After the Rise of the Microchurch webinar, Exponential sat down with one of the panelists – Ralph Moore – to ask some of the burning questions from our audience.
Of all the church planting movements in the world, it seems that nearly all are happening in communal societies in the Global South where people don’t deal with the complexity of the industrial or post-industrial world. Do you think movements are enabled more by social structure and context, or by the form of the church, or perhaps even both?
Church is relational on two axes, loving God and loving our neighbors. Our post-industrial world makes the second part difficult. We mostly don’t even know our neighbors let alone love them. Movements are definitely enabled by context.
That said, there is nothing to keep us from swimming against the tide. When I moved to Hawaii, no church planting movement had existed for several decades in the islands that experienced the second greatest per-capita spiritual awakening in history when the missionaries came in the late 1700s. Within three decades the church multiplication movement we sparked had enveloped the state. In 2006, the Barna Group did a study revealing 67 percent of the population called themselves Christian, up from four percent two decades earlier.
Did people become more neighborly? Absolutely. The church can and should endeavor to follow the New Testament examples which “turned the world upside down.”
What would a microchurch look like on a college campus? Are there any good examples in North America of college campuses involved in micro churches?
For decades, CRU and other campus organizations have run what are essentially microchurches. Their strengths include the disciplemaking core, relational evangelism and proximity to the people who are their mission field. They’ve been very effective while mostly failing to recognize one of their greatest strengths—their campus groups are microchurches.
A simple change of paradigm at the campus level would propel the “laypastors” they disciple into a life of leading microchurches after graduation.
Perhaps the greatest power in the microchurch movement is that while Bible studies are educational, microchurches embrace the entire dynamic of a church exemplified in Acts 2:41-47 and throughout the book of Ephesians. Microchurches also tend to multiply while Bible studies grow stale and die.
What does leadership development look like? Do you have elders over the micro churches?
For us, all leadership development has come through various disciplemaking channels. As lead pastor, I discipled our staff mostly through what might look like a book club with a spiritual side to it (we’d read four or five books together each year). Those discussions usually ran for around 2 hours with each person answering these three questions: A. What did the Spirit speak to your heart while you read the material? B. What will you do because of that? C. How can the rest of us help you or pray for you as you follow the leading of the Lord in this?
Staff members in turn ran microchurches discipling members around their lives in light of whatever teaching they received on the weekend. Microchurches multiplied as leaders discipled apprentices to replace themselves, hiving off to start new groups while leaving their apprentices to run the original group.
As the number of microchurches grew, staff members discipled the leaders in clusters around whatever book we were reading at the staff level. In both this leadership circle and in the microchurches, we used the three questions I referenced above. We found this “spiritual questions around content” model to be both scalable and infinitely reproducible. It eliminated much counseling, many programs and cost very little (purchasing a bunch of books every three or four months.
We processed and then identified the leaders of microchurches as pastors. Some chafed under the weight of the title. Our goal was to bring as many baptisms, baby dedications, funerals and weddings to the microchurch level as possible. I’d rather spend my Saturdays discipling a select few “fanatics” than doing weddings. By the way, this in no way threatened our paid staff—we found the more we enabled others, the more important we became to the process.
How do you ensure that leaders of microchurches have a Biblical worldview so that we are not making disciples who are transferring theologically faulty worldviews?
We started by teaching the Bible systematically (fun, simple but thorough) over the pulpit. We then built in-house microchurches around the weekend teaching using the questions I referenced above. At a leadership level we read the Bible together along with a host of other books, again resorting to those three questions.
No one in our system could find much room to insert heresy if they wanted to. And when we released a seasoned microchurch pastor to plant a church we knew that person very well (first qualification was that they had multiplied three microchurches). We did not use assessment tools as we had usually lived together for five to seven years before someone left to plant a church. We tended to plant larger churches. For us the concept of an intentional microchurch is new.
How does the traditional weekly preaching compare with preaching to the network of micro churches? Where does preaching fit, coming from a traditional church format?
The weekend teaching anchored our microchurch system. I’m a textual preacher, sometimes expository. Try to keep it simple and always applicable. The juxtapose between the weekend and the microchurches was central to everything. Our view was that the weekend was an equipping event while the real church happened at the micro level.
As a pastor wanting to plant micro-churches, what does it look like to maintain the biblical role of supporting your pastor financially within the church?
I believe in tithing and would try to teach on it twice each year. One time for at least two weekends in succession and again around six months later. When possible, I would pick up on it from whatever chapter of the Bible we happened to be studying. I’m a chapter-by-chapter Bible teacher.
At a microchurch level there were no salaries for our “in-house” microchurch pastors. Once someone left to plant a new church funding for the pastor was part of the budget. Our rule-of-thumb was we completely covered the salary of the church planter if we had pulled them out of business to join our staff. If they were not on staff, they would plant the church bivocationally, keeping the job they had. I believe in freelance/bivocational pastorates.
In a common region where many micro churches exist, do you have corporate gatherings? If so, what is the frequency?
In this Q&A series, I’ve written mostly about in-house microchurches. After someone left to plant a church, we maintained contact, but never did enough in that regard. It is the major failing of the churches planted by Hope Chapels.
The church has always thrived because of its diversity. Are homogenous groups an inherent weakness of microchurch?
Homogeneity is best served at the micro level. Doing so allows the larger congregation to function as a heterogeneous unit. People do like to cluster around similar backgrounds and interests. Microchurches will be homogeneous—that is their strength when it comes to evangelism.
In my mind the major point to the rise of the microchurch is the opportunity to reach into the various subcultures who are not interested in church as we know it. One criticism I have of most churches is a sort of pseudo-heterogeneity where a few people who look different than me convince me that we are reaching everybody. I’d rather plant a host of microchurches, each focused on the needs of a singular group of people.
Do you have any advice on how people reading should move forward if they feel called to planting micro churches but do not have the authority to make broad changes to their ministry contexts?
Move slowly and respectfully. We’re not called to destroy old wineskins. You should probably also remain open to the possibility that God will help you fulfill your calling as you lead a new church as an example to the old one you’re trying to restore.
Any thoughts of how to leverage groups across a city?
I’ve found it mostly a waste of time to gather a bunch of unrelated churches together for any purpose other than an outreach. There is one exception to that. Hawaii experienced a prayer movement in the early 2000s. It was led by a bunch of high school students at the beginning. Ended up with churches renting public schools across the state so believers from any, and all churches could gather for prayer for the state. This produced strong results.
On the other hand, a network of churches joining with another like-minded group always bears fruit. The Exponential mantra, “we’re better together,” makes an extremely valid point. It’s just that, to me, “together” means of one mind, rather than in one place.