Idea Overload

Went to Church 3.0 Conference today at Westside Family Church in KC with Mari and Gary. Neil Cole was the presenter. There was much I resonated with, much that confirmed the direction we are going at Western Hills. Much that helped me put words to thoughts.

I’ll be posting about some of those in the future. I’ve got pages of notes. But there were a couple of thoughts that I just didn’t get and didn’t see how in the world they were even relevant or could possibly work.

One of the head-scratching parts for me was watching Neil Cole basically deconstruct and critique the ‘centralized’ church versus the decentralized church. It was way to obvious what Cole’s bias was – decentralization – but what was frustrating for me is that I felt like I was getting more propaganda than substance at that point. It was one of those moments that I wanted to quote Shakespeare – “I think he doth protest to much.”

I’ve heard that sermon before – house churches, decentralized churches that are smaller with no overhead costs, with no paid staff are better for the advancement of the Kingdom than mega-churches or any organized church with brick and mortar. They spend their time and money on real Kingdom work.

It’s a great theory. And I’m sure there are examples of exactly that happening. I just don’t think the ratio of how many house churches that REALLY function that way is all that different from ‘big’ churches that do.

Most of the house churches I know of started because they didn’t like any of the larger churches or didn’t want the hassle of the Sunday morning experience. Or they were of the “anti-establishment” church. The idea of impacting their community for Jesus I think I can safely say was one of the last things on their minds.

And guess what? Big churches have the same stat line – a lot are started by groups of people who aren’t happy with their current church (music, preacher, color of carpet) and the idea of impacting their community for Jesus is the last thing on their minds.

I don’t really think the size of a church OR where that church meets is the ultimate determination of how they define themselves or understand their mission. There are inward-focused house churches as well as “centralized” churches. There are outward, Kingdom focused house-churches as well as centralized churches.

So what is the difference maker? I think it’s all a matter of the focus of its leadership.

At Western Hills, we are trying to figure out what it means to BE the church where we live – all week long. What does LOVE, LIVE, and SERVE look like on my ball teams, in my office, with my family, in my neighborhood? What does being the CHURCH, being the presence of Jesus looks like wherever I go? What does that concept of church do to my life choices now? How I spend my time and money?

We are not there yet by any stretch of the imagination but I have a hard time believing that a decentralized house-church would have been given access to the places we’ve been given access to serve this year. And I know that there are some places that we are never going to penetrate under the banner of Western Hills but some of our life groups will get to through them being Church.

We’re not a shining example of what COULD be. At least not yet but I think we are asking the right questions, on the right road, focusing on making disciples on a micro level that love, live, and serve where ever they go.

I understand that most organized churches don’t ask these kinds of questions. Most say something to the effect “Come here because we have the buffet of programs and services to make your life better.” I get the frustration with that kind of philosophy and how it just further feeds the consumer beast we have in the States. Believe me…I get it.

But I know of house church leaders who function much the same way, the only difference is they are selling the anti-establishment, not necessarily Kingdom living. It’s just as wrong.

I left the afternoon session wondering if Neil really believed that the smaller, decentralized church was the only way the Kingdom could be advanced? I wondered if he really thought these centralized churches were a danger to the advancement of the Kingdom.

I’m not sure. He left that impression. I reserve the right to have heard him incorrectly…it was the afternoon session and I wasn’t exactly locked in with laser focus. I just wanted more from the afternoon session than what I got…because the morning session was outstanding in so many ways.

Time to end this post. Let say this as sort of a wrap-up – I think there is a place (and need) for both the decentralized and centralized. (I think they can even exist under the same roof but I’ll save that for another post.)

I was reminded today that there just isn’t one simple answer to how to spread Jesus’ story. It’s about connecting people with the real Jesus and that is a messy proposition at best. And that’s okay.

Some people are going to get connected to Him in a living room under the name “house church.” Some are going to get connected in a large auditorium. Some are going to get connected over lunch with a co-worker. And others still will meet Jesus when we start being Church where ever we go.

And I think He’s okay with all of that…


6 thoughts on “Idea Overload

  1. It’s amazing how much this conversation resembles the shift that we are going through as Campus Crusade for Christ. We call the shift going from “Staff-Led” where our full-time staff need to be present for things to be happening to “Volunteer-Led” where the mission is owned by the volunteers and the staff are just around to coach, mentor and encourage. I agree that the “form” doesn’t matter. It is all about individuals owning the mission of taking Jesus to those around them. Where we have seen the ownership transfer, it allows for amazing growth. It seems that He is mixing up the form with the function and probably a knee jerk reaction to many “staff-dependent” churches that he has seen. You are on the right track! Keep developing leaders that own it and get out of the way and watch it happen.


  2. For me, it’s not so much whether the church has paid staff, building, etc…although I don’t think a church needs to own it’s own stuff (building, etc…) to be a church. I think the discussion should revolve around whether or not all the ministry of the church finds it’s starting line @ Sunday morning worship. Do we really make a difference in people’s lives and and in the community if we rely on good worship and a good sermon? I’ve been chewing on what other models of church would look like where the current staff, paid or not, are more focused on MOnday-Saturday events than on Sunday. Could we meet 2 Sundays per months and spend 2 Sundays out in the community? This would be a big cultural hurdle but maybe what would shake-up the current status-quo.

    In the end, a healthy centralized led church will look decentralized as a fruit of people doing their own ministry and outreach to the community. If leadership can look “invisible” and the “members” do the work of the fellowship, then won’t it look decentralized anyway? Seems like forcing decentralization would be like forcing fruit in our lives also….

    good stuff to debate.


    1. I think the key is your last paragraph there, Row — “If leadership can look “invisible” and “members” do the work…”

      So it might be better stated that the point isn’t to decentralize for the sake of decentralizing. The point is to make disciples who make other disciples to the 4th generation who are planting Jesus where ever they go.


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