The theme of family weaves throughout the narrative of Scripture. Jesus himself instituted and affirmed the biological family. He called people to be faithful in marriage (Matt. 19:1–9) and honor their parents (Mark 7:9–13). Similarly, Paul thought it wisest for most people to marry and have children (1 Cor. 7:8–9; 1 Tim. 5:14) and provide clear instructions for how families can flourish (Ephesians 5).
And yet, according to Jesus, the biological family is not our primary family. First and foremost, we are “members of the household of God.” (Eph 2:19). In cases of conflicting loyalties, Jesus made it clear, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
We understand the Gospel when we see it through the lens of family. Although we have sinned and become illegitimate children, God sent his Son so that we could be reconciled to the Father. Through Jesus, anyone can join the family by faith in him (John 1:12–13; Gal. 3:6–9). Because our God is the perfect dad, because Jesus is our reconciling Savior, and the Spirit is the very presence of God within us, we are now a part of an eternal family.
What is Microchurch?
It is for this reason that within KC Underground, our working definition of a microchurch is “An extended spiritual family, led by ordinary people, who seek to live in everyday Gospel community, and own the mission of Jesus in a network of relationships.”
The church is first and foremost about identity, not activity. We have a deep ache in our hearts for people to understand that church is not a building or a program or an event. The church is not built around one or two influential voices. But the church, at its core, is family.
If we understand this fundamental truth, the people of God are free to live with passion, love, and purpose. We are open to living with new rhythms that mirror the ways of the early church. Perhaps the most concise description of these rhythms is portrayed in Acts 2.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Acts 2:42–45 (NIV)
Furthermore, readers of Acts get a glimpse of where and when these rhythms played out.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying all the people’s favor. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved
Acts 2:46-47 (NIV)
In Jerusalem, the believers gathered both in the temple and in the home. In the larger setting of the temple courts, the apostles taught, performed miracles and evangelized. The early believers learned, worshipped, prayed, and fellowshipped together in this corporate space.
In the houses, however, is where the church functioned as extended spiritual families. It was in this setting that they lived in an everyday gospel community. These spiritual families were led by ordinary people who owned the mission of Jesus in their relational network. These microchurches in Jerusalem had everything in common, sharing possessions, meals, laughter, and conversations. They celebrated together as new people joined the family daily. Stories of life with Jesus were shared with openness and honesty. Dinner was prepared with many hands, and the eating was accompanied by more laughter and stories, for they were sincerely glad to be together. Each would say, “These are my favorite people!” The conversation always moved to the apostle’s teachings’ rediscovery, each retelling what they heard about Jesus and His ways. And the discussion was catalytic. They had been “taught to obey (Matthew 28:18-20),” so the conversation moved to practical obedience. Prayer flowed continually.
And it was challenging to figure out who was “in charge,” as each person brought “a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation (1 Cor 14:26)” to share.
What a beautiful picture of the family of God!
Microchurches Emerge out of the Oikos
The Greek word used in the New Testament for the family is “Oikos.” This is a robust word that went beyond the immediate family’s idea to include extended family, household slaves, and their network of friends, neighbors, and business associates.
According to Michael Green, author of Evangelism in the Early Church, “Christians… made a deliberate point of gaining…households as lighthouses…from which the Gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness.”
As the Gospel spread, more and more households flipped their allegiance and became part of the mission of God. The Gospel, therefore, took “Oikos” and transformed it into something more significant. What was once merely an earthly family had now been transformed into an eternal, spiritual family on mission. And church planting was directly related to new disciples produced within previously existing networks of relationships.
For this reason, within the KC Underground, we say that microchurches emerge rather than are planted. As new disciples are made, natural networks of relationships (Oikos) are transformed into spiritual families. We do not plant churches; instead, we plant the Gospel. As the Gospel is planted, disciples are formed from the ground up, resulting in new microchurches. We believe the order is important. Gospel planting and disciple-making that lead to churches’ emergence is the model clearly present throughout the book of Acts. To understand church formation in this way is the difference between redistributing Christians into smaller groups and birthing new microchurches out of new disciples.
Oikos is at the core of Gospel planting. Instead of extracting individuals from their families and friends to attend services at the Temple courts, the early church infiltrated and transformed existing houses to become new spiritual families. In this sense, form follows function. A microform of church is the natural setting for a group to function as a family.
Why is this important? The honeymoon phase of early believers in Jerusalem would not last long. A nimble form of church, rather than the bulky Temple form they knew so well, was essential as the Gospel spread “throughout the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Microchurch as the Primary Expression of Church
“…On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”
Acts 8:1 (NIV)
Following Stephen’s martyrdom, the church experienced severe persecution, resulting in the complete shutdown of public gatherings at the temple courts. What happens next is not the church’s death, but instead, a multiplicative scattering of God’s people. The persecution and shutting down of the temple resulted in an increased disciple-making rate across the Roman Empire.
And the form of church that endured was the microchurch.
Microchurch is not the trendy next thing. It’s not a program that will attract the masses. Microchurch is not a JV church that’s secondary to a larger congregational meeting. Microchurch is not a small group that merely seeks to learn new spiritual truths together. Instead, Microchurch is the primary expression of God’s people. It is the form that best houses the essential functions of the spiritual family. It is a form that can change, adapt, multiply, and thrive regardless of the environment. In many ways, the book of Acts and the Epistles is the story of Jesus living in and through a movement of microchurches.
Our vision within KC Underground is to see Gospel Saturation in Kansas City. We want to see a missionary and microchurch in every neighborhood and network in our city. This vision cannot be done with expensive and heavy structures but can only be done by returning to the Scriptures and remembering the role of the extended spiritual family.
Here’s the truth: as an organization that operates as one-part missions organization and one-part network of microchurches, we sit in an interesting place of tension. On the one hand, we simply desire to see the people of God live as a network of spiritual families, led by ordinary people, owning their particular mission. We want to see a simple model of church that will help followers of Jesus flourish in every part of life. We want to validate these micro-expressions for what they truly are: church.
On the other hand, we have no desire to merely re-form Christians into smaller groups and relabel them as “microchurches.” The goal is not to retreat and go small, but instead, it’s to be nimble and replicate. Our collective heart beats for creating new disciples within new networks that will eventually, like a Gospel virus, slowly take over the entire city. It’s not division; it’s multiplication. It’s disciple-making that leads to church planting, not the other way around. We agree with Mike Breen, who said, “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”
We aim to simultaneously validate the microchurch as the primary expression of the church while always training towards Gospel planting, leading to the transformation of the already existing Oikos. We believe that the form of microchurch is essential, but the form alone will never reach the goal Jesus gave to us in the Great Commission: to make disciples of all nations, all people groups, in every corner of the earth (Matthew 28:18).
This grand mission, simply put, is the purpose of the family business. And microchurch, the extended spiritual family, is the form best set up to house a mighty move of God.