November 1st, 2015 was a historic day for Barbara and me. In many ways it was uneventful. Six friends came to our house to share about the scriptures, eat a meal together and sing. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. What made this day unique (at least to us) was that we were participating in our first house church meeting as "From House to House" ministries.
We had arrived in Clemson, SC from South Florida in mid August. At that time, we began attending the Clemson Foothills church. The Foothills church is a young, vibrant church of around 60 (mostly college students) led by Keith and Abby Winship. We had spoken with the leaders in the Foothills church before deciding to move here explaining our intention to "experiment" with the pattern of church laid out in the bible. Courageously, they welcomed us and expressed their desire to help out in any way they could. Over the course of the next couple months we got to know the members of the Foothills church. We were able to teach on what we were planning to do and why. The leadership graciously and unselfishly encouraged us to invite members from the Foothills church that desired to join us on this journey. After a few weeks of discussions and prayer 5 members from the Foothills church decided to join us. Near the end of October we had an exciting "send off" from the Foothills church.
This all may sound very "normal", but there is one key distinction-we are a separate church from the Foothills church. We are not just a family group, Bible Talk or even a house church within the Foothills church, but a completely new church fellowship in the small town of Clemson. We will make our own decisions and have our own finances. And yet we are completely unified in Christ with each other. We cooperate, cheer each other on, plan to worship together on occasions and even like each other. We will have regular times with the members of the Foothills church to help each other grow in Christ. Just this week, because of a tragic death that occurred in the Foothills church, our house church wants to support and encourage the brothers and sisters at Foothills, so we will attend their midweek. This is all sincere and from-the-heart activity that I am describing.
It is important to clarify that we did not "plant" our church because we were angry, hurt or do not like someone in the Foothills church. As far as I know (at least in the USA), this is historic for our fellowship. I am not aware of a church being started in the same city (where a church in our fellowship already exists) with the blessing and encouragement of the existing church. Hats off to the Clemson Foothills church for recognizing that the Spirit works in many different ways and that spiritual unity does not depend on institutional unity!
While this may be unusual or even historic, it should not be. If we have learned anything, we have learned that just because we are in the same institution does not mean we are unified in Christ. In the same way, just because we are not in the same instition does not mean that we can't be unified in Christ. This may indeed be the most important part of our "experiment"-that brothers and sisters with different methodologies and even in different churches can be unified in Christ.
Some may ask "Why is this necessary?" Part of the experiment will be answering this question. I will, however, give some brief comments. First of all, we must realize that 65 million Americans do not desire to be a part of church as we know it (Josh Packard-"Church Refugees"). If we are to reach these people it will take different ways of "doing" church. Our current methodologies do not appeal to a large segment of our population. In addition, we should note that bigger and older churches rarely grow as fast as new plantings. I believe our current philosophy of "one church, one city" is limiting what God can do. Many of our largest cities also have large and relatively old churches. For the most part, even with very talented and experienced leaderships, their growth is slow. Imagine if we allowed our younger men to plant churches in these cities with our support. Church growth experts recognize that the way to grow is to plant new churches (Peter Wagner-"Church Planting for a Greater Harvest"). Our current church planting methodology is way too limited and expensive (we only planted 15 churches in our fellowship in 2014). We have both a wealth of seasoned "veterans" and talented young men who could be sent out and have tremendous impact! Many do not even need to be paid by the church-just given our encouragement! Of course, the main reason to do this is because we believe it is a very effective way to convey God's love (more on this important topic to come).
I believe the Spirit is telling us to open our minds to new possibilities before us. The answers to our challenges lie with God and with the Spirit-filled brothers and sisters in our fellowship. Many are yearning for opportunities to put into practice what God has put on their hearts. May many imitate the faith, humility and courage of the Foothills church and let the brothers and sisters chase the "Wild Goose"!