Let’s Communicate

An Appeal for Small Group Churches to Network Online

If you have known me for very long you’ve heard my lament over the need for effective communication if we’re going to network together in our Kingdom work. Yes, I know. Your fellowship is communicating.  Maybe it does group  texts or has an email list, Or you have a Facebook group. Perhaps, you use Slack, Discord, GroupMe, Mattermost–the list is endless. But you are communicating within your group. That’s a good thing.

On the flip side, we are scattered all over the internet and often “caught up in traffic.”

Let me tell you a story of a text.

A Texting Tale

Omigosh!  I have to push our meeting to a later time. I can’t count on an email in this case so I’ll shoot you a text.

You’re driving when you hear the notification. No problem you’ll check it when you get to the office. Few minutes later you hear another ping–another text. Just as you’re getting into the parking lot you hear three more notifications. It’s a group text coming through. You go into the office check on a few things and head down to your workspace. Meanwhile two more texts have come in.

Guess where my text about the time change is? It’s about the 12th one down in your feed just waiting to be accidentally skipped over as you deal with some of the other ones. As a result you arrive at our meeting about an hour early.

I know. I should have left a voicemail. Bummer!

Then there are email lists… I will forever remember poor Diego. We created an email list for our fellowship in which one of the addresses had one wrong character in it. That erroneous email address belonged to somebody named Diego. He emailed us and kindly asked us to take his name off our list, which we did by correcting the error. But not before that list had gone out to the group several times. You can guess what happened. Everyone kept answering those previous emails with “Reply all” essentially preserving the inaccurate list for eternity. Amazingly, the person whose address was incorrect got added while the erroneous one was never removed.

Poor Diego. After awhile his request  to remove him from the list sounded more like a  desperate plea. He even got kind of hostile.

And how about this one? You remember that you have an appointment but can’t remember where it is, so you go looking for it in your smartphone or on your computer. How many days ago was it? What was the first line? You can’t find that silly text. Several minutes of frustration later you remember it wasn’t a text at all it was an email… Or maybe it was a Facebook message. RATS!

The sad thing is that these messages were priority, that is they were from your church; your Kingdom community.

For us here in the Northwest, the the solution to the email debacle, and many of the other problems I described, was to shift over to a single platform. Moreover, that allowed multiple groups to have a central point of connection, which is not possible if individual fellowships are splattered all over the communication landscape on the internet. The group who communicates with their text list has no idea what’s going on with the a group that uses Slack. The fellowship that does their internal communication by email has no connection with the one that uses Discord or GroupMe. They are islands.

To be honest, some groups see no reason to interact with other groups of a similar kind. They don’t care. They’re simply self-contained. They’re doing fine, thank you very much.  I think that’s short-sighted and breeds independence, but there’s not much I can do about a state of mind. On the other hand, there are some groups that would welcome the opportunity to share ideas and resources with other small groups. That’s where a single platform is essential.

Enter Zulip

I recommend a platform called Zulip. It behaves similarly to other platforms in common use (Slack, Discord, etc.) But with some important advantages.

One, is that it is open-source and not as widely used as some of the others. The advantage here is that, since Zulip is not trying to monetize their platform, they’re not always trying to sell you upgrades. Furthermore, you don’t get the feeling, as you do with platforms like Facebook, that you’re being swept along the informational superhighway with advertisements and random posts in a never-ending, constantly changing stream.

Secondly Zulip (specifically summit.zulipchat.com) is just for small-group Kingdom communities (house churches, if you will).

With Zulip, a fellowship has its own channel, called a stream, that is not shared with anyone else. Nobody but the group sees it. It’s locked and private–just your group.

Perhaps most importantly, when you post your thoughts and ideas using Zulip, you can attach a topic to them. This is most helpful in your group’s private stream. Here’s why.

On other platforms the posts are all organized in chronological order. Let’s say somebody posts prayer request. It’s read by the members of the group, some of whom request updates. Then, somebody posts about the upcoming gathering and its food prep. Several chime in. Then someone posts about an activity for the children. Then someone else posts about…

A few of days pass and, remember that prayer request? The one who posted it brings an update. A group member who may have missed the initial post has to wonder what that’s all about. Where is the original request? It’s there, but to get to it you have to sort through all of those posts about other stuff that came after the original request.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sort all of those posts according to their topic, similar to a subject line on an email? You could just click on “Prayer Request,” or any other specific topic, and all of those posts would appear together. Rather than having to scroll through day after previous day to find all of the posts about a particular subject, you can read them from the first to the last without any other posts in between.

Zulip does that and I haven’t found anything else that does.

Finally, you can find and collaborate with other simple fellowships. That’s not possible if they’re all hidden away in various data streams on other platforms. Are you searching for other groups that might have ideas and resources that would be helpful to yours? Not easy if they are online in multiple different locations. You probably won’t even know they are there.

On a delegated platform there can be other streams, including one that includes all groups – -a “global” network–and streams that are reserved for local or regional clusters of fellowships. Those more inclusive streams are good for collaboration. Groups can request help, share ideas, even arrange face-to-face meet-ups. In other words, encourage one another on the Kingdom journey.


This is where I hear, “Our group will never go for that. They say they have too much clutter in their in-boxes already.”

Seriously? That’s what the communication from your brothers and sisters in Christ is to you? Clutter? Might I suggest that Kingdom work is high priority traffic. If clutter is the issue, declutter something else. I offer an observation from Jim Wallis about the priority of the church—click here.

What that response tells me is that church, for some folks, is just another activity on an already crowded calendar. For them it is not a priority. As I said earlier, I cannot change a state of mind. What I can do, though, is appeal to people who do small group fellowships to prioritize these relational connections. Invite (even coerce) your fellowship to put all of their communication on a unique, delegated platform. Give it a unique notification sound and realize that all communication that comes over Zulip is “priority traffic.” Anything that comes from there is “Kingdom.” Moreover, if they want to know what’s going on, that’s where they’ll hear it.

Sadly, there are some small-group churches that really don’t care if there are others out there doing what they are doing. As I mentioned earlier, they are islands and happily so. I wish I could argue for the importance of being connected relationally to other fellowships, but for a few, maybe more than a few, networking just doesn’t matter. I wish that weren’t so. We could accomplish more, I think, if we were available to  encourage one another.

What I can do is make a case for a shared communication portal for small group churches. Not an organization with bylaws and a statement of faith, but a hub for sharing and communicating within and among functionally autonomous churches who are voluntarily interdependent.

It’s not complicated. If you’re familiar with Slack, Discord, or even Facebook you’ll find much that is familiar. But, it is new. If you want more information on how we use this platform, get in touch. We’ll do a Zoom call and a screen-share and I’ll show you why I am so enthusiastic (even relentless) about getting simple churches on the same page.

For the redeemed, and for the King!

Step By Step

As I consider the communities that make up the Summit Fellowships, I realize that many of the people are what might best be called “nesters.” They naturally gravitate towards a community and, sometimes a leader. They are the comfortable “center” of the community. Frankly, they just don’t think in terms of being outward bound.

This is good. A community must have a center, a soft place for people to land, grow and be nurtured; a place for love to be.

Nevertheless, for groups of people to advance the kingdom, there have to be outward bound people among them, what Vernard Eller calls, expediti. Moreover the group has to recognize that various gifting are necessary for the expansion of the church.

Kinds of Groups

There is a progression that small groups will probably go through.

It seems to me that the first step in a growth pattern is fellowship, that is Koinonia. It is been said that Christian Life moves from relationship, through relationship, and to relationship. A first step of developing relationship, and by that we mean friendship, is to have a group give themselves permission to become friends. That, of course, isn’t enough. Tarrying too long as a fellowship group results in the group becoming a club. Kingdom communities ought not be clubs, they ought to be purposeful and useful.

That brings a group to a second step. Often that second step is to become a discipleship group, developing wisdom and knowledge in the things of God, and learning to apply those things by working together toward a kingdom goal.

team, grass, cheer

Sometimes, there is a level of knowledge and maturity in a group even as they are growing in their fellowship and love for one another. In that case, a group might take a step from simple fellowship to mission and ministry. The discipleship, spiritual formation stage, may not be necessary. Spiritual formation may happen as the group is challenged in their missional work. Communitas is a wonderful outcome when people work, and reach out together.

Stay Loose, Stay Organic

Small group churches–Kingdom communities–should adopt the organic paradigm. They should, at the beginning, understand that they do not intend–indeed it is not an option–to shift to an organizational paradigm or corporate structure.

If they understand at the beginning that it is not an option, then they have to be thinking in terms of multiplication, not addition. They need to understand that more distant relationships are a natural outcome as numbers increase. Even if you grow larger as a congregation, the increase of numbers naturally creates distance because people tend to have only enough margin to invest in a limited number of people. If a group is growing, in the organic model they begin to think about multiplication.

There is resistance to that because it inserts distance in the relationships. People need to understand, even convinced, that that is going to happen anyway. As numbers increase groups or clusters of people will form. The relationships within those subgroups will deepen and other relationships will become more distant. This result doesn’t reflect rejection or animosity, it is simply a function of growing larger.

This is why I advocate for a network. In a large Church people mix and mingle in distant relationship, but typically there are clusters, small groups, that reflect the closeness that is so important to those in a house church. If we are voluntarily interdependent, we make a place for those clusters to connect as they would naturally in a larger church that has a campout, or a Sunday picnic, or an all-church seminar. The analogous gatherings in the organic Network are called Vines, that is “Voluntary Intra-Network Events.”

Building community in Jesus