, they refer to a period of ‘detox’ while withdrawing from the large church experience.  Personally, I think the language might have offered a better term, because whether or not the authors intended it, there is the implicit suggestion that there is something ‘toxic’ from which the former parishioner must be cleansed.

The authors’ experience and knowledge of this movement both in the UK and the USA is probably quite unrivaled. As I read it, I thought of people I know who are doing this very thing, and considered that this could be a ‘calling card’ of sorts to fully explain what they do to anyone curious.  This book defines both the blessings of this rapdily growing type of church experience, as well as the pitfalls and dangers of beginning incorrectly.

One of my concerns about the house simple church movement has always been that it tends to attract those from the charismatic end of the larger evangelical spectrum.  Several times here, the language used to describe their gatherings talks about ‘prophetic words’ and ‘moving in the gifts of the Spirit;’ terms that are familiar enough to many of us, but equally unfamiliar to, for sake of illustration, Baptists.  And I suppose that if the simple church movement is really going to sweep across a broader or more mainstream Evangelical landscape, I’d like to see people doing simple church in a way that, for sake of illustration, a Baptist would be comfortable attending. 

Or maybe I’m wrong on that altogether.  Perhaps the simple church movement is in fact a movement in a slightly more Charismatic direction; that in the absence of structures and programs and hierarchies, dependence on the Holy Spirit has to be elevated.  This is reinforced when you consider that if you were to attend a simple church with Tony and Felicity, one of the first two things you might notice is that no one individual is in charge and there is no prescribed ‘order of service.’  While the worship might consist of a few songs you know, there is also spontaneous worship and what we know as ‘sermon’ is often replaced by a much more interactive time of people sharing insights into God’s word, and linking testimonies to teaching.

There are some aspects of Small is Big that reiterated material I had already covered in books by Michael Frost and Frank Viola and Wayne Jacobsen, and reinforced many things I already believe.  But if the simple church concept is new to you, I would suggest (a) read the book, as it is a complete encyclopedia of everything you need to know about this subject; and (b) find out if there is a simple church meeting somewhere nearby and make arrangements to attend.

It might be the closest you get to experiencing what the early church in Acts experienced.

Blog at