I am a big proponent of the church developing organically. I believe that many church growth methods used in the American church are too formulaic and mechanical, and have often turned the church into a business.
When numerical growth becomes the primary measure of success, the door is opened to all kinds of impure methods to gain entrance. Pastors act like CEOs and members are treated like customers to keep rather than saints to be equipped. This is the kind of mentality that caused Jesus to flip tables over in the temple!
But “healthy things grow” church growth experts insist. True—and so do weeds! So do cancer cells! While church health may produce church growth, church growth is not necessarily an indication of church health.
Jesus described the organic nature of God’s kingdom in Mark 4:26-28:
And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.”
We should obey God and seek first His kingdom, and leave the numerical growth up to Him. After all, Jesus said that He would build His church (see Matthew 16:18).
All that being said, I have also noticed that some people who are insistent upon the church being organic have some misunderstandings and confusion about what that actually means. In an attempt to be organic, I believe that some have embraced error.
Below are four myths about organic church.
Many supporters of organic church seem to believe that structure is an enemy that keeps the church from being Spirit-led and organic. While it is certainly possible to be over-structured and quench the Holy Spirit, structure in and of itself is not a problem. In fact, it is absolutely necessary.
Can you name one thing that is organic that does not contain structure? The fact is, structure is necessary to life. How would you like to go without your skeletal system? In the same way that your body needs structure, the body of Christ does as well. The problem comes when structure drives the church and restricts it from moving in the Holy Spirit. We should limit structure to that which facilitates life, but we cannot do away with structure altogether.
God is a God of order and structure. All of creation verifies this, and it is a mistake to believe that in order for church to be organic it must be without structure.
For some reason, there is often a mindset that for a church to be organic it must be small. Since when does size determine whether or not something is organic? Is an oak tree any less organic than a flower? Is an elephant any less organic than a mouse?
I know of some considerably large churches that I would classify as very organic and Holy Spirit led. And I am sure there are many small fellowships and house churches that are mechanical, formulaic, and controlling. Jesus is building His church in many shapes and sizes. Just as we should not use size to determine success, we should also not assume that any church that is large must not be a kingdom-minded or organic expression.
Just because something is organic and develops naturally does not mean that there is no planning involved. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul refers to the church as “God’s field.” Does a farmer not plan how to cultivate his field? We don’t want to over-plan, as if the Holy Spirit no longer wants to lead and guide us; but we can’t use that as an excuse for poor planning or lack of intentionality.
Being purposeful and intentional is in no way a sign that a church is not organic. In fact, I believe that sometimes people have used the organic church mindset as an excuse for laziness and lack of planning.
For some reason, proponents of organic church often seem to have a very negative view of leadership. Maybe they experienced controlling or abusive spiritual leadership in the past. But that in no way negates the clear teaching about leadership in the New Testament.
You don’t get much more organic than the church in the book of Acts. Look how the apostle Paul describes church leadership in Acts 20:28 when speaking to the elders of Ephesus: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Notice that Paul did not say something like this: remember, the Holy Spirit is the only leader of this church! No, he said that the Holy Spirit appointed leaders to oversee and shepherd the church.
God has an order for His church. This includes leadership such as elders, fivefold ministers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) and other roles. In our attempt to be organic, let’s not overreact to poor leadership we may have experienced and undermine the value of leadership altogether.
As I stated at the onset of this article, I am all for organic church! We must not succumb to worldly methods or become a mechanical organization. We must be a living and breathing organism that is filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.
But let’s also keep in mind that some of what we think of when we talk about organic church may be off base. Let’s not think that we have the “corner on the market” when it comes to understanding how church should be done.
And let’s throw away these harmful myths that do more damage than good!