For several years now I have been involved in the “organic church” movement (though some do not consider “movement” an appropriate description). For the majority of my Christian life prior to the above mentioned, I had been associated in some way with what is usually called the institutional church (a term that merely refers to any institution that calls itself a church).I will not waste time describing or defining in length the organic and institutional church since this article is intended for those who already understand the concept of both. However, for those of you who may be new to the terminology yet still interested enough to continue reading, I encourage you to simply “google” (no offense meant to any other search engines) the terms: organic church, simple church, traditional church, and institutional church. After receiving a brief online education, you will be able to join this conversation.
Yes, I did say conversation. This is not intended to be some one sided dissertation dedicated to proving a hypothesis. Instead, this is the beginning of a discussion full of questions and opinions. Obviously, I will be the one raising the questions, as well as the first one stating opinions. However, this is an interactive blog site, and by definition of “interactive,” you are invited to comment. Also, note that this is just the first in a series of posts. Each post will raise a sub-question of the main one: “Can there be an organic church mindset within the institutional church?”
Before I go any further, please allow me to clarify my position on “the church” in general. Although I use the terms “organic church movement” and “institutional church” I do not believe “the church” is an institution; neither do I believe “the church” is a movement. I believe it is a community of Jesus’ disciples. What we so often call a church is really nothing more than an organization developed by the church to support the mission of the church. But let’s not forget that what we often refer to as the organic church is nothing more than a movement (of sorts) developed by the church to support the mission of the church. Some will argue that one is better than the other, or even more legitimate than the other. I, however, don’t view it quite that way. I see strengths and weaknesses in both. My choice to be more “organic” than “institutional” has more to do with philosophy than method.
In my view, the main mission of the church should be to make disciples of Jesus ONLY. That implies NOT making disciples of Jesus AND a certain way of doing things (ecclesiology) and/or a particular way of understanding truth (doctrine). That is not to say there is no value in doing things in a particular fashion or understanding truth a certain way. But the mission of making disciples must center on guiding others to hear from, and obey Jesus on their own. In my opinion, the best way this can be done is to have a philosophy which focuses on the multiplication of many churches instead of the growth of one church. To train individual believers to follow Christ, and release those individuals to become autonomous disciple making communities of their own is the main idea behind organic church growth. The main concept behind institutional church growth seems to be to increase the number of individuals who are submissive to its authority, in agreement with its doctrines, committed to attendance of its weekly gatherings, and faithful in financial support of its resources, and to train those individuals in roles of leadership for that institution and its functions. The organic church idea of multiplication seems to be a better fit for making disciples of Jesus ONLY since it does not include all of the baggage that accompanies institutional church growth.
With that said, the question raised in this post is: “Can an organic church philosophy of growth exist within an institutional church?” I think it can, but only if the institution is willing to practice “release” instead of “control.” It is similar to parenting. We raise our children with the intention of releasing them to become independent individuals, and possibly start families of their own. There is something unhealthy in wanting to keep fully matured children at home. The children will always be a part of the family, and will stay connected in many ways, but will not be under parental control, nor be expected to be just like their parents. I think it should be the same with the church. If it is going to work the same within an institution, it must be intentional. I believe it would take a monumental paradigm shift for most traditional churches to have an “inspire, equip, and release” attitude over an “attract, conform, and control” mindset, but I believe it is possible. What do you think?