Let’s say you are thinking about starting a microchurch. You have a group of friends and neighbors that are interested. Maybe you’ve even had a meal or two with these people and talked about doing it again on a regular basis. It seems like a great idea and everyone involved needs a spiritual family to grow in their discipleship to Jesus.
But then the weeks tick away and nothing happens.
The good news is that you’re not alone. This is common in my experience, especially with people who are already busy with work, school, and raising a family. It’s intuitive that deeper spiritual community is essential, but the barriers to starting one seem too tall and numerous to overcome. Eventually, the dream fades and people drift back to casual church attendance. Sadly, many never return to any expression of church at all.
This need not be the case! Everyday Mission exists to encourage and equip people with a desire to start microchurches. In fact we’ve found over the years that there are three primary hurdles that every potential planter faces. There will be others, but these three are often the reasons why dreams fade and microchurches never get off the ground.
Hurdle #1 – But I Don’t Want to Be a Pastor!
Microchurches don’t start by magic. Someone has to be a dreamer, organizer, cheerleader, coordinator, and spiritual-entrepreneur. In the Bible, this is not a pastoral function. The shepherd role is necessary, but it comes after the community is formed. If you wanted to start a new business, you wouldn’t put a shepherd in charge, would you?
The leadership to start a microchurch is actually very simple. It’s about creating the space for a spiritual family to grow and ministry to happen. That’s why Paul used the metaphors of farming and construction to describe how leaders form the church. Starting a microchurch is like plowing a field or building a spec-home. Others will come behind you to reap the harvest and move into their new family home.
To overcome this hurdle, the microchurch planter should do two things:
First, we like to use the language “elder” for the leadership roles in microchurches rather than Pastor. This takes the pressure off the planter to assume a role of spiritual authority they may not want or be qualified to perform. The planter is simply the elder that assumes the role of spiritual-entrepreneur. He or she rallies everyone around the idea of starting a new microchurch, organizes a time and place to meet, sets up the content for the first few meetings, and eventually gathers a few elders to help.
Second, it’s helpful to talk about the Biblical leadership functions described in Ephesians 4:11-13 as roles rather than titles. Starting a microchurch is actually an apostolic role, but who wants to be called an Apostle? That’s weird. Instead, we like to talk about elders who have an entrepreneurial bent, or good teachers, or folks that are truth-tellers, gospel-proclaimers, and of course, shepherds. All of these roles are verbs, not titles!
Hurdle #2 – But I Don’t Have Time!
My wife Amber likes to say:
“Time is the only thing we really own and relationship is the only thing we can buy with it.”
When it comes to investing your time in starting a microchurch, it’s helpful to think about why you want to start one in the first place. You probably have come to place where you don’t fit in traditional church any longer. You love Jesus and want a place where you and your family can grow as disciples and you have friends that are in the same boat. Also, you look around at our broken world and think, “I just want to do something positive for God’s kingdom in my neighborhood and city.”
The time you invest in starting a microchurch will be returned to you in the abundant joy of community. There will be challenges. Kids will scream during prayer times. The common meal will get eaten by the dog. Feelings will get hurt. Friendships will be tested. Birth, marriage, baptisms, sickness, healing, and death are all part of the deal. This is the stuff of real life. But instead of doing it alone, you will be together.
You will find that the time commitment to start and maintain a microchurch is not overwhelming, especially if you have others who are willing to help in an eldership role. We can help coach you through planning your time and spreading leadership so the experience is sustainable for everyone.
Hurdle #3 – But I Don’t Want to Start a Church!
This hurdle might be the biggest and most intimidating of all. What happens if this thing grows? What if my neighbors come and they invite their friends who invite their friends? Will we have to get a building? Pretty soon, won’t this just turn into another “normal” church?
The answer is “yes” if you let it happen, but that isn’t the goal of a microchurch. There are some very important boundaries to set up from the beginning to make sure you keep things simple, sustainable, and fruitful.
First, we define a microchurch as a group of six to twenty adults that “work together in sincere worship and genuine community to accomplish part of the mission of God.” This is what we describe as the “ecclesial minimum” or the minimum it takes to be a microchurch. Anything less is a small group, mission, or a cookout in your backyard. Anything more begins to take on the parameters and demands of a corporate church. It’s helpful to communicate to everyone who joins your microchurch this simple definition.
Second, it’s not likely that your microchurch will grow as fast as you think. In twenty years of starting and leading various microchurches, I have only seen one grow quickly where we had over sixty people crammed into a small house in a short time. It could happen, but the reality is authentic community where Jesus is being explicitly followed and worshiped is not as popular as it should be. If your microchurch does grow beyond twenty adults, it’s time to think about starting another one in a different location.
Finally, all microchurches naturally have a lifespan. You aren’t starting an institution that will last for 100 years. This is a way for you, your family, your friends and neighbors to experience “life together” and grow as disciples of Jesus. Eventually, your microchurch will spawn other microchurches, ministries, missions, and families. People will move away or leave for some reason. The temporal nature of a microchurch is its beauty and secret to health. This should be embraced from the beginning.
If this post has been encouraging to you, we would love to help you get past these hurdles to start a microchurch in your area. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story. We’ll be releasing more information soon about future microchurch planter coaching and mentoring opportunities.