There are probably as many definitions for “organic church” as there are for “church” itself. Like any movement or expression, there are those who like what they think it is, those who hate what they think it is, and those who think it’s cool just because it’s different. For the above mentioned reasons, I feel it is important to communicate what I “think it is” – or more specifically – what I mean when I use the term “organic church.”
In order to better understand the term as it is most commonly used, I appeal to those who have practical experience in the movement and have written extensively on the subject. The following quote is from George Barna and Frank Viola:
An organic church is a living breathing, dynamic, mutually participatory, every-member-functioning, Christ centered, communal expression of the body of Christ. (xxxi)
Neil Cole writes:
What is consistent in both Organic Church and Organic Leadership is my belief that the kingdom of God is relational, spiritual, and natural – without all the artificial stuff we tend to use to prop up our ministries today. It is not necessary for people to work as professionals in the church to make it happen. When church and her leadership are natural and organic, they reproduce spontaneously and movements will result.(15)
So, you may ask, “Well … what do you mean by organic church, Bob?” I’m glad you asked. By “organic church” I mean an expression of the church that involves communities of growing and reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ who function as a body with the living, resurrected Christ as their only head.
This implies a very flat organizational structure, with every member having direct access to the head: Jesus himself. Every member is both being discipled, and discipling others. Every member participates in the worship, teaching, and ministry of the community. Every member is involved in God’s mission to this world. Every member is encouraged to hear directly from God and to share what He is saying.
The commitment level is high, but never forced; it is a commitment of desire, not of obligation. There is leadership, but it is relational leadership, not positional leadership. There is submission, but not to any individual leader (except Jesus) or to any hierarchical group of leaders, but one to another. There is mutual respect, one for another.
An important element of the organic church community is its desire to have as much “substance” with as little “form” as possible. Some “formal elements” will be added as needs arise, but only those elements that are necessary (or at least conducive) to the central mission of becoming and making disciples of Christ.
I know this description of the organic church is far from complete and I am sure there will be many questions and comments regarding this particular expression of the church. However, I hope this is a good starting place. Please feel free to share your thoughts, encouragements, questions and concerns.
Barna, George, and Frank Viola. Pagan Christianity? – Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale HP, 2008.
Cole, Neil. ORGANIC LEADERSHIP: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.