August 31, 2010
Cleveland was once the industrial capital of the upper mid-west. Formerly the third largest city in the United States. It was home to the Rockerfeller and Carnegie families and their fortunes. A leisurely drive through the old east side neighborhoods bear the mark of old money and lingering affluence. Many old neighborhoods boast large homes and declining maintenance. Mile after mile of formerly middle class neighborhoods bear the mark of white flight to the surrounding and evermore distant suburbs.
The urban industrial center is a vast tangle of closed factories, empty warehouses and closed or declining small businesses. Blocks are dominated by many structures with no discernible present usage.
The church while still present in the inner city has been eclipsed by the church in the suburbs. Mainline churches in the inner city are closed or often have tiny congregations. This is a fruit of demographic shifts mixed with the spiritual sterility of liberalism. There are start up hispanic and urban black churches that faithfully serve their communities and preach the gospel against great odds. The city is the least evangelized with inadequate gospel witness and too few churches that engage their community.
saturation church planting using house churches
Our prayer is to see a urban / sub-urban network of home-based church fellowships to develop. These “lay” led mico-churches will evangelize family networks, friends and neighbors. Most will grow along homogenous lines. Here the Bible will be taught, obedience to Christ’s teaching modeled and reinforced, benevolence toward the week and needy, converts baptized, meals shared and communion offered. The model for meetings should be: a common meal, the Lord’s Supper and 1 Corinthians 14:26-28 where everyone participates and learns how to exercise gifts. Each group should be led by an “elder-like” person who relates to the larger group of leaders who maintain an accountable, grace-filled relationship. Each group has the goal to reach out to the lost and unchurched, minister to one another and to subdivide and multiply.
I have been tracking some bloggers that focus on missional house church planting in the US…some of the best and brightest of these guys are Southern Baptist. (a side note: I’ve been tracking the SBC and it is exciting to see the fresh winds of renewal and church planting passion combined with a resurgence of Reformed Theology - love those guys!)
Here is a recent set of stats from Jervis Payne a Phd on the SBC payroll who claims that house churches have one of the highest church planting rates and baptismal/new convert rates among any kind of church. Food for thought based on many house churches that averaged fifteen members each:
▪ Churches baptized an average of 4-6 people in previous year
▪ Average membership to baptismal ratio 4.3:1 to 2.3:1 (In other words, on
average, it took between 2 and 4 members per church to make one disciple in
▪ Had some of the lowest baptism to membership ratios in the United States (range 1.4:1 to 14:1)
▪ Each church was comprised of 24-43% recent converts
On Church Planting
▪ Each church planted an average 4-6 churches in past three years
▪ Three churches in study planted 10 or more churches
▪ In the three years prior to study, the 33 churches had planted between 132-198 churches
On Use of Money
▪ Overwhelming majority of the churches used their financial resources in two main areas: benevolence and missions (some giving 80-90% to these two areas)
On Networking with Other Churches
▪ Half of the churches were connected with a network of other churches
▪ Half of the churches desired to be part of another network or were actively looking for a network
▪ A small minority of the churches were connected to denominations (majority were non-denominational)
Cleveland proper would need 500 new churches to properly reach it. This number doubles if one factors in the suburbs. One for every thousand residents. That may be for starters. Every block should have a group of intentional, missional, gospel preaching, need-meeting followers of Jesus taking responsibility toward heaven and against hell.
missional community living
Sprinkled throughout the larger city should be members living in community, sharing housing and using this life-stye as a platform for discipleship and radical service and outreach. This can take on many forms and flavors. This can be a ranch style home in the burbs with singles or a couple families or a cluster of houses strategically close in the same inner-city neighborhood. Home-based discipleship can be powerful in bringing new believers into a stable and productive walk. In broken urban settings community houses can spark transformation as members live as salt and light daily engaging the neighborhood, creating businesses, addressing blight and planting missional house churches.
lifestyles of simplicity
Over the top consumption and a life built around shopping, materialism and possessions must yield to a life centered around generosity and missional living. We as the church must freshly embrace Jesus’ clear teaching and reject those cultural values that conflict with the scriptures. This places the poor and broken at the front of the line for our attention.
The gospel is never a private affair. When Jesus is received in the human heart a ripple effect occurs. All aspects of society were impacted by the fall and all aspects will benefit from the leaven of the gospel. Poverty, crime, broken relationships and broken communities are primarily spiritual problems. The gospel compels us as servants to engage the broken places of life bringing mercy, and the wisdom of the scriptures. This is not to be seen as top-down political change but is a call for personal sacrifice and servanthood that brings bottom up transformation.
great commission lifestyle
Every generation is responsible to reach all the earth in its own generation. From our next door neighbor to the unreached people-group across the globe each believer must hold the Great Commission of Matthew 28 their defining life purpose. Each of us should go, somewhere, continually sharing the Good News of Jesus Lordship. For some this means next door, for others, to the nations.
Our resources, time and energy, all belong to Jesus and are for His glory.
Reaching internationals and immigrants should be of great concern. God has brought the nations to our doorsteps. Friendship, care, evangelism and church planting among them are our responsibility.
Mercy ministries (medical, benevolence, education, etc…) are never divorced from gospel proclamation. We are to seek to aggressively meet human need as part of the Good News that Jesus is Savior and Lord.
To love Jesus is to love truth, as He said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me” Our faith rests on His Person. Because of the Fall, man’s noetic ability (capacity to independently discern truth) was shattered in tiny little pieces. In redemption God gives His people the indwelling Holy Spirit to instruct and to remind us of “all that Jesus taught”. The Holy Spirit in addition, inspired the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments to instruct us. This inscripturated word becomes the measuring rod of all that we are to do and be. We affirm the verbal-plenary inspiration of the Bible and the perpescuity of scripture.
We are grateful that the church ancient and modern has affirmed great truths of the Bible and have expressed these faithfully in the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, Chalcedonian along with the Reformation’s Westminster and Heidelburg Catechisms, in addition to The London Baptist Confession and the more recent Lausanne Covenant.
It is our duty to re-catechize the church local and universal to adhere to and to contend for the “truth as once delivered to the saints.” Fidelity to the scriptures, a sound hermeneutic and a passion for orthodoxy must constantly occupy our lives.
loving the church
We are called to live in relationship. This may take many forms and institutional expressions, yet the Body of Christ is preeminently a living body. Institutions are merely an accommodation to temporal necessities.
We are to meet regularly, teach and encourage one another, exercise and grow in our gifts, catechize new believers, pray and worship together, discipline ungodliness in our midst, obey the great commission, care for the needy, administer baptism and regularly conduct love feasts with the Lord’s Supper (communion).
We are to be open-handed and generous toward the whole body of Christ, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, always resisting a sectarian, proud spirit. We are not to use non-essentials as a test of fellowship but always to maintain a teachable, gentle attitude. We reject authoritarianism and any practice that violates the priesthood of the believer.
Participation and leadership in this missional community does not require exclusivity of loyalty and commitment. These belong only to Jesus and the larger Body of Christ. It is not unreasonable that members may still participate in other expressions of the Body of Christ and in a variety of “para-church” ministries.
We believe the scriptures teach and the church’s ancient practice was that there is but one church per city. This church often had many, potentially hundreds, of separate home-based meeting places, with many elders (pastors, bishops) together as a presbytery leading the city-wide church. We do believe God has given the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers) to equip the church and lead it under Christ’s headship.)
Reformation and revival require prayer. Prayerlessness must cease. As we become a prayerful, seeking people, passionate for His presence, the supernatural dynamic of the New Covenant pours from us. We again will become a prophetic people and ones who experience the grace of healing and miracles. We are called to give ourselves to intercession, 24/7 prayer movements and a cry for revival.
It is my hope that dozens of men and women will want to feel-out what this may look like. I believe that God has gone ahead of us and has stirred a hunger for a deeper level of missional involvement. If God orchestrates us finding one another then we can with His help make good progress.