New Wineskins

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a slow but deep change happening in the “local” church.  People are wanting more depth and relationship and less organized 9am classroom.  I think this is a HUGE move in the right direction.

Millions of people have left the current church structure and mostly it’s due to two things.  Hypocrisy and past injury by the church.  In an article on Barna (a leading research group on the church and the culture within it) it is stated, “one Barna study among unchurched adults shows that nearly four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.”  To me that is more that just a small issue.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to podcasts, talking to people on forums, instant messaging and emailing people who have left the church due to spiritual abuse or other issues.  I’ve seen the same patterns over and over again and the only way to break patterns is to build new ones.  Often getting out of the rut we are in means literally jumping tracks and for a period in time that can look like a literal train wreck.  I believe we are about to experience that in the American church.

A few years back, there was a movement towards “house churches” or “cell groups” in the church… I believe God orchestrated this.  No matter how small a church is, it can always be strengthened by having others in your home.  Having a meal together, sitting on a couch and talking about life.  I truly believe this is what God wanted the church to look like and why it grew so quickly in Acts.  The very people who won’t walk into a church on a Sunday morning will happily accept an invitation to dinner on a Thursday or Friday night.  The ones who are full of wisdom and grace that you never hear a peep from on a Sunday morning (because they aren’t given the opportunity or are not a pastor or teacher) are the ones you will sit beside and be sharpened by.  When it comes down to the saying “iron sharpens iron”, I ask… how can it be sharpened if it never touches?

I know in my own experiences, that when we were in a small group, we got to know one another deeper and faster.  Friendships grew.  Accountability became real because we knew each other better, and those who were marginalized were drawn in as family by people who otherwise wouldn’t say hello to them on a street.   It’s where the church did it’s finest work.  It was also where people got hurt deeply at times, and you saw maturity (or the lack thereof) come into play.  I think in a way that’s why it’s both amazing and dangerous.  I think that’s why we need to ditch the giant cathedrals and trade them in for worn sofas and homes that were only cleaned an hour ago because company was coming.

My challenge this week is this – Read Acts.  All of it.  Then ask how you can make that a reality in your church, in your life.

You don’t need your churches permission to invite people over.  (I made the mistake once of shutting down a group that was growing and blessing young adults in my house because the leadership of my church wanted me to because they couldn’t control it).  Remember your leadership in your church is not your head. God is.  If God tells you to do something, then do it.  To this day there are friendships that still exist due to that group.

If you are a pastor, how can you implement this, and will you encourage your body to try a new wineskin?  Do you want new wine in your church?  Or is it scary because it’s never been done that way in your body before?  GREAT!  Stretch boundaries and try it!

Have any suggestions?  What has your experience been in home churches or cell groups (that meet at peoples homes, not in the church building).



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