A snapshot of a truly relational community might show believers…
- sitting in a circle
- praying for one another
- teaching one another spontaneously
- comforting one another
- strengthening one another
- confessing faults
- wiping tears
- discussing Bible passages (you would seldom hear a pulpit monologue)
- telling or acting out Bible stories with the help of children
- asking questions about what they have learned and how they will put it into practice
- leaders mentoring newer leaders
- planning their week’s activities
- planning to start “daughter” communities
- eating snacks or a meal together
- breaking bread
Many of Jesus’ followers prefer a faith community that reaches into their lives and touches their families, having no interest in attending institutional events. However, manyhave not found such community. Why not?Over the past three generations,many American churches became formal, religious organizations similar to what has happened in other industrialized countries. Back when wooden-bodied streetcars clanged their noisy way along North America’s city streets, public school events began with prayer, and young adults flocked to neighborhood churches to socialize and form enjoy friendships. Six wars later, most young Americans view institutional churches as fossils, meaningless vestiges of a bygone age.
However, look beyond America and a more cheering picture emerges. In the majority world, millions will not or cannot meet in church buildings, yet eagerly participate in loving, relationalcommunities. Home churches are multiplying like rabbits, bringing millions to Jesus wherever believers are praying fervently for the salvation of friends and relatives. All cities need thousands of rabbit churches, which normally cost almost nothing to start, and can reproduce rapidly.
The following guidelines will enable you tostart and to develop relational communities, whether you call it church or a cell group within a larger congregation.
1. Pray for relational community.
Most people who come to Christ do so not through preaching but through an encounter with Him, as Saul did on his way to Damascus. This may involve physical healing, a dream or some other work of Holy Spirit that points people to Jesus. God does these works because believers ask Him to do so.
People respond to the love that flows from God’s Spirit in a small group. Some people first meet Jesus in their spirit and later learn what happened to them. The apostles baptized new believers as soon as they repented and explained later what it was all about.
Older Westerners often assume that faith must grow out of first learning basic biblical doctrines, often from a preacher. This assumption can prove devastating. The risen, ascended Christ is here among us and makes His presence felt not only through the written Word but also through the love and compassion of converted family members or friends, as well as through prayer, the Holy Spirit’s conviction, baptism, Communion, and even visions, signs and wonders.
2. Do all that the New Testament requires of a church, including baptizing and celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
When you start a community, avoid traditional practices and rules that are not explicitly required in the New Testament. This might require strict discipline, because habits die hard.
3. Keep church life Simple.
Start out simply by obey Jesus above and before all else, avoiding man-made rules and traditions. Gather as a family or a group of two or more friends andstart practicing what Jesus told us to do. Meet anywhere—in houses, jails, coffee shops or parks—and let folk obey Jesus’ commands out of love for Him (Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:15).
You can summarize Jesus’ commands in seven basic ones, illustrated in Acts 2:37-47. There,3,000 new believers of the first church began at once to obey these liberating commands as they met in homes in Jerusalem. Briefly, they are 1) Repent, believe and receive the Holy Spirit, 2) Baptize, 3) Celebrate Communion, 4) Love, including serving the needy, forgiving and praising God, 5) Pray, 6) Give, and 7) Teach disciples to obey.
Believers also obey Jesus by observing His apostles’ commands. They wrote with His authority, but their commands are not the foundation. The apostles’ commands build on Jesus’ commands, in order to helpbaptized believers apply Jesus’instructions.
4. Adapt worship to a Small Group
“All” members of a group are to “prophesy” (1 Cor.14:24), which, in the context of a small group, means speaking to others to strengthen, encourage and console (1 Cor. 14:3). Powerful conviction of sin and awareness of the presence of God often come to newcomers in a small gathering when believers are speaking to each other in this way(1 Cor.14:3, 24-25). 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 more.
5. Celebrate Communion in a way that helps participants sense the Presence of Christ.
Let the Lord’s Supper be, as Paul said, a participation in the very body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). Introduce itby citingrelated 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, and Paul’s guidelines for the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11.
6. Prepare children beforehand to take an active part.
Let children briefly participate in worship in some way, such as acting out Bible stories together with adults. Let older children help the younger prepare their part.
7. Plan the coming week’s activities.
8. Shownew believers and seekers how to communicate their desire and faith to relatives and friends.
Work within each new believer’s network.Where you do not know the people well, look for the ‘sons of peace’(Luke 10:6) that God has prepared, those who introduce you to friends or follow your counsel as they reach out to family and friends.
9. Evangelize in the way the apostles did.
Avoid philosophical and doctrinal approaches to evangelism; rather give your testimony, pray in Jesus’ name when people need healing, and make sure others know that Jesus died for their sins, rose again to give them life, and is present now among us through God’s Holy Spirit.
Follow up repentance with baptism without needless delay; to delay signals your doubt about them, which is contagious and discourages 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; every new believer opens a new vein of gold among his family and acquaintances.
10. Coach New Leaders in the Way Jesus and Paul Did
Help newly believing heads of families start shepherding their own household or circle of friends at once. The Bible requires this of any family head.
To coach new leaders, find out what is still lacking in their flocks, then help them to plan to deal with that lack, and to study what they need to learn in order to do so.
11. Let any new believer start a new relational community
“Lay hands” on members to empower them to start new churches.
12. Aim at forming a cluster of closely-knit churches.
One isolated rabbitchurch would lack some of the spiritual gifts needed to do all vital ministries, and it would remain isolated and grow weak. Let rabbit churches cooperate with other rabbits nearby, serving as the regional Body of Christ. The New Testament often uses the word “church”to meana cluster of congregations in a region.
13. Let churches of an area gather occasionally to celebrate, report what God is doing, and plan shared projects.