Countless people who have read my older books, Pagan Christianity (released January 2008) and Reimagining Church (released August 2008), still write to this ministry and ask, “I live in [city], where can I find an organic church?”
My answer to the question is: Stop looking.
I’ve said it many times before, but for those new to my work, I’m going to repeat it.
Stop your quest for looking for Christ-centered community (I abandoned the word “organic” awhile ago because it’s been hijacked and overused by so many different kinds of church expressions that’s is essentially meaningless now.)
Why do I say to stop looking?
For the following reasons. (I end with a recommendation that has been helpful to many):
1. First, I’ve not written on the subject of “organic church” since 2009, and my ministry is not a “church-finder” service. It never has been.
Since 2010, my focus has been on the deeper Christian life. Consequently, if you’re looking for deeper Christian life virtual mentoring and connection with other believers who are on the deeper journey (they appear in all different church forms and denominations), I can help you there since that’s the focus of my work.
2. I hasten to point out that the chances of you finding an authentic, healthy organic expression of the church that’s centered on Jesus Christ as head and marked by face-to-face community in your town is slim to none. And slim left town.
Yes, you’ll probably find dozens of “home” groups. But it’s rare to find a group that meets in a home — even if it calls itself “organic” — that’s not a glorified Bible study or a “small-is-beautiful” version of an institutional church.
(By the way, I’m not an advocate of house church. As I’ve spoken and written countless times, there’s nothing magical about meeting in a house. And “house church” (also called “home church”) and “organic church” are not monoliths. They have about as much variety as do plants – from thorn bushes to palm trees! My books don’t recommend “house church,” but rather, they describe a church expression that’s based on, in, and through the Lord Jesus Christ as head.)
But the truth is, expressions of the church like I’ve described in my earlier books are rarer than hen’s teeth.
Yes, they do exist. I know about a dozen of them . . . real ones. But they are exotically rare, and they have always been rare throughout church history.
Let me repeat that sentence again.
They’ve always been rare . . . even in the first-century. (Paul only planted about 14 in his life-time. And most of them were riddled with problems, just read Paul’s letters.)
Why are they so rare? Three reasons:
a) The institutional form of church is still very popular because it’s so familiar. It’s the kind of “church” depicted in movies, television, magazines, and all media. People fear what’s unfamiliar. The voices of establishment evangelicalism and mainstream Christianity only promote the institutional form of church and its leadership structure. So it will always be popular and accepted unless something cataclysmic happens. And I don’t expect that to occur. Remember, the Catholic Church is still strongly with us despite the Reformation that occurred 500 years ago.
b) The institutional form of church is incredibly convenient. Ministry is done for you, and there’s a cool place to drop off the crumb-snatchers. True organic expressions of the church require everyone’s involvement, devotion, time, energy and ministry. Passivity isn’t a commodity like it is in the traditional church. Everyone is expected to carry a piece of the ark and take responsibility. It’s anything but convenient. (Each church has to figure out what to do for the children also.)
c) Body life is PROFOUNDLY costly. I’ve talked about this at length here, so give it a listen. But face-to-face community exposes everyone’s flesh, so it’s not an easy ride. It’s a marriage of glory and gore. And that’s where the transformation occurs. That is, if you can learn the cross and not skirt it. When it comes to authentic body life, many are called, but few can stand it.
Note to those of you who have been hurt by a traditional church: The pain you will experience in even the most healthy non-institutional church is far more severe than what most people have known in an institutional church. I’ve talked about the glory and gore that people experience in body life at length elsewhere. (See my upcoming book There Must Be More for details.)
So heal first before you even attempt to get involved in another church experience, especially if it’s a small group experience. Again, body life is a railroad track to the cross.
3. I don’t recommend relocating to be part of any church, unless . . .
Let’s say you find the needle in the haystack. You think you’ve discovered the ideal church where there’s real face-to-face community and Jesus is head. But it’s in another city or state. So you’re entertaining the idea of relocating. Leaving your job, your parents and siblings (perhaps), your friends, selling your house, etc.
While this is a noble thing to do, I don’t generally recommend it.
After watching hundreds of Christians relocate to be part of a church, in most cases, they ended up moving back to where they used to live.
When the honeymoon period wore off and they experienced the cross (point 2c above), they couldn’t handle the heat, so they packed their bags and left. Either that, or they didn’t find a good paying job first — before they moved — so they struggled financially the entire time they get involved in the church, only to move back to get help from their parents (whom they usually moved away from).
So my advice — ONLY relocate under the following conditions:
a) you’ve visited the church in question at least three times. NEVER relocate to be part of a church sight unseen. You really won’t get an accurate idea of what it’s all about until you visit at least three times.
b) make sure the church wants you to relocate and they feel your presence there is God’s will. (This isn’t just your decision.)
c) if you’re married, your spouse is completely on board with the decision.
d) get a job in that city before you move.
e) most important, be sure that relocating is the will of God for you. And be prepared that your “wish dream” of what that church is all about is going to be shattered. So lower your expectations and count the cost before you make such an important decision.If all of these factors aren’t in place, I urge you not to relocate.
4. Don’t confuse a particular form of church (like “organic church”) with “the deeper journey.” They aren’t the same.
In my observation, most groups that meet in homes — including so-called “organic churches” — are no deeper than most traditional churches. And as I’ve said thousands of times, there’s nothing magical or spiritual about meeting in a home. Some of the worst churches I’ve ever had the displeasure of visiting met in homes and called themselves “organic.”
5. You can find deep Christians who want more of the Lord in the setting of the institutional church.
They’ll usually be found in a cell group or weekly home meeting attached to the church. But those people exist, and they do exist in the institutional church. You just have to look for them.
They also exist outside any church form. For many have grown tired of “church as we know it” and it proved toxic to them. So they stopped “attending.” But they exist. And they are looking for people just like you.
That said, refusing to fellowship with other Christians until you find an organic expression of the church in your town is like a young single woman who is waiting for the perfect man to come along before she accepts a date from anyone else.
It’s foolish, at best.
Here’s what I recommend.
Develop relationships with Christians where you live. And keep an eye out for those who want more of the Lord.
(Hint: Instead of looking for “the perfect church” that’s close to your house, how about checking out the organizations and ministries in your city who are helping the poor, the homeless, pregnant teens, drug addicts, etc. These places may not dot all your theological “i’s,” but there’s an excellent chance you will find Jesus Christ there.)
Seek other believers out.
Most of my readers — who are on the deeper journey — are not part of organic churches. Some are leaders in traditional church world, but they are hungry and thirsty for more of Christ. And that’s why they read my blog, books, and listen to the podcast. Some aren’t part of any church, but they are involved with helping those who are hurting in their cities.
Now . . . if you can’t find an organic expression of the church where you live, and you feel God doesn’t want you involved in anything else, then considering starting a group rather than trying to find an existing church.
In my book, Finding Organic Church, I outline the steps to begin meeting organically where you live . . . right there, right now.
But again, make sure you’re healed of your past hurt before you even think about getting involved in Christian community.
The bottom line: Instead of trying to “find” a new church, how about taking steps to prepare the womb for one to be born right where you live?
If your answer is, “I don’t have the time or energy for that,” then I have news for you.
Neither do you have the time or energy to be part of body life.
In fact, such a response tells me you haven’t the foggiest idea of what body life is about.
And for goodness sake, if you’re miserable in the institutional church you attend, why on earth do you still attend?
Don’t wait for an angel to appear and tell you it’s okay to exit. That won’t happen.
If the church you’re attending is making you miserable, stop complaining and leave in peace. But don’t slam the door when you exit and take no one else with you.
So there you have it. The truth as clearly as I could put it.
From now on when readers ask us, “I live in [city], where can I find an organic church?,” the link to this post will be sent to them.
I hope you will take it to heart. But I’m not done . . .
P.S. Pagan Christianity is not — and never was — a stand-alone book. It’s only the deconstructive side of a larger argument. To get the whole argument, you need to read the entire ReChurch series. Only reading Pagan is like listening to the first 15 minutes of a 3-hour phone conversation, then hanging up. It virtually always leads to a misunderstanding. You can see the whole series at ReimaginingChurch.org.
P.S.S. Regrettably, a lot of people who read Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church aren’t aware of my newer, more important books. This is a shame to me because my best thinking and most valuable contributions to God’s people are in my more recent books. Namely,
Jesus Speaks (2016)
The Day I Met Jesus (2015)
Jesus Now (2014)
God’s Favorite Place on Earth (2013)
Jesus: A Theography (2012)
Revise Us Again (2011)
Jesus Manifesto (2010)
You can view them all here.
See also my article on the present ministry season I’m in.