Fertile once in 5 years
Fertile almost continuously
There was a time when wooden-bodied streetcars clanged their noisy way along US city streets, public schools began events with prayer, and young adults would flock to neighborhood churches to form joyful relationships. Five wars later, most young adults view institutional churches as fossils, meaningless vestiges of a bygone age. On the global scene, millions will not, or cannot, meet in church buildings, yet they eagerly participate in simple, loving, house churches. Such little churches are multiplying like rabbits in many places, and thousands are following Jesus. It requires much less time and money to start a rabbit church that multiplies easily in a church planting movement than it does to start a conventional church.
Our cities need thousands of home churches. Some will be cell groups, satellites of a larger congregation. These bodies will not be born by proselytizing from older churches, but in a movement amongst ‘post-moderns’ and led mainly by them (or whatever they don’t call themselves, these days). The time is right; many are praying fervently for the salvation of the neglected generation. Gospel workers must venture beyond the confines of tradition, stepping outside of their comfort zone. Several decades of helping house churches multiply have showed me that the following three activities can result in new home churches that multiply through God’s power.
1. Pray. Intercede for the salvation and healing of friends and family members.
- In many societies, including young adults in today’s America, most folk who come to Christ do so not through preaching but through an encounter with Him, as Saul did on his way to Damascus. It may happen through physical healing, a dream or some other work of Holy Spirit that points them to Jesus. God does these works, because believers ask Him to do so.
- Others discover the love that flows from God’s Spirit in the fellowship of a small, praying group. Individuals first meet Jesus in their spirit and later they learn what happened to them. For example, the apostles baptized new believers as soon as they repented, explaining later what it was all about, as Paul did in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 6.
- Many older Americans assume that faith grows out of doctrinal knowledge. However, the risen Christ comes to those who call on Him, making His presence felt. He comes through the written Word, answered prayer, the Holy Spirit’s conviction, love and compassion of converted friends, baptism, taking Communion, and even dreams, signs and wonders.
2. Obey. Heed Jesus’ commandments above and before all else, avoiding man-made rules and policies.
- Gather as a family or a group of two or more friends, and start simply by doing the things that Jesus has told us to do. Meet anywhere—in houses, jails, coffee shops, parks….
- Show believers and seekers how to obey Jesus’ commands out of love for Him (Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:15). At first, summarize His commands in a few basic ones, as illustrated in Acts 2:37-47. There, 3,000 new believers of the first church obeyed these seven liberating commands as they met in homes in Jerusalem. Briefly, Christ’s basic commands can be summarized as 1) Repent, believe and receive the Holy Spirit, 2) Baptize, 3) Celebrate Communion, 4) Show love by serving the needy, forgiving others, and praising God, 5) Pray, 6) Give, and 7) Teach disciples to obey Jesus.
- Believers also obey Jesus whenever they observe His apostles’ commands; for they acted with His authority. The apostles’ instructions apply Jesus’ commands to believers who are already baptized and under their shepherds’ care. Once a church is obeying Jesus’ commands, begin teaching the members the other vital duties and doctrines of the New Testament.
3. Grow. Develop four skills needed in ‘rabbit churches’.
Skill #1: Lead small group worship
- Speak to one another to strengthen, encourage and console (1 Cor. 14:3). This is the purpose of prophecy in the New Testament, and all believers can prophesy (1 Cor. 14:3, 24-25). Powerful conviction of sin and awareness of the presence of God often come to seekers in a small gathering. Over 60 New Testament “one another” commands require that believers teach one another, exhort one another, correct one another, confess faults one to another, and much more.
- Celebrate Communion. Sometimes introduce the Lord’s Supper with Paul’s guidelines in 1 Corinthians 11, and other times with different, related Bible passages such as the Passover in Exodus, Jesus’ Last Supper, and His counsel in John 6 to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life.
- Prepare children to take an active part. Let them briefly act out Bible stories together with adults, or find some other way take part in worship. Let older children disciple and train younger ones.
- Plan the week’s activities. Visit the needy, seekers, prisoners, widows and those needing counsel.
- Keep gatherings active and interactive. Sit in a circle, pray for one another, laugh, confess faults, shed tears, tell a Bible story or act one out with children’s help. Let children ask adults questions about what they learned. Plan to start daughter churches, break bread and let grace flow freely.
Skill #2: Evangelise through networks
- Immediately help new believers and seekers to communicate with their family and friends about Jesus. Let them do so mainly within their social network.
- Keep looking for the ‘sons of peace’, those whom God has prepared and who will receive you and introduce you to their family and friends.
- Avoid philosophical or doctrinal approaches to evangelism. Simply tell your testimony and make sure others learn how Jesus died for their sins, rose again to give them life, ascended into heaven, and is present now among believers through God’s Holy Spirit. Invite them to repent and put their faith in Jesus.
- Follow up repentance with baptism without needless delay. If you delay because you doubt people’s faith, such doubt is contagious and you will lose many seekers. If you receive them and their family members into the body of Christ by baptism as soon as is possible, trusting God to complete His work, then your faith will be contagious and will be able to follow up most if not all of the seekers.
- When a family or network of friends receives Christ, let them become the nucleus of a new church. Do not take them into an existing one. Always try first to form another flock, for every new believer opens a new vein of gold among his family and acquaintances.
Skill #3: Train new leaders in the way Jesus and Paul did
- Let those who led the seekers to Christ—or co-workers from the same ‘mother’ church—mentor new leaders in new churches. Help them to start shepherding their own families or circles of friends, doing what the Bible requires of every family head.
- To mentor new leaders, find out what is still lacking in their flocks, help them to deal with what they or their flocks need now, and provide studies that will help them do so. Download training materials written for new rabbit church leaders freely: www.Paul-Timothy.net.
Skill #4: Mobilizing Members to Start Daughter Churches
- ‘Lay hands’ on church members to empower them to start new churches and to mentor their leaders in those new churches.
- Aim to form a cluster of closely-knit churches, not one isolated rabbit. One small church seldom has members with all of the spiritual gifts needed to ensure the ministries that the New Testament requires, and it may become ingrown and defensive. Thus, rabbit churches must cooperate in loving harmony with other rabbits nearby, serving collectively as the Body of Christ.
- The biblical word ‘church’ meant not only the universal Body of Christ and local flocks, but also churches interacting in a given area. Few church buildings appeared in history until nearly three centuries after Christ. The ‘church’ in Ephesus, like the one in Jerusalem, consisted of a network of tiny flocks.
- Let the churches of an area gather occasionally to celebrate, to report what God is doing, and to plan projects in which all the flocks participate. Limit such inter-church body life to an area no larger than what allows all of the believers to gather occasionally for fellowship. Such gatherings should not be political and normally require no constitution, by-laws, budget or even elected officials.