Small is the new big

Influencers of the Movement
In 1998, Wolfgang Simson published Houses that Change the World on the Internet. It spread like wildfire among pioneering simple/organic churches. Many of these people became friends when Simson spoke in our home in early 2001. Similar principles were rediscovered in the writings of Roland Allen, a missionary of the early 1900s who expounded methods as revolutionary in his day as ours.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to missionaries, particularly from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists, who have pioneered church-planting movements and shared with us the principles they learned. The wisdom and insights of David Garrison, Curtis Sergeant and David Watson (CityTeam International) are invaluable.

Church Multiplication Associates, led by Neil Cole, has wide influence. Through its Greenhouse trainings, more than 40,000 people worldwide have been taught how to make disciples from those who don’t yet know the Lord and gather them into organic churches. Cole has written many books, including Church 3.0.

The writings of Frank Viola and George Barna, particularly Pagan Christianity?, Reimagining Church and Revolution have challenged many to reevaluate our traditions to ensure they are biblical. Viola is passionate about the church as the bride of Christ and encourages us to keep Jesus central. A “community of practice for house church leaders” called Luke 10, run by John White ( equips and connects these emerging leaders around the world. And groups such as Campus Renewal Ministries and Student CPx emphasize 24-hour prayer and train students to start churches on campus.

Problem Spots
House churches are not without problems. Many people who come from existing churches have merely exchanged their pew for a sofa. They do what they’ve always known: Someone leads the worship while another gives a talk. They may have more sense of community, but they haven’t moved to the place where the Holy Spirit leads and guides their times together. Since house church has become something of a buzzword, some legacy churches have changed the name of their home groups to house churches without a change in DNA.

From the mountaintop of legacy church, people can see the summit of simple/organic church and many assume it’s possible to cross a bridge between the two. What they fail to observe is the valley: a process of dying to the good things of legacy church. There’s no professional worship, no thought-provoking sermons, no programs for kids or teens, and no one else to make the decisions. Dying to these is neither quick nor painless, and some fail to push through the process.

Into the Future
House church is not the end goal. As God’s kingdom increasingly becomes the center of our attention, the distinctions that used to separate believers fade into insignificance. In 2006, a deliberate dialogue began between some mega- and micro-churches to explore how to cooperate and synergistically strengthen the body of Christ. Some megachurches are using missional communities—effectively simple/organic churches—as a means of penetrating their communities. Their conferences, such as Verge and Exponential, feature speakers like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole to teach missional/organic principles.

Whole denominations are beginning to see simple/organic church as a viable strategy for church planting in this country. Many mission agencies and sending churches no longer plant traditional, Western-style churches in other nations, but simple reproducing organic churches that meet in homes.

What does all this mean? Maybe the body of Christ will end her days where she began—in homes. God is certainly doing something big through the intentionally small. May He alone receive the glory.

Felicity Dale received her medical training at Barts Hospital in London and worked as a family doctor before leaving to look after her own family of four children. She and her husband, Tony, pioneered a church in their medical college and later in London’s East End. Co-founder of House2House Ministries, Felicity has authored three books, including Small Is Big! with George Barna and Tony.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout 2012, we’re celebrating what we call “The 12 Communities of Charisma” and highlighting groups that have made up this magazine’s readership for 36-plus years. This month we asked a leading voice of the house church movement, Felicity Dale, to explain the basics of this rapidly expanding segment of the American church.

To learn how house churches have rapidly grown click here.

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