15 January 2010

Organic Church - What is it? What isn't it?

A discussion about the meaning of the term 'organic church' has broken out online and I thought it would be useful to summarise it here and provide links to some of the sources. Organic church at the beginningWe use various phrases to describe the nature of the life we lead and the meetings we have. House church, small church, gathering, organic church, home group, cell, small group are all terms I've seen or heard. There are probably others.

Whatever term we use, most of us are probably thinking of a life that is Christ centred and involves meeting with others who have the same focus. Additionally we may (or may not) be thinking in terms of a movement.

Taken together, the items below cover this debate pretty well. If you have time to read only one, read Frank Viola's contribution. It's a great statement and analysis and I agree with every word. Thanks Frank!

If you are aware of other items we could add to this list send the link as a comment and I'll add it in if it seems useful.

Chris Jefferies blog post - This was published before the discussion began, but it covers aspects of movements that are relevant to the debate.

Mark Galli's article - The debate began with this article in Christianity Today. Mark sees organic church as another movement that will eventually crash like other movements in church history.

Neil Cole's response - Neil explains that, for him, it's not about success or failure but about being Christ-centred every day.

Bill Heroman's blog post - Bill's humourous response suggests that death is part of life. He has a good point.

Chris Jefferies blog post - This item tries to draw further attention to the debate, and particularly to Neil's response.

Frank Viola's response - Here Frank provides a cogent and well-written definition of what is and is not organic church.

Mike Morrell's comments - Mike provides some comments on the discussion so far, adding more thoughts on the way.

Mike posts again - Some more of his own thoughts and experiences on organic church.

Related material

Henry Drummond - Writing in the late 19th century, Henry Drummond is best known today for his essay on love, The Greatest Thing in the World. But he wrote other works too. One of these, Natural Law in the Spiritual World identifies some of the striking parallels between the natural world and the spiritual world. You can read the whole thing online, but regarding organic spiritual life see especially the chapter on Growth.

Theodore Austin-Sparks - Possibly the originator of the term 'organic church'. See these items in particular.

Other relevant authors - Watchman Nee, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Communio Sanctorum, Letters and Papers from Prison)


  1. "House church, small church, gathering, organic church, home group, cell, small group are all terms I've seen or heard."

    Me too, Chris. But these all seem to point to wineskins (and definitely wineskins that are limited to a certain size). But I'm seeking a term that include something that could grow (by God's hand) under a rock, at the bottom of the ocean, or (GASP) within the confines of a large church (whether "official" or behind the scenes to what is happening there).

    I don't think the posts you give above leave quite enough room...but perhaps I'm too optimistic : )

  2. Maybe you missed 'organic church'? :-) I don't see that as a wineskin, unless it's the new wineskin that Yahshua spoke of - into which the new wine needs to go.

    I agree, Jim, that labels are very confining, but they're just labels. The thing they try to describe is what's important. Sometimes people say 'house church' not because they're unwilling to be anywhere except in a house, but because it's the best handle they can think of. You know? What they might really mean is there is no authority structure, or they don't like big groups, or they share a family meal, or something else.

  3. What a great links roundup, Chris! Here are a coupla posts Ive done about this, if you scroll down a little bit on http://zoecarnate.wordpress.com (for some reason the Comments field isn't allowing me to paste the URLs...) I'll post your link in my comments section too.




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