“Organic Church” by Neil Cole

Have you read “Organic Church” by Neil Cole?  I’m about to.  I’ve read all the buzz about this revolutionary movement of dissatisfied Jesus-f0llowers who dream of paving new inroads into a culture that has grown disinterested in the church-as-usual.  I am one of them.

I’ve been part of sparking this kind of missional Christianity in the past. I have an idealistic streak in my bones and the Holy Spirit pumping fresh Kingdom-vision through my veins.  I’m ready for a fresh, new way of incarnating the work of Jesus in our post-Christian culture.  Let’s find out what all the hype is about.  Let’s read “Organic Church.”  (Thanks to a commenter for persuading me to check it out.)

Here’s a snapshot of the book’s main message:

Churches have tried all kinds of ways to attract new and younger members—revised vision statements, hipper worship, contemporary music, livelier sermons, bigger and better auditoriums. But there are still so many people who aren’t being reached, who don’t want to come to church. And the truth is that attendance at church on Sundays does not necessarily transform lives; God’s presence in our hearts is what changes us. Leaders and laypeople everywhere are realizing that they need new and more powerful ways to help them spread God’s Word.

According to Neil Cole, if we want to connect with those who are not coming to church, we must go where people congregate. Cole shows readers how to plant the seeds of the Kingdom of God in the places where life happens and where culture is formed— restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, parks, locker rooms, and neighborhoods. Organic Church offers a hands-on guide for demystifying this new model of church and shows the practical aspects of implementing it.

While it may seem revolutionary, these simple, organic churches—bringing God’s message where people are rather than expecting them to show up at church—is in keeping with the message of Jesus, who lived among the people of his time. Organic Church shows how we can return to those ancient roots by letting the church be alive, organic, growing, spreading in the most likely and unlikely places.

What do you think of the Organic Church movement as a whole?

10 replies »

  1. Not that it really matters because the point is the same, but I would argue that our culture (and by that I mean “the west”) might not be post-christian as much as pre-christian…

  2. I would say culture as a societal whole is post-Christian; yet many individuals are themselves pre-Christian as you say — i.e., largely unexposed to a Christian worldview. But we’re mincing words… :)

  3. Agreed.

    The main problem over here in the UK is that the ‘mainstream’ church honestly believe that the ordinary man on the street still feel a need to come to church, and try to orientate their programmes around attracting people to come to the main service on a Sunday AM.

    But most people under the age of 40 couldn’t care less – they see no need for ‘religion’ – and anyway, Sunday is now the main day for playing and watching sport or going shopping, which for them is much more important.

    If you tell most non-churched or un-churched people over here that they need to be saved – they will say, “Saved from what? I have everything I need – sin, hell – give me a break!”.

    I think you are right, we now have a pre-Christian (pagan) culture in a post-Christendom (rather than post-Christian) world.

    An ‘attractional’ model of church worked well when Christendom was predominant ie that most were Christian or associated themselves with Christianity – but now that we are in a multi-cultural, multi-faith, syncrenistic, post-Christendom culture we need to build a more ‘missional’ expression of church – one that doesn’t necessarily replace the attractional element (because Christ is by nature attractive) but creates within it a more mission orientated mindset.

    I think this is what Neil Cole’s view of ‘organic’ church is all about – he has deconstructed church to is mininum constituent elements, taken it out of the controlling hands of the ‘professional’ leadership and given it back to the people. His priority is on getting everyone to walk their individual Christian walk together (rather than relying on ministers and leaders to do it for you by proxy) and then to get the focus on one-to-one mission – as he puts it to orientate our Christian experience around “growing faith where life happens”.

    It’s basically, if you look at it objectively, what missionaries have been doing for the last hundred odd years in ‘unreached’ cultures – just applied to our post-Christandom situation.

    It’s a great book and you will enjoy it – be inspired :)

    • Well said. The trick is that we still need ‘leaders’ per se to help motivate and equip the ordinary Christian individual to know better how to “grow faith where life happens” — unless you think we can leave it all to the Spirit which is naive (and unbiblical). So, I am not sure how, practically speaking, we can “take it out of the controlling hands of the ‘professional’ leadership” completely. Let’s ditch the word “professional” and use biblical terms like “spiritually gifted” with the various “offices” or “functions” or “parts” of the Body of Christ… But we’re after the same thing: every Christian being salt and light in their everyday setting and serving the kingdom with their spiritual gifts. Good stuff.

  4. In order to produce leaders in the future we need to produce disciples now – no disciples, no leaders. So the place to start is to make disciples – either from within the current congregation – or from outside of it through mission. This has to be our primary focus – and that is a major paradigm shift for most churches :S

    Let me explain….

    Most contemporary churches (from my experience anyway) follow a similar model – where there are a smallish number of core members who do everything ie run the church programmes, lead all the various meetings, worship band etc. This core group is ‘managed’ by the current leadership team, usually a paid Minister/ Pastor and supporting Elders and Deacons etc. This is the model in my church and I am sure it is the model in yours.

    Now in principal, there is nothing wrong with this model. However, there is a tendency for other members of the congregation, ie those not involved in leading anything, to sit back and become ‘passive’, in so much that they let those that want to lead get on with it. This can lead to a polarisation between those at the front ie the ‘professional’ leaders, and the ‘rest of us’ ie those who come to church on Sunday, attend a home group but don’t really engage in any other way.

    It also usually ends up with the leaders being shattered because they are doing everything, resulting with them having little time to evangelise or get involved in mission.

    So they look for more leaders to help – and end up selecting people to lead because they show a desire to be so, or demonstrate some competence to manage – rather than because they have been identified with specific Ephesians 4: 11 gifts.

    When I speak of ‘professional’ leaders, I mean those who start to identify themselves as ‘the ones who should lead’, because, as John Piper points out in his book ‘Brothers, We Are Not Professionals’, leadership should be about spiritual gifting and service rather than management and desire to lead.

    By encouraging individual discipleship we can change this pattern – and this is where Neil Cole is coming from – rebuilding the church from grass roots up, developing disciples who then become leaders. Start at the small group level and make accountability, good spiritual practice and mission the main focus, what Neil Cole calls the DNA of organic church.

    This doesn’t ignore the Ephesian 4: 11 gifts but encourages them to thrive in the church – similar to how the church has grown in China with leaders identified because of the ministry not because of their desire to lead. It is more dependent upon the leading of the Spirit – but still includes oversight and direction from Elders, its just that they are selected on a different basis.

    This is a big subject – and one that I have been trying to get my head and practice around over the last year or so. I keep meaning to blog about all the stuff I have learned – but never get round to it :S

    Have a look at this, this might help: http://freethemonkey.wordpress.com/2009/09/26/discipleship-groups/

    • Coincidentally, I just came across this relevant post today. I have not read it yet, but sounds like we should:

      I’m with you. But we must always be careful not to swing from one extreme to the other, or throw the baby out with the bathwater. Is ditching paid ‘professional’ leaders the only way to foster more grass-roots, everybody serving with their gifts, kind of involvement in the local church?

      Our church has a larger paid staff than many, and a history of enabling the lay people to be more passive while we paid leaders do the heavy lifting. We are working hard to shift the paid pastoral staff role from “running” things from the top to instead “equipping” and “nurturing” lay persons to take a greater ownership in the ministries of the church.

      But a paradigm shift may be in order. But I’m always wary of the false either-or. Thanks for the discussion.

      • No problem re the discussion. Very enjoyable.

        But I think you have misunderstood what I was trying to say about ‘professional’ leaders – they are not necessarily the same as paid staff…..but maybe we will continue that discussion some other time :)

        Bless you

  5. hmm. That’s lots o’ stuff. good stuff. Going back to my original comment, what I mean is that I wonder if America, and perhaps some other “western” nations such as the UK, are pre-christian in that we have never really “gotten it”. I think the early church as found in the book of Acts “got it”, but at least ever since the effects of Constantine, we’ve never been truly Christian, we’ve never been a culture of Jesus Followers. Since the USA came into existence long after the “fall”, if you will, of the true church as found in Acts, we have therefore never really been Christian. It’s just something I wonder, but cannot really hold to since i am not an expert in American of even Church History. A lot of these thoughts are rooted in the kind of things Greg Boyd says in regards to statements like “win America back for God”. He asks, “when were we ever for God? When has our nation ever really reflected the character of Jesus?” In a purely religious sense, we are post-christian, but in a following and growing in the character of Jesus sense we are perhaps pre-christian. Regardless, I think we all agree that in our respective cultures, the Church has a problem that it desperately needs to fix. Good discussion!

    • You’re right pbaudhuin.

      Have a read of ‘ReJesus’ by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost – I think you would find it interesting.

  6. My reading list right now is quite long, but I’ll have to check that out. The Title alone sounds fascinating. Jeremy, have you read it? Thanks for the tip, Martin.

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