microchurch

This is the paradox.   Neither Jesus nor Christian faith is going out of style.  Not really.  I’m going by memory, but as I recall, people such as the Pew Trust, sociologist Christian Smith, and even the Gallup folks all tell us people do believe in God, do want to know what God and the scriptures to do with their lives.

The problem is that how we go about those things and to whom do we turn that is changing.

Specifically, denominationalism and corporate denominations are less and less important to faith.  I, for one, experience it most everyday as a denominational minister.  I am 35 and I’ve known the church that helped raise me and shape my view of God and the world be in decline all of my life.  My personal research helped me understand that officially, membership in my church in the U.S. began declining in 1980.  The trend remains in a downhill slope since.

By Namaska on Flickr

By Namaska on Flickr

Church-going practices actually started changing decades before.  Many babyboomers were baptized in the churches their parents brought them to, but huge percentages didn’t remain actively involved.  The 1960’s, the crisis of social and moral authority of churches in the sexual revolution and Vietnam War, all contributed to radical questioning about the real importance of churches as institutions.  We live in the wake of those questions today.

Alot more could be said.  But I want to cut to the chase.

As a minister, I’m not ultimately interested in saving the institutional church.   Institutions are important.   In the end, they can and serve the purpose of church.  But, I don’t confuse the gospel for institutional religiosity.

By kwerfeldein on Flickr

By kwerfeldein on Flickr

I do, however, believe in community.  I’m with the bible on this one.  I believe in the inseparable union of faith and human community.  It’s a biblical thing.  God and the Gospel go together, just like faith, salvation, and your present relationships.  I know God is real because of, not in spite of, our relationships with others.  Without relationships, Jesus’ call to discipleship and everything he says about enemies, peace, and love are just metaphysical niceities, religious ideas that go well on embroidered pillows and wall hangings.

I don’t believe the essential importance of Christ’s call to faith and spiritual community is not ultimately being threatened right now.  What is being threatened is the way we go about it.  Institutional denominations, corporate denominationalism, even Sunday Morning service are no longer the spiritual anchors they used to be.  Jobs, family, financial demands, and civics demand alot more flexibility from the church.  Churches, right or wrong, have to compete.  And, while this cultural shift may be a significant loss for America’s churches – they ultimately don’t have to be.  Think about it.  The opportunity we face is staggering.  We have the opportunity to see God unleashed into new forms, new spiritual practices, and new ways of gathering.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20

One of the struggles we seem to have as “church folks” is how to break out of the church model.  How do we break out of the idea that God is more than a Sunday thing?  How do we take church with us wherever we go?…put it in our pockets?…and make the blessings of our faith community available everyday?

I want to make a small contribution to solving this problem.  It’s a small idea.  A humble offering.  But, ultimately I think its just as much as part of discipleship as bible study and Sunday Morning.  I call it microchurch.

Microchurch is easy.  You can do it in 5 minutes, even less.  You can do microchurch on twitter, on facebook, at work, or between classes.  All you need in another person.  Microchurch gives you a chance to breathe a minute (Spirit means “breath”), remember who blessed us with our day, and let faith put things in perspective.

Microchurch is two or three people doing these four things.

1.  Gather.  Make your congregation of two or three.  Find a microchurch partner.  Meet in the hall between classes or do it over lunch.  If no one’s around, do it with who follows you on twitter.

By G. & A.Jimenez on Flickr

By G. & A.Jimenez on Flickr

2.  Rejoice or Release. Then, rejoice in a God-moment or release a burden.   This is like the “Good News” and “Prayer concerns” part of your service.  But, it’s simpler.  Tell about something or someone in whom you saw the living Christ today or since you last met.   Maybe it was in the sunrise, or a kind word between strangers.   Whatever.  Just, rejoice about something.  Or, release.  Release a burden you’re caring.  It doesn’t have to be a mountain.  Molehills are fine.  Something small, or something big.  Maybe you’re worried about the way something you said came across.  Maybe you’re having relationship trouble, or a friend is really depressed.  Whatever it is, release it.  Bear your burden with another.   Rejoice or release.  Do it whenever you can.   Faith is exercised in community.  Do it everyday.

2.  Pray. Next, pray.  Lift up the burden you released or thank God for your day.  Force yourself to make God’s Spirit a part of your mindset.  Talk to God.  Even if it is for 30 seconds or a moment of silence.   Talk and listen.  Remember the One who created you, gave you this moment, and Who is the hope of all things.

3.  Resolve.  Finally, resolve to commit an act of discipleship!  Resolve to do something for the Kingdom that day.  Jesus preached about his Father’s business.  The Kingdom is hidden in little acts of faith.  Think about your relationships.  Really consider forgiving someone.  “Forgive us as we forgive others.”  (Matthew 6:12)   Or, break the mold and hang out with the bruised, broken-hearted, or outcast.   Sit with someone new at lunch.     Vow to do something for the environment.   Sacrifice a coffee and make a small donation.  In short, live your discipleship in some small way that day.  Tell your microchurch partner what you’re going to do.  They are your accountability partner for the day.  Faith without actions is empty!  (James 2:17)  Resolve to do something for Christ.  If you want, at your next microchurch, you can tell what happened.  You’ve got something to “rejoice!”

So there it is:   Rejoice/Release, Pray, Resolve.  5 minutes.

It doesn’t matter what order you do it in.  Just do it.  It can take just 5 minutes.   You can do it on twitter.   When you do, you’re doing church.  You’re living your faith.  You’re growing in discipleship.  You’re doing something terribly biblical:  putting together faith and life together.

Microchurch won’t replace bible study, praise & worship, or breaking bread together.  But, it’ll let you have church wherever, whenever, every day.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20

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11 responses to “microchurch

  1. Thanks, Matt, for the suggestion.

    I suspect the most important issue for our denomination is whether we are willing to sacrifice our denomination so that the people can carry fprward their mission. By the time you’re my age, the infrastructure most people in the “institutional church” depend on can be projected to be largely gone. The decline in baptisms actually began in the early 1950’s (it was only in the 1980’s that the baptismal rate fell below the death rate and membership began to fall), so our denomination has been in decline for all of both of our lives, and the mathematics of this seem inexorable.

    Finding new forms (such as this blog) for spiritual companionship and support within, across, or unrelated to denominational communities are essential to expressing the unique face of Christ planted within each of us.

  2. I guess I micro church all the time and just didn’t know it had a name. Our congregation has been given the names of: Cell Church, Emerging Congregation, Mission Group. I believe Micro Church fits us well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and vision.

  3. Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It is that coming together as friends, laying things at the feet of Jesus, and knowing you are not alone that strengthens us. God created us not to be alone but to have relationship with him and each other.

    God Bless You!

  4. I really like George Barna’s book Revolution, which deals with some of these questions. The actual shift in society is away from independent institutions and the mores they profess towards the institutions of the state and media/entertainment. We are more defined by those than by our faith and neighborhood communities, to our detriment. Critics have succeeded in tearing down imperfect people and institutions, and these have been replaced by government and TV. Now, few accept or look to authority figures, there are few real heroes, and cynicism rules. With no authority figure, we have the “freedom” to think and do just about anything, and are losing the freedom that structure brings.

    I understand and like your microchurch concept, and I realize it is not shared as a “solve the world’s problem” proposition. Institutions build people up, and they tear them down. Like money, they are neither good nor evil, but can be used for either, and often are. All institutions go through cycles where it comes time for a revolution, and this may well be the time for the contemporary Christian church to do this. But, the question always comes down to is every person a prophet, and if so, what is the meaning of their utterings? Without some sort of authoritative structure, how is one to sort through the contrasting and conflicting noise of a world of prophets? Not that it is easy with our denominalization, but we cannot just tear down institutions like we have for the past 40 years and replace them with the state and media – they are the wrong prophets.

    Like your ideas.

    • Thanks, Joel! Thanks for your informed comments, too, Doug. We need to continue to reimagine the church. I prefer to think that this is not a “remaking” of the church as it is a “releasing” of it. Blessing! May the Spirit lead.

  5. Doug:

    Your points are well taken about the need for authoritative structure, but we may be facing a need to internalize that authority rather than to look to external authority like the church denomination — even if a lot of people will become lost in the mists of spiritual confusion as a result.

    The stability of a powerful secular government (let alone media) or institutional church may be illusion. Even in the modern world, many governments have regularly collapsed on scales on the order of a Century, taking their religious institutions down with them; there was a Russian Czar and an Ottoman Empire in 1909. We live in what my denomination used to call the “hastening time”, environmentalists refer to as “the bottleneck”, and science fiction writers and futurists refer to as the “approaching singularity”. All of these terms carry the notion of unpredictability, instability, and the need for the prophetic — ready or not.

  6. Its funny, because I feel like a reactionary sometimes. Speaking of historical terms, we continue to change at such a rate that humankind has never dealt with before. My grandfather was born is a sod house on the plains of Alberta before manned flight, and lived to see a man on the moon. The changes my father lived through were scaled at another order of magnitude, and I think we have moved up another logarithmic progression (you can tell I’m not a mathematician).

    The technology around us is changing so fast, and yet we still must contrast ourselves with a medieval theocratic mindset in a sworn enemy to us, and reconcile how we deal with that. Our world is so confusing that one wonders what to hang on to for stability. For some, it is the chasing of financial stability. For others, it is the stability of a denominalized authority structure. The thing is, we either choose where our stability will come from (what we will stand for) or we get blown around by any capricious wind (we choose to stand for nothing, so we fall for anything).

    One wonders what the real root of our social structure is anymore, and I am more and more concerned that it may be a mythical “structure” if it is not God-centered. For instance, our freedoms don’t come from the government, they come from God. They may be institutionalized in the government (which is changing), but were based on the recognition that they came from God (who does not change).

    We throw away the permanent in exchange for the temporary.

    Matt, I think the timing is right for the releasing of the Spirit, to help us see as God sees and love as He loves.

  7. i like this idea. in fact my efforts in the holy wild are very similar. i started with the idea that i wanted to reach those people who would never set foot in traditional churches. and without ever reading anything but scripture the answer that came to was to go to them – find where they are or where they frequent and be in that space.

    so we started small groups at a fast food joint and in an apartment on the campus of a university. we then started a group in the home of a family which eventually led to a group that meets in an art center. but even with all this i knew there were more ways to expand the vision.

    so we took it onto the net at http://www.theholywild.com thinking that we would draw online community from the contacts we were making in our day to day lives and that this online forum would allow us to connect as we were able. but then google crawled us and people from all over the world got involved. we now have 71 people connecting with us online in some fashion thru the forum.

    its amazing what god has done to connect us with people in need at every step and it would be easy to overlook this from my comfortable office at the local baptist church. after all ive been away from the frontlines for 2 years now. but i know that god is getting ready to take me back into the wilderness where i will work a normal job and continue to foster community in small groups wherever god may open an opportunity.

    god bless you as you do the same where you are bro.

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