"Organic" Church?

Before we get too far into the use of words here, let me say that the team recognizes clearly how little the average person is interested in spending time on semantic debates. That’s not the road I intend to travel in this little article. But I do want to suggest that there is significant value in thinking about the words we pick to describe our mission. Assuming you will grant me that much at least, let’s jump right in. 

The team has recently shifted away from talking about “house” church to talking about “organic” church. Some have already said that we should just stick with house church language, since people are familiar with it. We cordially disagree, however, for a few reasons. One, it doesn’t seem to us that familiarity is akin to clear communication. Although it is true that some people are more comfortable with--or should I say, less disconcerted by--familiar language, we are far more interested in communicating what we mean. Bad fundraising strategy, you say? Well, at least no one will call us sellouts (Chuckle, I’m being ironic). Two, “house” church, we have learned, often communicates quite the thing that we do not mean. And three, the fact is that we intend, very consciously, to do the unfamiliar. In fairness, our language ought to communicate that we are not doing more of the same, right? Well, after all of that, let it be known that we agree with our many sagely advisors: Whatever explanation we give, it needs to be plain and concise. 

So I will attempt to give that plain, concise explanation here. But be gracious; everyone knows plain and concise are not my strong points. 

Although “organic” language has been around a while, the Organic Church movement has not, and we are taking some cues from Neil Cole’s Organic Church. I should emphasize, though, that we are not finding many new ideas there. Rather, Cole has given substance and language to much of what we were already trying to articulate--what was hidden behind “house church.” The book is just a good point of reference for those of you who would like to make it past plain and concise. 

For me, the use of bothering with new words—or rather, bothering people with new words, has everything to do with how effective the words are. I guess some would assume that we like “organic” because it’s faddish. As for our say in the matter, none of us care much for bandwagons. In any event, I am convinced that the word “organic” describes better than anything else the kind of Kingdom growth we hope to see as churches reproduce themselves in Arequipa. For Cole, “organic” emphasizes “the healthy life and the natural means of reproducing that we longed to see” (23). The word is simply the adjective that best describes these qualities. As a rather large bonus, it relates nicely to all those outdoorsy parables about the Kingdom, but I won’t overextend that point. 

As we go to Arequipa, our strategy aims to facilitate a discipling movement that results in many healthy, reproductive churches. For the Arequipeño context--this is where I tend to get long-winded, so I’ll just skip the details--it seems to us that this will happen through small, intimate churches that foster a particular quality of family and community life (yes, they will meet mostly in houses). How’s that for plain and concise? Well, I tried. Context aside, this is what Cole, on a principle level, assumes to be the nature of “organic” churches. I’ll give you here my favorite quote from his book. I think it gets at the heart of the matter: 

We do not mandate that churches remain small and meet in homes; that would miss the point. We seek that churches be healthy and reproduce. The reason our churches tend to stay small is the dynamic life-changing property of a “band of brothers and sisters” who are actively on mission together. There is an innate quality to our expression of church that causes them to want to remain small, intimate, and involved in mission.
— Neil Cole

That’s pretty much it. Okay, there’s a lot more to it, but you’ll have to ask for the details.