In Search of a Church of the Heart
A note from Dan
Occasionally, over the years, I’ve been asked if I planned to write a book about small group churching. My answer has always been, no. There are lots of books about house churches, simple churches, organic churches…whatever. I saw no reason to add another.
Lately, I have been rethinking that. Why? Because in the 30+ years we have been doing this I’ve noticed that there is an ebb and flow in small group fellowships. While some groups remain together for years, growing together through the stages of life and family, others, start up, enjoy one another for a time, and then evaporate. In still other fellowships the membership changes. Individuals and families come and go. More than a few of the departing brethren land back in more traditional structures, sometimes called “legacy churches.”
I have had to admit my naivete regarding the longevity of most house church communities. After all, what is the likelihood that a group will persevere right on to the millennium? Like it or not (and I don’t particularly like it) three decades of experience tells me that mobile people are apparently normal. I doubt that was true of the early church. In those days, opportunity for movement from place to place was limited. But in 21st century America we just have to make peace with the reality of fluid community. I don’t know that there’s anything that can be done–or even should be–to stop it.
This has caused me to face an uncomfortable reality: I need to stop paying lip-service to something I’ve been saying since the beginning, namely that there needn’t be a dichotomy between house churches and traditional larger ones. There is room for both. I know I have said that for a long time. I also know that deep down inside, I saw the two expressions as distinct.
The reason they seem distinct is that, in spite of ourselves, we view the church as a place instead of a relationship. No matter if we meet in a building or a home, both suggest a location, a where. We can try to get around it by using terms like “simple church” or “summit fellowship” but who are we kidding? As long as we think in terms of a meeting, the question of place looms large. That is one of the reasons I cringe when I have to use the term “house church.” The name suggests a “where” (a house) in the same way that saying we attend “1st Something Church” suggests a place (a building).
And everybody knows we can’t be in two places at once.
What we can be, though, is together. A one-another condition is not dependent on a place. A church community can be anywhere its people are, in a building singing praise songs together and listening to a teaching, or in a home sharing a meal and enjoying fellowship. What is most important isn’t the place, it is the people.
I intend to title the book, “In Search of a Church of the Heart.” It won’t be a how-to about small groups. Rather, I intend to invite you to rethink your understanding of the church–to take the “where” out of the equation; to shift the question of church from “where” to “whom.”
Not, “where do you go to church?” Instead…
“With whom have you chosen to be the church? “