Why I Love My Organic Church

by Arianne


I should preface this post with this: I could write 10 posts on this topic and still not be done with all I have to say. I’m not really going into the biblical reasons we were called to an organic church (you could peruse those reasons elsewhere, where others have written on the topic like here and here for example), though there are many. I might mention a few of those reasons, but mostly I just want you to maybe sit for a spell and listen to my story. Join me?

About a year ago we left our church. The leaving was a God-prompted thing, the reasons numerous, but what you need to know is that we had no idea what church body we’d be joining next. After a couple visits to local churches it was clear that nothing was jiving with us. We prayed and asked God what He wanted. What path was He pointing towards? We discovered God was clearly saying that we should have a break — not worry about finding a church — and just look after our growing family. We started at-home worship time with our kids and really took a Sabbath day (rested, ah!) and began to teach our kids about Jesus ourselves instead of relying just on Sunday mornings (imagine that!).

Fast forward to a couple months ago and a cross-country move later (which was another God-prompted thing) and we discovered the Body that was waiting for us. Our organic church.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about a house church. The way I (and plenty organic church folks) define it is: a house church is essentially a regular church with the typical hierarchy (i.e. lead pastor) just in a smaller version that meets at someone’s house. Organic church is different. It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but I’m really not. There is no lead pastor in an organic church. There’s no plan. There’s no schedule or script. There’s no children’s program. Sound chaotic? It’s anything but.

We rely on 1Corinthians 14:26 as our map. When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

What this means, is that we each come to the spiritual “table” with something to offer. There’s no sitting in the back unnoticed. It’s a constant flow of the Holy Spirit, edifying of each other, opening up, confessing, teaching and learning. Because there is no lead pastor (Jesus is the lead pastor – crazy, I know) each week our gathering carries on regardless of who isn’t there and who comes. On the other side of that coin, because we are living life together, open and willing to be uncomfortable, vulnerable and honest – there is also a void each week when any of the Body are missing. Like any healthy body, if one part isn’t working, the body suffers.

We definitely have leaders emerging, and we have what I’d call our “shepherd”. We are pleased to see that God brought together a group of people with complementary as well as diverse spiritual giftings. We see the gifts of the Spirit taking place every time we gather for church, but once a week isn’t the only time we gather. In fact, once a week isn’t enough for an organic church.

We saw quickly that what we were doing was forming a family – one that we got to choose – and that meant letting them into our lives. We realized that once a week was too disconnected. We try to get together – anyone that is able – at least one or two other times in the week. Yes this seems like a lot at first, if you’re a large busy family like mine. But dropping down the walls of “leave me alone” has proven to not only spring forth growth in us but also bring some good ‘ol fashioned spiritual attacks that brought our group even closer.

God is blessing these gatherings like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We are learning from each other, equipping each other, exhorting each other and caring for each other. More than once I’ve had church family swoop in just when I needed it for groceries, prayer, you name it.

So, back to our “table”. We are each arriving with something to bring to the spiritual table – the spiritual potluck, as we call it – and then we sit down at an actual table and break bread. There’s something covenantal about breaking bread. We each bring a dish and we dig in to the meal and into each others’ souls (kids included!).

Some people have said something to the effect of, “Oh I have all that in a small group!” but really, it’s so not the same. In a church where Christ is the head instead of a pastor, the expression we have as a Body is completely different. This isn’t us just hanging out and having dinner together. When we gather it’s not only how we each see the group (as our only church, not just a side group) that creates (organically) what fruit and life we have, but it’s the amazing way God shapes our Body, purposefully pouring into us in a way we’ve never experienced. We’ve been freed of the institution of church, and able to just BE the church.

The key here is that we do what works. If something isn’t working, we gather – discuss – work it out (we don’t always all agree) – God works through each of us to find an agreement – and we have a new plan. There’s no resentment or anyone who feels as though they aren’t heard or their gifts go untapped. Each person is so vital. Each voice heard and valued.

We all realize that sacrifices are needed to make this work, and we’ve decided we’re willing make them. We feel this to be the most accurate expression of Church, but we certainly know it’s not for everyone.  Of course you know I’m not saying this is the only way or that your way of doing church is wrong. But I can’t help but have this huge sense of “what have I been doing my whole life before now?!” and despite my shyness, I just had to share. This way of being Church, instead of doing church, takes a lot of getting used to.

***

By Arianne

63 Responses to “Why I Love My Organic Church”

  1. Graeme July 6, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    The way you described that at the start made me think of Quaker Worship; but having been with the Friends a couple of times, it feels somehow warmer. And clearly you’ve preserved sacraments like communion and perhaps even made them less ritualised; partaken of around an actual table as a meal rather than a little piece of low quality bread and sour wine. Stop me if I haven’t understood you.

    I often wonder whether we’ve got it terribly wrong when we think everything needs to be a program- Discipleship, Teaching, even Healing. And I’m glad I read your post.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Thank you for reading! I happen to think all the programming has snuffed out true expressions of Church, simply because so often the focus becomes the program and not Jesus. I’m not familiar with Quaker theology or their practices, so can’t comment on that aspect, but yes making things less ritualized is sortof key.

      • Bee July 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

        I immediately thought of the Friends tradition too when I read this!

        I’ve spent 20 years of my adult life in a big Baptist church that reminds me of a large, enthusiastic, non-housebroken puppy – “Hi! Glad to see you! Hurrah, you’re here! Let’s all introduce ourselves! What, you have needs? We have programs for that! What, you needed real connection and our programs just made you feel worse? Haha, our bad, LOL! Have a bulletin and clap your hands to the music! LOL! Hurrah, you’re here!” I have found myself tired, disillusioned by the experience of falling through the increasingly wide cracks that big-church bureaucracy simply can’t cover, and quite frankly tired of electric guitar solos on Sunday morning. I have found respite and quiet in occasional visits to a small Quaker church that is quickly coming to feel like “my” church, even though I haven’t quite faced the reality of changing memberships. A few parallels that struck me immediately:

        * Children and adults worshiping together – no children’s church in the main service, everybody has snacks together, and then separate discussion times after church, but the majority of the time is spent in full community.

        * The Quaker discipline of silence and speaking as the Spirit leads sounds a great deal like your church’s pattern, where everyone brings something to the table. One of the most lovely thoughts I’ve seen regarding the Spirit’s urgings during this quiet time was this: “Sometimes God is giving you a thought to share with the rest of the meeting. Sometimes, He is giving you something that is just for you.” I loved the idea that the quiet time of listening to God might result in spoken ministry, or it might result in silence, and both are important.

        * Your method of conflict resolution sounds very much like Friends’ business meetings! Friends traditionally do not vote – they simply meet and discuss until a solution is reached, even if that means having another meeting next week.

        * “My” church does have two co-pastors, but there is a distinct sense that all voices are welcome, and even necessary. I was absolutely floored at the first meeting I attended – after a time of singing and the beautiful period of silence, one of the pastors spoke on the query of the day. When other members of the church had something to add, THEY DID! Right in the middle of the sermon! Men, women, didn’t matter – everybody listened! I loved it.

        I could go on, but I won’t – all I’ll add is that you might enjoy reading about Quaker practices, since so much of what makes them distinct is part of the atmosphere your church already has. Growing organically can sometimes mean giving your vine a framework to climb up, and there’s no harm in finding out about existing frameworks (like the Friends tradition) that seem to be growing in the same direction you’re going!

  2. Frank Viola July 6, 2012 at 4:48 am #

    Thanks for the shout-out on my article on the organic expression of the church.

    I’m new to this blog and it’s too cool!

    Blessings,

    fv

    Psalm 115:1

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Thanks for visiting, Frank!

    • Jonathan Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

      Frank, you’re the best. Thanks for being such an accessible resource and ministry to the church at large, ours included. Blessings brother!

  3. v July 6, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    interesting, thought provoking ideas for my morning. part of the reason i’m a member (well, there’s no membership, but a regular attendee) at a big church is the anonymity. a small group of people know me well, and to the rest i’m a stranger. i don’t know that i would be comfortable in the setting you describe…however, there’s something in what you’re doing that reminds me of a convent of nuns i’m know/am friends with. there IS something appealing about the community of nuns, and they are wholly known to one another. i wonder if there is a shift when in an organic church, a shift away from feeling overwhelmed [which is a large part of why i remain anonymous at my big church] towards feeling so comfortable (perhaps underwhelmed is what i mean) that all can be laid to bare. i’ve never experienced church where all my barriers are down.

    you’ve made me stop and think this morning, which is the best part of church. thank you for that.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      V, I totally appreciate your honestly here. I used to be one that preferred a big church for anonymity as well. I was resistant at first to a smaller gathering (the church we left prior to being in an organic church was my first very small church, and it was a big adjustment!) but felt God telling me it was ok. That being vulnerable in the service and for the purpose of loving Him and building each other up was exactly what He wanted. And yes I’d say there is a shift from overwhelmed to not overwhelmed – it’s sortof like how deep water isn’t so cold and scary once you jump all the way in. And even though I’ve been in a very small church before, this is still the first time I’ve experienced church with my barriers down. This is so different. We aren’t coming together to just do church.

    • Cassandra July 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

      Yes– EXACTLY! I’m searching right now… left the church that I was essentially raised in (maybe “around” would be a more accurate term), and I’m scouting around for other churches, because I feel that hole. I want something…

      There’s no way to have that anonymity back at my old church, and that’s probably one of the reasons why I find it distasteful at the moment. I want that experience of being wholly known, yet the fear (and near certainty) of judgment that comes along with it leaves me overwhelmed, and I seek the sanctuary of anonymity.

      But this organic church… seems like just the thing I’ve been yearning for, even as my disillusionment mounts to ever greater heights.

      • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

        I hear ya. I think that us viewing it as a family (who love each other despite our mistakes) and that we’re each equal brings so much grace and room to breathe. Praying for you to find what you’re searching for… xoxo

  4. Grace July 6, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this. I had never heard of an “organic church” before. I am so happy to hear that you have found something that fits so well for you and your family.

    I am very introverted and not a very mature Christian at this point in my life. What you are writing both makes me want that so bad, and also scares the crap out of me. Which probably isn’t a bad thing. My question though is, do you think a person needs to reach a minimum maturity level in their faith before joining something like this? I would be so worried that what I tried to offer (if I could muster up the courage) is inaccurate or confused.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Hi Grace! We totally have introverts in our church (my husband being one of them). The smaller setting is actually the perfect place for an introvert to use their gifts and be “seen” as opposed to a larger church where an introvert might have a difficult time. As for needing to be at a certain place in maturity – not at all! The beauty of it is this – God uses you, wherever you’re at in your faith journey, to edify ALL the church. It’s not that only the people who have known Jesus longer can be helpful. It’s not that there is any type of clergy/lay person hierarchy. We trust the Holy Spirit to work in each and every person (differently!) and that is who brings the “dish” to the table. We just basically get out of the way for Him to do it. Now as for being inaccurate or confused – I had that exact question in church before. Everyone wants you to be able to share what God has placed on your heart. Maybe sometimes it won’t be accurate – but that’s ok! Everyone is there to gently and with grace correct or re-direct and THAT is actually part of why this expression of church is so equipping and awesome. You are able to make a mistake and learn and not feel bad about yourself later. Does that make sense?

      Also you said, “What you are writing both makes me want that so bad, and also scares the crap out of me.”

      Yes! That was me too. And yes I think it’s a good thing.

      • Grace July 6, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

        Wow, thanks so much for this response. So encouraging and understanding. I have one more question for you, how on earth do you find other people who are doing this?

        • Arianne July 7, 2012 at 12:16 am #

          Honestly when it comes together for you it will likely be this off the wall story that is ALL God. In my case I knew someone (my sister) who knew someone that was starting this type of church. In your case, maybe you’ll meet people who (or discover that people you already know) are interested in organic church and you just get started. Slowly but surely God brings the right people into your life. Like I’ve been telling others in the comments today – don’t give up! Keep asking God for this, let Him know your heart (that He already knows) and He will be faithful. xo

    • Jonathan Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

      “I would be so worried that what I tried to offer (if I could muster up the courage) is inaccurate or confused.”

      Grace, I’ll tell you this about organic church–there is much of your name at play. Without His grace, where would *all* be? We often come with our own expectation and frailties and brokenness, but the church in action is truly one of “building up” and I’m confident that, in such an environment, you would be built up, encouraged, and escape that worry eventually. It is not that any one member of our body is like Jesus and the perfect representation of Him, but it is only when we come together as the body that we get to see and experience more of Him being revealed in our midst.

  5. Chris July 6, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Wow, how beautiful and wonderful. I love the idea of a spiritual potluck. I think I may incorporate that into some of my small group ministry.

    Some of the smaller Unitarian Universalist congregations do something similar to what you all have. The folks who go seem to love it (or I’m not hearing from those who don’t!).

    Seriously, I think it’s great. Thank you for sharing :)

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Thanks Chris!

  6. the Blah Blah Blahger July 6, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    This FASCINATES me…but I totally am curious about how you will handle conflict in this family-type setting, because as you know, families can get messy! :-)

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      Yes, totally can get messy! We talk about this a lot, that we’re a family and families do encounter conflict. I alluded to it a bit by talking about how we don’t always agree. The beautiful thing is that because we all love each other and really want to be on the same page, God totally honors that. Just like any family, we talk it out. We come loving and not trying to prove a point. We also have Jesus in common, and *that* is the main focus overall, and we don’t linger on theological debates. We all have our beliefs in that area, and if the topic comes up we approach it with grace since I know we likely don’t all have the same beliefs (crazy that we can all work in harmony with different theologies, eh? :) ) and otherwise it’s about seeking God together. You’d be surprised how un-conflicty it all is when there is no hierarchy and no programs.

      Also, and this isn’t focused entirely on conflict, this post talks a lot about how it all “works” and even though it’s a bit lengthy, it’s SO good for understanding organic church: http://frankviola.org/2010/09/07/missional-organic-church-an-interview-with-neil-cole-frank-viola/

    • Jonathan Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      Blah Blah Blahger, it is fascinating indeed, isn’t it?!

      You are correct: families *can* get messy! Praise God we have a Lord who is “not a God of chaos, but of order.” But just as families can get messy, families (should) get over the mess and deal with it because they love one another. As Arianne well put it, “We also have Jesus in common, and *that* is the main focus overall, and we don’t linger on theological debates.” When you get down to what–or WHO–truly matters, everything else fades in comparison. This may seem like a copout of an answer, but it’s not.

      Last but not least, I would also add that we do believe we have one another in the group to approach were individuals to have conflict. Those people would seek the mind of Christ in the issue. That’s what we’re all trying to do, and thus far, it’s working.

      Remember, we wouldn’t have about 80% of the New Testament if there wasn’t conflict or issue within the church.

      • the Blah Blah Blahger July 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

        Oh, I wasn’t suggesting that conflict would be a reason NOT to be in an organic church setting…it was a mere curiosity on how it was handled! Lately, I’ve been learning SO MUCH about how different denominations handle conflict and resolution within their churches and though I thought I was raised in a pretty conservative church, I’m learning that was not fully the case. I wholeheartedly support this form of worship and believe that God is present there!

  7. Nicole Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    I opened up my reader this morning and was like “Hey, I love my organic church too.” Then, I thought wait…this *is* my organic church…. :)

    I’m so glad you wrote this Arianne. It brings me joy and I know that it will also encourage and challenge others to perhaps seek and pray about where God is leading them, as well.

    I love my church. I felt knit to you the moment I met you. I count myself blessed to be a part of such a dynamic, healthy, growing, and Spirit-filled family. My hope is for others to experience the same.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 11:29 am #

      I’m so grateful for you, Nicole. LOVE that you found this post before I could show you!

  8. Angelina July 6, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Loved reading this and thought of our organic church. We are in the baby phase still as it is just 4 months old but I am seeing people falling in love with Jesus and each other in a way that I’ve never witnessed. People that are willing to do whatever it might take to introduce Christ to friends and neighbors. Keep on blessing others with your gift of writing about your experience. It is a beautiful read!

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      I love hearing that Angelina! It’s so true, this is something I’ve never witnessed either. Thank you for sharing!

    • Jonathan Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      Praise God, Angelina! Love hearing these testimonies.

  9. Kelly @ Love Well July 6, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    I’m reading through Acts (again) right now. Seems like what you’re doing very much mirrors the early church.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      I think it does too, and it’s the goal, really. The church in Acts used to make me nervous because I knew I wasn’t willing to be like that. But now that I’m in a Body that is like that, I can see that my hesitation was all about my own issues, and was stopping me from true expression of Church. Sometimes it feels brave, but only because somehow the intimacy of the Body became unnatural for us. Now I think it just makes sense. :)

  10. amy@to love July 6, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    oh yes. this is where we are right now, my husband and i have been talking about this for a couple of years, this, doing this. it sucks when you know no one who is behind you, no one who feels this need too. but it’s awesome to read about yours. and to know there are others out there who get it.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Oh Amy, hang in there! We knew God was leading us to something like this before we even knew it had a name. And then even when we knew it had a name, there was NO ONE doing this where we lived. Then God brought us from South Carolina to Arizona where a Body was waiting to take shape right when we arrived. Not saying you’ll have to move to find it (ha!) but just wanted to encourage you to keep seeking it, and God will provide it for you. Thinking of you as you’re in your wilderness period – praying for God to bring people into your life that crave Church like you do. xo

    • Jonathan Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      Amy@to love, I can tell you that you are not alone. There are *lots* of people who are now participating in organic churches around the world who are in that wilderness phase, waiting, searching. God will bless your patience and perseverance, I am confident.

      Praying!

  11. Kelly Sauer July 6, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    If He moved you to AZ for this, I’m willing to officially be okay with that. We had “organic church” with a group of people when we were in NOVA, and then we moved, and our spiritual leaders ended up moving back to New Zealand, so we keep in small touch with them, but it’s just not the same as having people here, around you. This is RIGHT, Ari, this is us coming to Him without all the pretense, coming to relationship without it too. All I’ve ever wanted from my fellow believers is to know and to be known, to share in one another’s lives, but I don’t even get that with my FAMILY most of the time, with so many artificial walls having been built.

    I’m writing from here – I know the system, the organized church – it’s what some people need, but I can’t go back in. This, that you’ve shared? This is what I’m really totally completely longing for and really totally completely can’t find where we are. I should talk to Pete about moving where you guys are… :-P

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

      Ha! Well take a look at the comment I left for Amy above – I think God wants to provide the Body for us, in whatever way He decides. Maybe it’s a move, or maybe it’s just bringing folks into your life that are right there and you don’t even know each other yet.

  12. Amber Haines July 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    This really really is very similar to our community, though we have placed ourselves under an elder-led local body because we love them so, and they love us. It’s been good for our group to have guidance from an older generation, and rather than being threatened by the strength of our group, they encourage us to live out church in our homes. When we do go to “big church,” it’s to be with other community groups in worship. It is different, but still similar.

    There’s something so sweet and challenging about maturing in a close-knit group like this. There’s a honeymoon phase, and then there’s a knitty-gritty place of battling together and loving each other in spite of all the flaws. There’s a whole lot of depending on Jesus and feeling very responsible to know scripture and let the day to day be in communion with Christ. It’s a good place – hands in the air, we relinquish so much control.

    I love you, my sister.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      I love that you brought up elders, Amber! And I love hearing about your community. We actually are praying for elders to eventually join our church too. God is bringing specific people into our gatherings and it’s exciting to witness. While Christ is the head, elders are definitely biblical and the older generation certainly and integral in the life of a Body.

      I think the “working it out” phase ebbs and flows as much as the honeymoon phase, don’t you? Like our blood families, we have waves of everything (good and bad) running through our family-veins and each family looks different (when grown organically) and that is exactly how God intended us to grow, I think. That responsibility kicks everyone up a notch, and instead of passively doing church we become Church. Love you back. xo

  13. Vanessa July 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    I dream of a place just like you described here…

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      I completely used to be in the dreaming phase, and now God has blessed us with this church family. Keep asking Him for it! <3

      • Vanessa July 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

        Thank you for the encouragement! I will!

  14. Tiffany July 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I love this and the idea of organic churches. I remember I read a book a long time ago while in the middle of some serious struggling with the idea of christianity and church in general called ‘So you don’t want to go to church anymore..’ and while in ways it was a strange narrative, it opened my mind as to what church is and should and COULD be in a way that has never left me, nor do I think ever will.

    That said I think this post is almost perfect, but for one thing. I read “Some people have said something to the effect of, “Oh I have all that in a small group!” but really, it’s so not the same.” and it really seems a bit agressive almost…Agressive isn’t really the right word, and I know it’s not meant to, aaaand I understand the sentiment, but really.. for some people their ‘small group’ or whatever they call it (because it’s semantics what we NAME it) IS really and truly all these things. To say it’s not, is well, presumptuous. And I guess because my ‘small group’ or as we call it, ‘cell group’ IS all these things, my spiritual hodge-podge family that breaks bread together while sharing our journeys, while one brings a hymn this week, another a psalm..praying and encouraging one another in life’s big issues and small details, reading the word, struggling with the word, learning to love people different to us etc etc etc, it’s as if someone insulted my family by saying we’re not one because we aren’t ‘officially’ an ‘organic church’. So I thought I’d point out how that might come across to some people.

    This article reminds me of a quote that I saved once and can’t remember where I got it from.. “Church, to Emma, was someone who brings food to the hungry. Church is spending time with friends in an unhurried way. And church involves listening to the wisdom in each other, even (especially?) the voice of a young child.” — Joy Shroeder

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      Tiffany, thank you for the kind words and also for being honest about which parts weren’t resonating with you. I definitely didn’t intend on insulting anyone’s church family – not at all. I’m sorry that’s what you took away from this post.

      Here’s why I said this is different than a small group and feel ok making a definitive statement like that… It’s because I’ve been a part of all kinds of small groups. The deep ones, the not so deep ones. The ones that felt like their own church (which were the best). I’ve experienced both what you’re talking about *and* what I’m talking about.

      What I’m describing here isn’t anything “official” as you say, there is no “official” organic church, it’s not a denomination or a movement, but more of a specific mindset. An expression of Church. When people abandon (for lack of a better word) the institutional church, there is a certain mentality that they bring to organic church. When you no longer have the pastor as the head of the church, it’s very, very different. When there’s no hierarchy, it’s very different. That isn’t to take anything away from small groups, life groups, cell groups, etc. Those are awesome too. But since the people in all those groups still call their church the place where they attend on Sundays (or whatever day), it’s just a different mindset, and that mindset is what guides the growth and heart of the people gathering. I completely 100% get why you feel the way you do, because I thought it was the same or similar before I experienced organic church.

      • Tiffany July 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

        I hear ya.
        I guess since I do see our small group as church (and in fact any conversation or activity where true love is being lived out) and the gatherings on a weekend of all the other small groups together as tertiary I find the distinction hard to grasp.

        It really is all in mindset – I guess i just challenge the concept that something can’t be ‘organic’ and function as such just because there are few people that become identified as ‘elders’ or ‘pastors’ or ‘leaders’ in some fashion or other for their service. They always exists, even when they are not official…

        But anyhow tomatoes tomatoes.. (doesn’t work as well written down does it!)

    • Nicole Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      Tiffany,
      I hope you don’t mind me jumping in and responding to your comment, as well. I am a member of Arianne’s organic church too and like her I have been a part of many small groups.

      I’ve been a part of small groups so wonderful that “Sunday service” paled in comparison, where all of the things you described were taking place. I am beyond encouraged to know that you are a part of such a community. It is rare and life-giving.

      I just want to add to what Arianne wrote, however. You described your small group as a “cell group,” which by nature is a hierarchical structure. That is where the name cell group comes from. Someone leads, one person is in charge or is a facilitator under a higher leadership.

      One of the distinct differences in organic churches is that while there is certainly leadership, there is no hierarchical leadership. This might not seem like a big deal, but it so is. When we place Christ in His proper position–as Head–it is a radical shift.

      That is not to say that your small group does not love, seek, or worship Jesus. Not at all. But it is a distinct paradigm shift to surrender man’s natural tendency to “lead” and instead allow Jesus to be the Head.

      More than that, organic church as described by Frank Viola, a fore-thinker on organic church is, “…a grass roots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.”

      He also says, “To put it in sentence, organic church is not a theater with a script. It’s a lifestyle-a spontaneous journey with the Lord Jesus and His disciples in close-knit community.”

      If your group is experiencing all of that, then perhaps you have an organic church and didn’t even know it. :)

      Also, in no way do we wish to sound as though organic church is better or more spiritual than other expressions of the church. However, organic church is, in and of itself, an expression of Christ and one that has to be experienced to fully grasp.

      I know Arianne’s heart in this was simply to share her joy in having been lead to this church, but also to describe what organic church looks like for those who are perhaps seeking something more.

      Blessings to you, sister and may God continue to grow your community in His love, grace, and Truth.

      • Tiffany July 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

        Hey I Nicole,

        I understand. I guess the way I see it is that organic is an adjective describing a frame of mind and a dynamic within a community that is not cancelled out by a semblance of structure.

        The community I’m a part of started because a couple of people that were friends/family choose to become Christians and start this journey and as part of that, did exactly what’s described here. Just meet in someones house and DO IT. When that group grew too larger to just stay in a house they did NOT want to become a big sit down in the pews, preacher preach to me church. So they split into two groups, then three etc. Along the way to remain in contact with the other groups they met together on weekends, and this aspect I admit looks more like church as we know it. Eventually they sought a global family to become a part of and so yes – they have a structure.

        HOWEVER

        The heart of the community is the groups, in the homes. In fact, I’d venture to say 70% of the people part of our larger community don’t go to the weekly larger gathering together that looks like ‘regular’ church. To be honest, I do think some of the groups are not organic, but I do think others are. The one I’m at has a ‘leader’ but calling them leaders is almost misleading because they really only open their doors and let it happen, and it happens when they aren’t there to let it happen at whoever else has a clean(ish) living room for us to crash in. Everyone shares, everyone teaches, everyone prays, everyone shares… I see exactly what is spoken about here. So I think ‘organic’ applies. I think it’s a fine line., a finicky adjective…It’s like real love… you know it when you see it even though you can never quite paint it.

        If say, your organic group eventually has people involved who are recognized as elders in some form, be it with or without title, but in they eyes of the group are looked up to as elders.. do you stop being organic? No. If the group loosed the freeness and relational interconnectivity and reliance on the other because of an elder being put on a pedestal above any other member then perhaps yes.

        I know I’m reaaaaaaaally just nit-picking and I’m totally only blabbing on like this to bring up that by it’s very nature ‘organic’ might looks somewhat different sometimes. Church should look different because we are different.

        • Tiffany July 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

          PS No intent on being argumentative here – I’m just notorious at killing a point! Beating dead horses, that sort of thing… (hmm sounds violent..)

        • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

          Tiffany I love this discussion, I’m glad you came back for more! I think when you said that some groups you can see are not organic and some are — you are already understanding the different mindset and that’s awesome.

          And you’re exactly right about elders (in fact, I commented to Amber above about that same thing).

          xoxo

        • Nicole Cottrell July 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

          Tiffany,
          Thanks for sharing more. I would say that it does sound like you are a part of an organic church.

          I’m not one for labels. Hate ‘em actually, but they are helpful at times. We use the term “organic church” to distinguish from house churches which are just smaller versions of Sunday services.

          Also, the word “organic” has very purposeful meaning in describing something that is planted and springs forth growth and fruit. Again, to quote Frank Viola, “To use an illustration, if I try to create an orange in a laboratory by employing human ingenuity and organizational skills, the lab-created orange would not be organic. But if I plant an orange seed into the ground and it produces an orange tree, the tree is organic.

          In the same way, whenever we sin-scarred mortals try to create a church the same way we would start a business corporation, we are defying the organic principle of church life.”

          As for eldership, and my husband could speak to this better than I, but elders in place do not suddenly make a church non-organic. Elders are not meant to be hierarchical, in fact. That structure, like so much of the the institutional church, is man-made, not Spirit-led.

          When we see elders in the New Testament, they are not exerting authority over churches in the way we might assume. Paul, for example, speaks of being hesitant to exert his authority as an elder. Elders provide spiritual insight, maturity, guidance, and counsel, but they are not the “leaders” of a church per se, nor are they the Head, like say a pastor might be at a traditional church.

          More Viola quotes (sorry…so many, I know, but he rocks and says it better than I could) “First-century elders were merely endorsed publicly by traveling apostolic workers as being those who cared for the church.

          And also, ““First-century elders were simply spiritually mature men.”

          I agree with you that one organic church will look (and should look) different from another. All churches, organic or not, hold their own DNA based upon the members of that body. That is part of the magic, mystery, and beauty of the Body. It is an infinite expression of Jesus because Jesus Himself is infinite.

  15. Risé July 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    I loved this post!! I was part of something similar years ago – a house church. And it was so different from the formal Sunday meeting in a church building. Everyone was closer, it was more intimate and like you, we felt a void when someone wasn’t able to make it. We sang together, studied together, brought our pains, concerns and heartbreaks. It was family. I long for another body like that – I miss the closeness and the family feel of it.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      I’m so glad you experienced that, and I really believe you long for it because it’s what you’re meant to be a part of! Blessings. xoxo

  16. Jess July 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Yes! This is so beautiful and inspiring and yes so resonating with what I long for in a church . .. I feel like we have been hearing a far-off echo of this and here I finally understand what I am hearing. Thank-you!

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      Oh I love this. Yes, I had that echo once too. Blessings! xo

  17. A.K. July 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    I totally recognize in your description of your organic church what my husband and I have been talking about and desiring. How did you eventually get involved into this organic church? My family’s been moving a lot due to work reasons and will be in a new country for about a year starting next month. The idea of finding not just a small group community but an actual church as you’ve described seems impossible.

    • Arianne July 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      A.K., I totally know that it seems impossible. Last summer we felt the same…that we knew what God was stirring in our hearts but there were NO prospects anywhere near us. We had no idea how we’d ever have the Body we desired.

      All I can tell you is to keep praying, keep asking God for it. In our situation my sister actually knew the folks involved and invited us to join, but it wasn’t even possible until we moved from South Carolina to Arizona (the moving process started before we knew there was an organic church we could join in AZ). Perhaps this upcoming move will be exactly what’s needed for you to find your Family? Praying for you.

  18. suzannah | the smitten word July 7, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    ari, i loved reading this. “church” these days is entirely too much about walls, attractional programs, and propping up institutions.

    i’m going to start praying about this today. thank you.

  19. Tanya Stillman July 7, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    I love the organic church that my young adult children invited me to! I’m fortunate to experience and be a part of one in Little Rock, Ar. We don’t do church. We are the church. I am always happy to hear the younger people interact during our time together. I’m blessed to be part of a group that does have a leader that went to seminary which is important to me and so is a basic plan. However, I love feeling free to interact at any point along the way! I had to be open minded and remember that I took them to church when my children were little and now I go with them. What a blessing!

  20. Kristen July 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    The Lord has just recently called my husband and I out of “regular” church and on to the hunt for a local organic church. We are actually toying with just beginning one ourselves – opening our home, really. Something we are praying about now.

    So great to read this & know we are not alone!

  21. Summer July 9, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    Hi!
    Interesting post. I like so much of what you wrote. I had a question on how you do outreach? I was apart of a beautiful small community that had a huge heart for social justice (one of the reasons we were drawn there), but it wasn’t too long before we as a group were inundated by the needy and, how do I say it without sounding wrong, unhealthy? Less-functioning? The idea of small intimate groups of people is great as long as you like a majority of those people. Trust me, I loved the single-mom who was recovering from meth-addiction with the 3 kids she never disciplined, she truly blessed me and I her, but it became too exhausting to do life with that much crisis every week. And she was one of the good ones. The problem is how wide do you open your doors? I know that is so not Christian-sounding, but what is really practical? I’m guessing that those in your group are all fairly high-functioning people. Probably not alot of addiction or abuse, most of you are probably fairly well-spoken, can read, may even all have degrees. In other words have something to offer, intellectually, spiritually, economically. And if not all of you, I would bet a majority. What happens when the ratio changes and suddenly there are more needs than resources? You can’t really kick someone out for being needy? What about being the hands and feet of Christ.

    I obviously got a little burned by this “small-family style” church. It got to the point where I dreaded our gatherings because it felt like constant triage. Alot of it was so inspiring and amazing to be apart of, but ultimately it just became too costly for myself and my family. I needed to be ministered to as well, even if my crisis was “small” compared to others. I just felt so selfish if I complained about my hard week because my dryer broke when my other sister in faith had her neighbor shot.

    I guess my question is, “how do you handle a situation where the needs of a community outstrip the resources of a community?”

    It is my experience that this kind of community is beautiful and wholly attractive and by its very nature exclusionary. What do you do when really annoying people want to join? Or just too many, so now you have to find a new space, or split? There is something beautiful about the big behemoth of a church because it has so many more resources and can accomadate so many more types of people. But, it doesn’t offer what I long for.

    We left that church depleted and disappointed and missing our friends and haven’t found one since.

  22. Addie Zierman July 9, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    Love this concept, and your description here stirs my own heartache and longings. But I get all tangled up in the logistics. How do you make it a beautiful, fun experience for the children while still allowing the group to do that quiet, deep work of edifying one another? What do you do when you meet new people, when they are seeking, when they need a place to find God?

    Probably these are too big of questions for one comment board. We were part of a house church once, and though it was to hierarchical to be truly organic in the way you speak of it, these logistical struggles were things that ultimately led to our demise.

  23. Donald Borsch Jr July 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    I’m piping in because I have had the chance on several occasions to talk with Jonathan Cottrell, via that amazing device called a phone, and he is now a kinda mentor for me as I pursue Organic Ekklesia here in Bethel, CT. Would it be too terrible for me to say openly that I find myself coveting what you guys have in AZ? But covet in a good way! :) It has been almost two years in the making, so to speak, but with The Spirit, and with Jonathan serving as a go-to sounding board/teacher, I know our Jesus has something planned for us here that will truly raise His Banner and give that amazing invitation that is His to give. I want, yes-WANT, the ekklesia here and all others properly postured under Christ, to be so incredible that The World stops in its tracks and stands open-jawed, wishing, “Oh how I want to be part of THAT!”

  24. lindy abbott July 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    I felt like I was breathing in fresh air when I read this post! It is what God is doing and it is beautiful.

  25. Stephanie July 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    I really appreciate this post, Arianne. The kind of community that you described is hard to find.

    You mentioned in the intro that you could write ten posts on this topic. I actually hope that you do.

    Some questions you could address:
    (1) How many adults and how many children are in your group?
    (2) Do you meet at the same house each week or alternate?
    (3) What times of the day/night do you meet?
    (4) How close in proximity do the families in your group live?
    (5) Are there singles, teens, elderly couples in your group…or only young families?
    (6) Do you currently serve anywhere as a group? If so, tell us more.
    (7) How did you go about “forming” the group? Did you invite people from work/school/neighborhood?
    (8) Is the group still growing or has it reached “capacity”?
    (9) Do you take a formal tithe/offering? If so, where does that money go? If not, where do the individual families give to?

    Can’t wait to hear more.

  26. Robert September 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Greetings Arianne!

    My wife Kayleen and I just recently relocated to Arizona on Aug. 1st, 2012-would you know where we can best locate organic church gatherings in the Tempe area?

    Thanks in advanace Arianne for your assistance!

    Blessings,

    Robert

  27. Ken Eastburn November 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Arianne, I love this blog and all of the comments! Great work!

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