Microchurch Leaders: The Emergence of Church Project

May 25, 2022

What did God intend the Church to be like?

When I knew God was calling me to pastor in the local church, I prayed that he would let me be a part of returning the church to what He originally intended for it to be.

Yet, for the many years of working in churches, I felt far from what God designed the church to be. To a degree, I was teaching the Scriptures and making disciples but clouded in programs, structures, and systems layered on top of these fundamental purposes.

What I was experiencing seemed different from the paradigm in the book of Acts, letters to the churches, the gospel, church planting movements through history, and much of the global church presently. It seemed as if somewhere along the way, someone had created an updated version of the church, almost a “Newer Testament” church, and I was perpetuating it. The priesthood of the believer was subdued by the clergification of the church. Diversity was redirected because of monolithic, homogenous small group approaches.

When I knew God was calling me to pastor in the local church, I prayed that He would let me be a part of returning the church to what He originally intended for it to be.

Many churches behaved as if Jesus was not attractive enough, and we had, with unspoken words, apologized for His appearance by adjusting His methods and message. Not only was the church clouded with commercialism, strategy, and dilution of the gospel, but it was avoiding much biblical truth. Plus, the structure had been so altered to aid these foreign methodologies that the result was a different church.

What was the Church like from day one?

The Spirit of God wrote the Scriptures of God with intentionality and clarity for the sake of his Church. As I studied the Scriptures and church history, I saw several elements of the church from day one that were consistent across culture, country, continent, time, and language.

  • The church community in a city was decentralized into house churches. Still, they also connected regularly through simple but powerful regular corporate gatherings for worship, prayer, teaching, and corporate giving. 
  • Pastoral leadership was distributed to lay pastors who shepherded small house churches. A few overseers led the church, but there was a significant de-clergification. The small ratio of financially supported overseers/pastors equipped the people to lead themselves. 
  • House churches were autonomous yet aligned, accountable, and submitted to common elder oversight and shared mission for their city and church planting in other places. 
  • House church/community was not homogenous (i.e., young adults, singles, married without children, senior adults, etc.) but diverse in all ways such as generationally, socio-economically, racially, spiritual maturity, etc. 
  • House church was the primary context for discipleship. It was a discipleship community. 
  • House churches were geographically based for proximity and continuity of community on a regular and even daily basis. 
  • House church was the front-line of benevolence; people knew one another’s needs and sacrificially met needs there first. 
  • House church was the front line of spiritual development and church discipline. There was inherent accountability and responsibility for one another.
  • House church was always a picture of the body of Christ to the local community, praying for, pursuing, and welcoming the seeker of Christ, sharing the gospel, and discipling the new believer.  
  • There was a generosity that marked the lives of the corporate church as they gave toward one another benevolently and in common for the gospel and need-meeting causes.
  • There was a simplicity to the structures and systems that led the church. The church was an organism more than an organization.
  • Essentially, a church in a city was a “church of house churches” decentralized into diverse discipleship communities with distributed pastoral leadership. 

The early church was (and other global movements were and are) structured to expand rapidly because of simplicity, decentralization, and autonomy with alignment and accountability.

Can the early Church exist today?

I wondered if a church like this existed today or was still possible. Before I started Church Project, I searched for models that had the DNA elements of the church above. I couldn’t find them. I assumed that some existed, but if they did, they were obscure, small, and not leading language and ideas for the church.

So, I set out to rethink church and, as closely as possible, return to a biblical model of gathering and leading. Was it possible for a church to endure through simplicity and no massive marketing and strategy? Could the church accomplish its calling only through discipleship in diverse communities, with identified, elevated, and empowered lay pastoral leadership? I had never experienced this, but I would give it all I had so that my kids and community could.

The early church was (and other global movements were and are) structured to expand rapidly because of simplicity, decentralization, and autonomy with alignment and accountability.

I wanted to see if the rugged and raw making of discipleship communities could happen without popular, modern methods. We started Church Project in 2010 with 40 people gathering in an unknown warehouse with no visibility. We never had mailers, commercial billboards, or other marketing approaches. We didn’t even have an office, receptionist, or phone number for people to call. Plus, the Church Project never received even a dollar from other churches or organizations. We were almost underground

We gathered weekly on Sundays in a warehouse to teach the Scriptures, sing to Jesus, take communion, give, and pray. But everything that would happen in our church happened through house church. No one had ever experienced anything like this.

The 40 people immediately became two house churches.

However, I was sometimes scared, frustrated, and struggled with discouragement concerning how slow things were progressing the first two years. I was idealistic and hopeful but wrongly angsty and ambitious. God used the slowness to sanctify me and reinforce my conviction not to leave the vision. 

A house church movement began happening in the following years as 40 turned to 4,000. Other house church hubs were planted locally, domestically, and globally by the Church Project. Through the common giving, millions of dollars were given to gospel-centered partnerships that meet needs locally and internationally.

We are still a church project pursuing what we are convinced about and holding to our convictions. We are still rebelling against what we don’t think should be. We always struggle to be simple. We fight to minimize clergification. And, we continually need to straighten things out, just like the apostles had to make adjustments due to rapid growth at the church of Jerusalem or as Paul told Titus in Crete.

Yet, our structure of a “church of house churches” hasn’t adjusted at all.

Some things will never change with size and scale. We continue to commit to the gospel, discipleship, and the teaching of Scripture. 

I’m not sure what’s next as we grow and mature. Still, I know that it is possible to get a little closer to a simple, biblical, relevant, replicable, and generous expression of church. It’s hard, but I love it and will never go back.


Jason Shepperd

Jason Shepperd

Jason is the lead pastor of Church Project in The Woodlands, Texas, a “church of house churches” that he formed in 2009 and started on January 10, 2010. He is also the founder of Church Project Network, a coalition of churches working to change the way people see Christ, Christians, and the Church. Church Project is beginning a movement of planting and replanting churches to become decentralized in community, distributed in leadership, functionally simplified for the sake of generosity, and formed in a collective of house churches, under one common structure, oversight, and support. Today, Church Project has grown into 50 house churches locally with over 3,000 people plus several church plants. He can be found at jasonshepperd.com.
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