“We’ve been looking for a place to have our Discovery Bible Study. I’m so excited! The pastor has said we can use the church! It solves our childcare problem too. We can use the nursery area for the kids.” She sounded so happy. Inside, I cringed. “Oh no! That doesn’t sound like the best option. How do I help her avoid making this strategic mistake?” Gently, I began asking questions. Eventually, she began to see. It’s probably better not to have Discovery groups meet within the church building. Not if her goal is to start a Disciple Making Movement.
When you’ve grown up in a traditional church environment, this can feel strange. Everything we do as DMM practitioners must be run through a reproducibility test.
Let me explain further.
Discovery groups (whether they are DBS, T4T or story groups) have two primary goals;
1) to introduce people to Jesus who don’t know Him yet,
2) to train every disciple to make disciples themselves.
In deciding where to have your group meet, you need to ask these questions.
– Does this venue help us reach new people easily?
– Or could it be a barrier for them?
– Is the venue itself going to lend toward multiplication and second-generation groups?
– Or hinder that from happening?
When Renting a Building Harms a Movement
They had been meeting in homes for a few months. The houses were small. The people in the community were mostly day laborers. When they had more than ten people, the rooms were hot and crowded. This forced them to start new groups nearby. Instead of adding more people to the existing group, they started new groups when people showed interest. There wasn’t enough space to add people.
It was exciting to see the way the new groups were multiplying. Until they made a strategic mistake.
They’d begun to train the new disciples about giving. That was going well. The leaders were excited. They now had money to use for the growth of the movement.
They came to me and said, “Guess what? We found a room to rent! Now we can have a “real” church on Sunday mornings!”
I was glad that they at least were not looking outside for money as a source. I could see, however, that this action could have unseen negative implications on the growth they’d been experiencing. I wish I had been wrong about this.
They’d made the decision prayerfully and as their coach, though I challenged them, I was not going to tell them what to do. It had to be their decision.
After renting the building, within a few short months, multiplication stopped.
They shifted over from movement activities to becoming a traditional church. They met on Sunday mornings. People came to church, sat and listened, went home, and did little to apply what they learned.
The two or three key leaders slowly moved away from participatory Bible studies and began preaching. They got busy attending pastors conferences and meetings now that they were recognized by others as being a “church.”
Evangelism that had been their passion, in the beginning, slowed dramatically. They began to focus on developing youth meetings and women’s meetings and became a “Come church” instead of a “Go church.”
It was sad. They had begun with the potential to launch a movement. They had destroyed that, by their shift to a rented building.
… When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more.Acts 16:40 NIV.
5 Negative Implications When You Meet in a Church Building
1. Participation decreases.
Houses usually have natural limits on the group size. Either the room is limited in size, or there are only so many chairs and places to sit, etc. This natural limitation is a good thing! If the room is packed full, it means you need to multiply the group. Stop adding new people. Start new groups in new homes.
Meeting in a house, coffee shop, or factory lunchroom naturally lends itself to a small size where everyone has a chance to participate. Each person is given time to answer discussion questions. When everyone participates, everyone is discipled and grows. Each person is accountable for obedience and putting what is studied into practice. Relationships go deeper. When you begin to meet in a church or building, this changes.
2. Church buildings have a stigma attached to them.
Homes or other venues are more neutral. Many have a hard time entering a church building. It may bring up negative emotions, or bad experiences they have had with Christians or church in the past.
If you are working among unreached people groups, or those from other faiths, going to a church building could cause persecution. If their family or others see them going there, they will ask many questions. If they say they are going over to someone’s house for tea this is avoided.
When your goal is to reach lost people, meeting in homes, or other neutral places is much easier. You may even want to avoid meeting on Sunday mornings or a traditional “churchy” time.
3. People tend to connect more deeply in smaller more relaxed settings.
A church classroom can feel sterile. Deep relationships of trust and caring develop more quickly in a relaxed environment. Classrooms are for teachers and students. You want to get away from that impression. Create discovery environments of mutual learning and sharing.
4. Children, youth, and unsaved neighbors or relatives are more likely to join in a home
As mentioned in a previous blog, in Disciple Making Movements (DMMs), we don’t separate children and youth into their own programs. We generally encourage them to learn and grow alongside their parents. They play a vital role in the community. This happens more easily in homes.
I’ve also seen, especially in Asia and Africa, that unsaved relatives who live in the same house, will listen in easily to a group that meets in a home. They can then be invited to participate in the learning, answer questions, and are drawn in. You miss this when you decide to rent a building or meet in a church.
5. Meeting in a church limits reproducibility.
Churches only have so many classrooms or halls. How will the groups multiply?
Even if it is a large church with many classrooms, eventually they will fill up. Then what will you do? Build more? You’ve already established a model of groups meeting in the church building. Shifting then to homes for the second-generation groups will be hard.
Always do things in the first generation church/group, the way you want it to look at the third or fourth generation. Your model must be easy for anyone to duplicate. Expect that each person in the group will eventually begin their own groups. Can that happen if you meet in a church building?
No Rules or Regulations- Only Principles
I hope this article has given you some things to consider as you think about where to meet. There are no rules or regulations about this. Meet in the place God leads you to. There is no right or wrong answer.
What other questions come to mind as you consider this issue? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below or in the Dmms Frontier Missions Facebook group.