Global Missiology English, Vol 1, No 13 (2015)

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A Blended Church Model: The Way Forward for the American Church

Justin White

Abstract


It is no surprise that while the traditional church[1] model is still the dominant model of the church in America that the number of house churches[2] has increased significantly in the last fifteen years. In 2003 there were 1600 house churches in the U.S. with official websites. George Barna estimates that as of 2009 there were as many as 30,000 house churches, with 6-12 million Americans attending them. That number has continued to increase since 2009.[3] A recent survey in the city where our church is located, Raleigh, NC, revealed that only 25 percent of the population is interested in attending a religious service if invited.[4] If this is indicative of other U.S. cities, then it may be a difficult road ahead for traditional churches. While the house church movement is growing, and may one day be the predominate model of church in America, this is not the case in our day.

            The purpose of this paper is not to argue for one model or the other, but to argue that a blended model may actually be most helpful for disciple making in the North American context. I am presently serving in a two-year old church plant, which is seeking to blend some aspects of each model with the goal of seeing a disciple making movement in our city.[5] This work will identify some of the deficiencies of the traditional model and offer some suggestions for traditional churches that desire to alter their DNA in hope of seeing more of their members engaged in disciple making.

            Traditional churches seeking to make these shifts must first redefine ministry "success" in regard to discipleship. Second, they must strive to become more participatory in nature. Third, traditional churches need to identify and utilize all of the Ephesians 4 gifts (APEST[6]). Finally, traditional churches must seek ways to partner with, and not compete against, house churches. While there are many more shifts that need to be made, these will be the focus of this particular work. Before addressing these issues it is important to note that while there are not a great number of churches seeking to blend these two models, we have been fortunate to learn from a few churches and leaders who are further down the road than we are.[7]


            [1]J.D. Payne has offered a helpful definition of traditional church in his book Missional House Churches:Reaching our communities with the Gospel.

"In this study 'traditional" describes the generally held understanding of the local church. Traditional churches usually have Sunday morning as their primary time to gather. The Sunday worship gathering generally requires much time and energy to prepare for a one-or two-hour weekly event. For many such churches, the majority of their income is devoted to minsters' salaries and physical properties. These churches tend to be campus-based in their identities. It is at these locations that the majority of their ministry events occur.

Traditional churches tend to be program-oriented, event-oriented, or categorically purpose-oriented in their identities. Pastoral leadership tends to be more positional in orientation and less relational. Evangelism is, many times, one program among many programs of the church and/or is primarily accomplished through the members inviting unbelievers to a worship service where the gospel is shared. The number of members usually far exceeds the number of people who gather weekly for worship and actively use their gifts and talents to build up the church. Many traditional churches identify themselves primarily in terms of their services, events, structures, buildings, and organizations." (10)

            [2]Payne describes house churches in general as, "More organic and less institutional, more simple and less structure, more participatory worship, and less passivity, more community and less acquaintances, and more ministers and less Ministers," (40) Also house churches are distinguished from cell groups by the fact that they are autonomous.

            [3]The Barna Group. "How Many People Really Attend a House Church?" https://www.barna.org/barna-update/organic-church/291-how-many-people-really-attend-a-house-church-barna-study-finds-it-depends-on-the-definition#.Vd94krQvtuU (accessed August 27, 2015.)

            [4]MissionInSite. maps.missioninsite.com (accessed August 27, 2015).

            [5] http://www.oakschurchraleigh.com.

[6] Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers.  For more information on this concept see

the Appendix.

            [7] http://www.graceatstate.org; http://www.ctrmemphis.com; http://www.onwardchurch.org; http://citychurchmovement.com.


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