Tiny is the New Small

Church for some of us happens in TINY increments, TINY spaces and sometimes with TINY amounts of people. It happens many times a week and many times a day when the various aggregations of God’s people come together around coffee or taking care of business or helping someone and especially at mealtimes. It happens more often in my kitchen than in my study. Our “oikos”, or extended family, changes daily depending on who is eating with us or staying with us that day, but it is still a tiny cellular unit that finds variety and visibility only when connected to other oikoses like it. Then it is seen as an integral part of the church in our city. . . .ok . . . town.

ImagesIt is not always tiny – sometimes it is HUGE – like when we camp out at nation-wide festivals with thousands of others. But for the most part, it is tiny and often not recognized as “church” by those who attend a traditional-style church that is defined by a two hour meeting on Sunday. Simple/organic church people have got a cold shoulder from “church” leaders for a decade. Singularity frowns on modularity. They are considered a threat to the system. They are called “house church” but that doesn’t really fit what they [we] are doing. Its not house church and its not “small groups” and its not rebellion against church. Its attempting to BE the church as God intended it.

Even in the emerging church, finding people who understand that is not an easy task. Nor is it an attractive proposition – if you want to be a well known conference speaker or a local pastor with CLOUT in your denomination which measures success in the cold-war terms of size, weight and longevity (Friedman), then a shift to the emerging-missional-organic church is a VERY BAD CAREER MOVE. It may be great for the Kingdom, but it will NOT pimp your image or make you money or get you on the speaker list at conferences – Most conferences only invite speakers who RE-INFORCE their existing model which in most Christian circles, is the centralized ecclesial model with a tithing system, a set of buildings that need butt-filling and an army of M.Div Seminary graduates who need a position as pastor in the kind of church that theological education has trained them for. Not saying that system is bad, but I am saying it is DIFFERENT and difference is a threat that the promoters of that system do not want to deal with.

Co-existence is possible, however. And so is the possibility of the various models blessing each other. In recent interviews, Brian McLaren and George Barna show great understanding of this issue.

Brian: “I also believe that we need spontaneous neighborhood faith communities that will not be able to afford a paid pastor, nor will they need one.” HT: Fred

George: “To do: really emphasize how it is that you are preparing each family unit to be the church”

Both men will be speaking at Off The Map Nov 3-4, which looks like a conference that bucks the trend.

Petri3-1Jesus talks about the Kingdom like yeast – tiny, hidden, invisible, yet it works its way through every part of the lump. Its not about the big hits and the sensational events and the ridiculous amounts of people that attend your programs, despite all those bios you read on book covers and conference invitations. Church happens in tiny spaces where no one notices. It is rhizomic, like couch grass and potatoes. Its NOT a big deal to people but it IS a big deal to God.

The missionary Roland Allen said, in a 1930’s letter to his sponsors who were asking for big stories,

“I do not trust spectacular things. Give me the seed growing secretly every time.”

And as Steve Jobs would say, “One more thing . . .”

– my esteemed CMS colleague Richard White of Liverpool and I putting down some thoughts and plans for 2007 – a series of training experiences and web resources that will assist the emerging church to step into its next season. This will be UK based but other countries are invited to participate with us. You will hear more about this in the near future but if this interests you, if this is YOUR BAG, and you might be willing to help, then leave a comment below with a link to either email or your blog.

Related:

Massive is the New Big (the other side of this coin)

Like a Rhizome Cowboy

House Churches Have No Sex Appeal

Yeast, Bud Emergence and Kingdom

– And read this blog entry to see if measuring the emerging church needs a . . .

Carsonianorbarnonian-1-1

– A recent book by Paul Viera called Jesus Has Left The Building says it well.

– Wolfgang Simpson releases a new book on November 10 that says it again. This will be the “big brother” book to his Houses That Change the World. And yes, I am reading the manuscript for his new book right now.

– DAWN USA have some good resources on their Simple Church page.

Technorati Tags: ,

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

40 Comments

  • G’day Andrew,
    Twice recently I have had people in my church say to me, “I like our church. It’s small and like a family.” One part of me leaps with joy and says, “Great, they have found their spiritual home on earth.” Another part of me gets angry because of the self-ceneredness of such a statement – like there’s no room here now for new people.
    Wayne

  • hi Wayne.
    we both know that God wants his house to be full. I believe multiplication is better than addition. There is always room at the table for new people but those new people should be learning to transform their own houses into lighthouses. People need to pass it forward and not get addicted to having someone else do it all for them.
    does that line up with your thinking?

  • Hi Andrew
    I guess both you and Richard are aware that this is ‘my bag’, as you put it, so keep me posted and count me in if there’s ways I can hook up with what you’re doing.
    Cheers

  • Great post, wise, concise, clear, inspiring, humble and educating. This is why I keep coming back for more at tallskinikiwi.
    Our cafe Terra Nova is church on the periferal. we are small church, happening in Santiago over coffee, beer, or meals in our homes and those of others. We are looking for EU volunteers and praying for God to save the cafe. We are understaffed and overworked. If you know willing servants who habla espanol please put the word out!
    Gracias tio por todo que haces aqui!!

  • In the USA there are far more churches that have more in common with your kitchen gathering than the “successful” gathering that get the press. I believe that there qare over 100,000 church that are 50 or less. No granted they are generally not missional and have a host of other issues. The church I serve is at the 80th percentile, and we are only 260 on average.
    It would be the height of arrogance to assume that all who seek Jesus will fit into the traditional paradigm of the church. House churches, or however they are described are going to increase. As they should.

  • Hi Andrew, I have been lurking at the edges of your blog for a while… but now it is time to stick my hand up and say…
    this is definitely my bag!
    i am involved in something that is exploring this way of being church and it is great/challenging/un-nerving/exciting/tiny.
    so yes please get in touch, and would love to help if i can.
    PS we do have a blog but kinda wanna keep it private, that ok?

  • Hey Andrew,
    I would love to be involved in something like what you’ve just described, even if only from the peripheral to watch how you guys work/think/interact/etc, as I know I’m much younger than most of the people you’re probably trying to reach with this!!

  • are you younger/
    my kids are key players in our “church” – some are teens and some younger. they are running some of the events and my son helps me teach at suddenly seminary – he has been doing that since he was about 12.
    one of the greatest worship installations we did was when he designed a whole area – he was 7 at the time.

  • TSK On Living Church

    I was reading Andrew Jones´ (a.k.a. Tall Skinny Kiwi) blog this morning and I really enjoyed it. It talks of living church. What he talks of here resonates with me. This is the approach to church that I feel most

  • I hear you Andrew – multiplication – yep.
    Both of these people were newish Christians and were loving being a part of the family God always wanted them to have. Our job as their family is to disciple them out of their self-centerdness with grace.
    Cheers for the reminder mate. I’m glad I logged on!

  • Having been a part of larger institutional churches most of my Christian life, I just recently took the started attending a simple church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area called Awakening.
    I went just to explore what simple church looked like. I didn’t plan to join or become part of the community. I was actually quite happy in the church I attended.
    Something happened. I was completely hooked. I was refreshed. I went back the next week, then the next… I guess I really should let my old church know that I’m going to another gathering.. but I doubt they’ve noticed I’m not there. 🙂
    Our weekly gathering has helped me regain my passion for Jesus like I haven’t experienced in a long time.
    I do ministry among the Homeless in Dallas and feel like God is leading me to explore moving beyond that into discipling and eventually starting simple churches among the homeless.
    I love traditional churches, but I’m really enjoying the simple church approach.
    Thanks for helping point the way. It was partly because of your posts in the past that I decided to explore the simple church model.

  • Andrew,
    I was really excited to read this post when I got to work this morning. Some of my buddies and I who have been birthing these small communities for the past few years have recently recognized how the focus in the emerging church is shifting from conversation to collaboration. The collaboration, however, is very much underground, because as you have so rightly pointed out, none of us lead groups substantial enough size-wise for anyone to care. In my opinion, that is a wonderful blessing. Having “clout” usually means our kingdoms get bigger instead of God’s.
    Next week I’m flying to Peru to visit a new friend and his family who are starting simple churches in Arequipa. Sadly, they have been getting a lot of criticism from other missionaries / church planters, none of whom are from Peru. They are hosting a retreat for over 100 pastors and their families the week I will be there and supposedly some of these other missionaries will be in attendance. Pray I get a chance to be a bridge builder and represent what God is doing in his kingdom.
    Definitely keep me posted on what you’re doing next year. Sounds really interesting.

  • Andrew, thanks for the encouragement! I’m 19. God uses us at all ages, for which I’m thankfull. Keep me posted, would be great to be involved!

  • What an encouraging and timely post today. Thank you. I have been struggling knowing that it’s in the small that God sees BIG, but feeling like I’m left behind, in some senses, in the ministry popularity(?) vote. Especially in the models that you’ve mentioned above. In reality I would rather meet people where they are and love and BE church, but somedays, like today, I appreciate the reminder. Thanks Andrew.

  • what your talking about just sounds so exciting and scary as anything
    in my work here in the uk i really feel god calling me and my wife to reach out and build his kingdom in the estate that we live in and with the familys of young people that i work with as a youth worker.
    Although the church that we are working with and are backed by supports this at times it feels like as i am a lay person my ministry and mission should be limited to just the children and young people and when it comes to adult a colar needs to be involved, the problem is the colars seem to then limit mission and ministry to doing a new family service.
    I would be really interessted in finding out more about the movement and idea’s about how simple churchs can be started can be outreaching, how it works as one or two in a new area wanting to reach out to new relationships and familys with the kingdom.
    also could you recomend a good book as an introduction to simple church or the house church movement. i would like to read myself but i have a pastor friend who needs a good introduction to the ideas and examples as well as a couple to would be house church leaders in his flock that his interessted in releasseing as church planters who it could point in the right direction.
    godbless matt

  • I would love to be updated and involved. We are part of a … TINY 🙂 church. we have two house churches, and when we meet together, it is far from traditional, I suppose.
    The vision is great… the growth, not. Which can be frustrating, but at the same time, you do what you believe God is leading you towards, and allow God to do His thing! I’d love to be involved in anyway. Thanks.

  • hey mate
    when are you coming to perth next year?
    we want to have some fun with you while you’re here – if you’re up for it!
    Hamo

  • Great thoughts – seems the business world is seeing the same thing as Seth Godin has recently written his book “Small is the new Big” and it talks about many of these same things.

  • TSK – Thanks for the clue-in on the upcoming training experiences that you and Richard White are looking into. I’d love to be involved…I was a distance-ed M.Div student until I got tired of training for a job I didn’t want and didn’t have enough cash at the time for what Brian Mclaren and Ron Martoia started up over at velocityculture.com. 🙂 (though that intrigued me to no end)
    blessings to you and yours

  • Thanks for the informative reflection on ‘House Church’ or ‘whatever’ as I call it! Very true, also enjoyed the ‘no sex appeal’ article. Made me laugh in regards to what you wrote about traditional church planting. That was a mirror image of what happaned to us when we planted in a traditional way in the mid 90’s.

  • hamo – no dates in mind as yet but keep some extra charcoal handy for the bbq
    jerry – my blog-post title is a spin off from Seth’s book. but the church has been talking about “small” since the 70’s. Tiny is different – more cellular.

  • andrew,
    thanks for popping by the ashram recently. the resourcing ideas interest us greatly…sherry and i are in the process of birthing a forge/re:source-type project here in Lexington. we are travelling to Melbourne next year (7 month stay) to learn from Al and the Forge team about how they have done things and hopefully find a way to translate it for our context.
    …and please email me if you are interested in more ‘ashram’ information. it has been a side-hobby for a few years and i would love to see it used again as a missional space.
    peace.

  • Andrew
    A really encouraging post. I will probably email you also, but would love the chance to be involved. We left IC about a year ago to do/be something new. We have a small group which meets in our house sometimes and often find Church happening around the kitchen table with various different groups of people.
    But there are many times when I feel alone and disconnected and wonder if it was a good move after all. We get weighed down with ‘pastoral’ problems and sometimes even the people we meet with don’t really have a good understanding of being rather than going to Church. elhp!

  • Two questions
    was just wondering if you are thinking of doing anything more in the line of suddenly seminary in the future it sounded like a cool thing
    Secondly i’ve been reading some of your past writtings on house church and would love to hear you expand on the idea of taking house church from our house to their house, “who are ‘they'” how do you find yourself at ‘their’ house what does it look like in their house the politics of church in their house, what if they don’t get it.
    just wondering where i can find more idea’s like that.

  • Great post pardner.
    One of the things that I love about the yeast parable (which was probably mentionned in your other post) is that Jesus didn’t say “yeast” (as in the stuff we buy in packets), he said “leaven”. So it’s a tiny bit of yesterdays’ dough that externally looks identical to today’s dough, but has a secret, living ingredient that will transform any other dough it spends enough time with.

  • tiny, the new small…from Tall Skinny

    This post from Andrew Jones, I think casts more light into my previous entry, Emergent gardeners…in spirit and truth. Andrew talks about tiny as being the new small. I think there is more going on today than we realize, so

  • tiny, the new small…from Tall Skinny

    This post from Andrew Jones, I think casts more light into my previous entry, Emergent gardeners…in spirit and truth. Andrew talks about tiny as being the new small. I think there is more going on today than we realize, so

  • A.
    It was a long scroll down but add me to the “bag”
    Your local (“geographical”)Highlander.
    Good to see you back after the sabatical!

  • Andrew,
    I really do want to buy into the informal, church-anytime-anywhere kind of vision I think you are presenting. My question is, do you feel that NT commands to appoint elders was culturally bound and therefore unnecessary in all churches? I struggle over that one. If we can’t dispense with elders/overseers (and I suppose it should be noted that biblically these people are not merely equippers but also authorities), then can we really do church in this way?

  • there are so many things i love about being the church together around the table, or on our front porch, or in a cafe. possibly my favorite part is that all our kids, aged 7-19, love being the church with us too.

  • This post is going in a yummy direction- thought i’d chip in fae edinburgh- picking up on 2 things:
    1. hints at a kind of focus towards: micro-transformation (seeds/pockets of ‘doing’ non-sectarian church in the city/country-town)
    2. how new job description for ‘elders’ might work in this new landscape (elders who ‘tend’ creation/ ‘tend’ the city/town
    as a space for the growth of the saints there – rather than tending a sect landscape of christian sects/festivals and institutions – ahem even emerging ones)
    1. A few of us in edinburgh who have come ‘from’ emerging church scene and moved out of it now – are experimenting with a ‘creation’ starting point: so that we affirm our ontological being of church as being creation ‘itself’ As one friend put it – the city IS our congregation.
    My experience of 20yrs of about every fad of modern christianity – is that ‘doing’ church (without starting in creation first – engaging with its particular gifts and pains) always ends up as a remix of a sectarian past – ‘a sect in new alt. or emerging clothes’ –
    we have to play a completely new game I think on a healthier (more biblical) context – jesus didn’t plant a church or start a worship service he risked everything to kickstart a whole movement across israel.. he started in a real place –
    in creation: it was called ‘galilee’
    and searched through all it’s towns/spheres of life there.. for the saints
    what does this mean practically here?
    1. for the last 2 years we have been treating/acting out this plan: each sphere of your city (or town) itself is a congregation
    arts
    social justice/health
    media
    business
    gov
    law
    education
    the saints in each sphere ‘already’ bungee jumping into the’land’ there
    with their dreams to transform that wee bit hill n glen.. of the arts, or club scene, or media, or education, or kids in estates..
    they are your elders!
    this is not as far fetched as it sounds – biblically elders were the ones inside the gates of the city – they know deeply – it’s greatest pains – it’s greatest gifts – and are already KNOWN and RESPECTED BY BY THE PEOPLE THERE.
    In Edinburgh – we have found saints in club scene, arts, education, gov, .. 15 projects and support nets have been kicked off this year there (we have a trust with money to support these off radar-creation based elders – who would normally be working without any support – isolated – 3 p/t tentmaking jobs – many of you know the score)
    these elders are what I call ‘creation’ based (sent to tend creation a s spaces in the city able to grow saints) as opposed to sectarian based) elders appointed to tend sects.
    one other thing,an incredibly important thing – ‘city’ elders positioned to tend in each sphere – HAVE NO REASON TO BE IN COMPETITION
    saints in arts help saints in biz help saints in social justice and health in a city- have EVERY REASON TO WORK IN UNITY – to heal/transform the city/town.
    elders appointed to tend the sect (I include house/alt./emerging ones off and online) are setup to be in competition – christianity in scotland anyway – is a vast landscape of competing sects.
    around 20 non-sectarian saint networks, projects are in edinburgh connecting across about 4 of the spheres so far – 15 of them have been funded/launched in the past year – since we decided to affirm/encourage saints (elders) and their dreams in each space ..
    if anything – we pray more, struggle to understand theologically more, work together more,
    wired patterns are emerging..
    we noticed that when saints in arts are connecting with saints in social justice and saints in biz ansd education.. not only sparks start to fly and a greater sense of being a body across the city (ie an ontological body of christ ‘already’ IN and across creation)
    several are starting up small busines so we can fund a culture that can support the dreams of the saints more and more – citywide- across edinburgh.. (or saints will be stuck with dreams that can’t get off the ground- condemned to endless conferences and no courage ‘covenant’ or ‘will’ among the saints to ACT across the city’s body that they are responsible for.

  • paul – great comment
    “the city IS our congregation.” – this is the same thinking as me – but i refer to is as emerging church thinking – since we often do not attend a service, especially when we are on the road.
    church in my town/city – yes.
    hey – i was thinking of you today – i spoke at a nursing home on the convenanter of scotland and took stuff from james renwick at the scaffold, singing from Ps 103. i thought of you . ..

Leave a Reply