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Paying Obeisance to Planned Obsolescence.
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A diabolically clever marketing concept is one referred to as " Planned Obsolescence." This can be defined as the conscious decision on the part of a retailer to produce products that will become obsolete and/or non-functional within a defined time frame. This causes consumers to have to buy the product repeatedly, as their old one is no longer functional or desirable. From cars to computers, commerce to clothing, the marketing world has been taking advantage of - and in many cases, creating - the consumer's short attention span since the 1920's when mass production became a part of our everyday lives.
Where the House Church Movement is concerned, Planned Obsolescence is a concept worth considering.
With so many people hopping aboard the House Church ship, with them are coming legions of attitudes, misconceptions, traditions, spiritual wounds, emotional baggage, and manmade liturgies that are being transferred to living rooms from Legacy churches across the globe. It's quite common for attendees to merely replace the traditional church they came from with somebody's den. The tendency is to pick one's place on the couch and settle-in, at least until the House Church Honeymoon is over when somebody or some "thing" rubs us the wrong way.
Author/speaker Frank Viola says the average House Church only lasts from 6 months to 2 years. If he's correct, what some people might refer to as frequent Church splits or even failures are, in reality, frequent Church multiplication opportunities.
In his book, "The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity," author Robert Fitts writes, "If we put regular church splits into our plans and our prayers, we will be gloriously happy, and everyone will be blessed when a split occurs. Every house church is born pregnant. Our vision from the very first day is that we will give birth to a baby church...The vision for Saturation Church planting is to have Christ's presence in every little neighborhood in every city in every country in the world..."
David Watson of City Team Ministries said, "It's absolutely essential that lay people start churches."
Unfortunately, too often, we merely model what we've seen in traditional church...that includes the nightmares that accompany a church split.
A STORY OF CHURCH MULTIPLICATION
Beth lives 35 minutes away from Ted and Jane McElroy's home where their house church meets each week. She lives in a very rural area and doesn't mind the drive through the country to get to her church family.
Recently, she has grasped the concept of being Trained, Equipped and Released. In her desire to do her part in multiplying The Church, she has been planting seeds and bringing up the subject of House Church within her sphere of influence as the Spirit leads. A divorced, single mother of two girls, Alice, has shown an interest in learning more. Alice claims, "It's too hard for me to get my kids ready for church on Sunday. I come home late from waiting tables at a club and, after I pick up the kids from mom and dad's, I just don't have it in me to get up and get my girls ready on Sunday morning." The concept of House Church appeals to Alice. She admires what Beth has - a relationship with Christ that seems real, natural and attractive to her.
One day, Beth tells Alice, "If you want, I have some friends who can explain House Church a whole lot better than I can. Why don't I bring lunch and, if you can get some people together who might want to know about it, we can come over and explain it..."
Alice agrees. Sunday is her day off. Beth helps her compile a list of friends she might invite and they make arrangements for lunch the next Sunday. That afternoon, Beth contacts Bert and Ernie, two leaders from the House Church group at the McElroy's. The following Sunday, after confirming the meeting, Bert, Ernie and Beth drive over to Alice's parent's home. Alice had called Beth early in the week to inform her of the change because her parent's home was bigger. When they arrive, not only is Alice there with her parents and daughters, but several friends from work showed up, one with her husband, and a neighbor, too. In all, there were eight adults and two children in the house. Beth brought food and Alice did, too, so there was plenty of eating and relationship building. A few of those in attendance sipped cold beer with their lunch.
Finally, Bert gets everyone's attention and begins to explain why they came. He likes to show an inspiring DVD on House Church that he bought from House2House.net. Afterward, Bert and Ernie field questions. Beth helps. The Spirit was present and, when they prayed before they left, there were many tears. In the days ahead, the three would eventually make return trips for teaching and equipping the group. Ultimately, the new group will follow Beth's example and find themselves multiplying. Beth had decided to remain with this new group, deciding it was better that she pour into her spiritual community rather than commute. Occasionally, she rejoins her friends at the Mcelroy's and, as needed, Bert and Ernie gladly travel to Beth's new Church for teaching or fellowship. Eventually, out of that new Church plant, three more Churches are planted in other small rural communities. More are expected.
So, what happened at the McElroy's House Church when Beth traveled with Bert and Ernie to a house 35 minutes away on their group's own meeting day - to speak with Alice? The Church interceded for their absent friends, that's what, praying for the success of their outreach. They ate, some testified about sharing their faith that week, they talked, some laughed, children played. They acted like the family they had become and celebrated the very first potential church plant to come out of their group as they were witnessing the advancing of the kingdom firsthand. They happily discussed the transformation they had all observed in Beth's life and how proud they were that she was the first, though the least-likely, in their group to try and plant a Church. One lively topic of conversation started when Jane excitedly asked who among them would be 'next" to plant a Church and if it would be in a Church in a home, apartment, office, dorm or coffee house.
The McElroy Church, Alice's Church, and all the new Church off-shoots, occasionally get together when a traveling minister comes to town, when a worship group comes to a local city, or to have what's called " a meeting of the work" - or a meeting of the clans - similar to what the apostle Paul held in Troas.
And on and on The Church grows, becoming a megachurch without walls.
If taken to its logical extension, the day could come when every original member of the McElroy Church would have planted a church of their own - maybe more than one - to the point where, eventually, not a single person who started there remained there a few years later. The McElroy's themselves relocated and started another church in their home somewhere else. Every original member has multiplied the group's Kingdom impact by embracing the multiplication concept and purposely allowing themselves, by design, to become obsolete as a group, all the while remaining the Family of God.
Impossible? Unimaginable? Consider: what ever happened to the Church that met at Lydia's House from Acts 16, the very first Church in Europe? Did they fade into oblivion, or does YOUR current House Church belong to their family tree? How many House Churches across the globe can claim that direct pedigree?
Though the story of Beth, Alice and the McElroy church was fictitious, these things ARE happening all over the world. With the House Church Movement in America still in its infancy, only now are Christians beginning to catch the vision. Not so in other nations like China, for instance.
In 1990, Ministries Magazine ran something called "The Caleb Report" by Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM, in their Jan/Feb issue. Cunningham wrote, regarding the unparalleled revival in China's House Church Movement, "When I was in Hong Kong not long ago, Jonathan Chao, founder of the Chinese Church Research Center, told me how the Chinese Revival is being spread by young people, mostly ages 15 to 19. The teenagers go to villages and share the Gospel where it has never been heard before. As converts are organized into small groups, the teens call for the "elders" (believers in their twenties) to come and teach the newly formed church while the younger Christians go on to reach the next village...By this simple means the good news is leaping across the fields and mountains of China."
Did you notice? Nobody who plants a Church stays very long. Nobody gets comfortable, thereby eliminating many of the Church issues we face in the Western Church. They set an example for new converts to follow and the newbies learn by example. As a result, according to the U.S. Center for World Missions, more than 22,000 Chinese are becoming Christians EVERY DAY.
If we expect to see similar growth in the House Churches of America, Church saturation and purposeful multiplication must be taken to heart as core, foundational principles.
ONE SMALL CONCERN
Where Planned Obsolescence is concerned, there is one potential drawback worth considering, that is, the potential backlash of educated consumers when they become aware of the concept. Such savvy buyers might shed their loyalty and wind up buying what they perceive to be a more durable product. Where Christianity is concerned, for many, that "product" may be the trusty ol' Legacy Church on the corner. Perhaps this explains why so many of the estimated 70 million-plus Americans who have participated in House Church have either returned to the traditional setting or remain with one foot in the traditional model while attending a House Church. According to George Barna's research, 72% of House Church participants said they were satisfied with the sense of community they were experiencing (what's going on with the other 28%?). Despite so many satisfied customers, according to Barna's 2006 House Church survey results, 66-78% of all adults who attend House Church ALSO attend a conventional style church and 6 out of 10 people who attend House Church consider the conventional church to be their primary church....not a bad thing, but it makes one wonder why they can't, or won't, make the break.
I recently heard from a Church planter about a house he was invited to speak at where he found all the chairs in rows. The room was complete with an altar, communion elements and a bulletin..."Honey, I shrunk the Church!" Church multiplication cannot occur in such an environment. Living room liturgies don't allow for the freedom to grow. Wolfgang Simpson wrote something about placing two elephants in a room and two rabbits in another and, in a year's time, there might be another elephant but there would surely be many more rabbits. Get it?
The New Testament House Church model is a far superior product, I believe. Nevertheless, it was here once, and flourishing, but vanished, for the most part. Why? What did they do wrong that we are doing better? Are we immune to FORCED obsolescence? They had the "A-Team" consisting of Paul and Peter, James, Barnabas, et al. I contend that it's our failure to advance the Kingdom through multiplication methods, choosing instead to revel in the relative brevity of sweet fellowship and friendly confines, that causes House Churches to become stagnant, introspective, thus opening the door for strife and discord.
After all, when water isn't flowing, it can become putrid.
A servant of God
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