Hungry for community and relationship, people are learning what the church is really about by firsthand participation.
By Larry Kreider
New Micro Churches are Changing the Face of the Church
A new church species is emerging throughout the Western world. In major cities as well as rural areas, unique church life is peeking through like the fresh growth of new crops pressing through the surface of the soil. Called micro churches, each one functions as a church. These small churches often relate together in networks to foster accountability and encouragement.
Although the term we are using—micro church—is a contemporary name, the concept is as old as the New Testament church we read about in the Scriptures. Some of these micro churches, often called house churches, are mentioned in the book of Acts (Acts 20:20). In Corinth, believers met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla (I Corinthians 16:19). In Colossae, we are told that the church was meeting in the home of Nympha (Colossians 4:15). A church also met in the home of Philemon (Philemon 2).
Because micro churches usually meet in homes, onlookers often perceive a micro church to be a small group that is connected to a local church. However, micro churches function differently. A small group is generally connected to a local community church, meeting with that body each weekend and in small groups during the week. There are thousands of healthy community churches and megachurches that encourage small groups to meet during the week. But a micro church is different. A micro church is a complete church entity in and of itself.
Micro churches share the same vision as believers in established churches. They believe that salvation is only through Jesus Christ and they want to reach the world with the Good News. They long for authenticity. But they also believe that a different church structure will help restore the simplicity that was demonstrated by churches found in the New Testament.
Reasons for Micro Churches
Since there are thousands of healthy, vibrant churches throughout the world, you might ask why there is need for yet another type of church.
Surveys show that some from younger generations drop out of established churches because they find it difficult to connect with the style of church they grew up in. Nonetheless, they are looking for people who live out their Christianity authentically every day. Younger people often desire connections and value relationships. I have heard many younger believers explain that they want spiritual fathers and mothers who will encourage them, help them avoid pitfalls, and nurture them to find their destiny in God.
New wineskins, micro church participants believe, are needed to accommodate believers who do not fit into existing church structures. This can include believers of all ages. My wife, LaVerne, and I have been involved in various aspects of micro church ministry for the past twenty years. It has been a great blessing see micro church networks flourish here in the United States and in other nations.
The present-day micro church movement reminds me of what we experienced in the 1980s. Along with a few other zealous young people, we reached out to unchurched teenagers. Many responded to the gospel, received Christ, and began to live for Him. Despite our efforts, these new believers did not connect with the denominational churches of that day. Yet they wanted biblical teaching, and they loved spending time in worship and relationship with other believers in our home.
After much prayer and seeking God, we sensed direction from the verse where Jesus said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22).
This scripture implies that new Christians are like new wine—still in the process of fermentation. Sometimes when placed into old wineskins (existing church structures), they may not be compatible.
Consequently, in 1980 we started a small group–based church in rural south central Pennsylvania called DOVE. We emphasized the need for believers to meet in homes for prayer, discussion, and application of God’s Word. We opened the doors for fellowship during the week. Our Sunday services were a charismatic style of worship and teaching that was livelier than what was common in many traditional churches. Within seven years, our new church grew from twenty-five people to more than one thousand. By 1990, we had grown to more than two thousand members.
Am I suggesting that one type of church is better than another? Not at all. It could be compared to the beverages we drink. Personal preferences often determine one’s choice. My wife’s favorite cup to drink from is a small mug. My favorite is a large mug. Our four-year-old granddaughter prefers to drink beverages from a sippy cup. A baby’s favorite is a bottle. Each of the containers is sufficient to drink from, but each person will select what suits them best.
Through those early years of our church’s ebb and flow, we learned that each type and size of church has advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is not the type of church we participate in, but that we are growing together in Christ with other believers in truth and love and fulfilling the Great Commission.
I believe freedom is coming into the hearts of God’s people to enable them to serve wherever God calls them.
Although each micro church is a little church in itself, it should value the need to connect with other micro churches. Many times the leaders of micro churches in a given area meet together regularly, perhaps once a month, for leadership training and encouragement. Often, micro churches will meet occasionally for corporate worship and interpersonal connections. This helps prevent pride and exclusiveness. Churches stay healthy when they are in connection with other churches who share the same basic biblical vision and values.
The analogy of stores in a shopping mall could be used to describe a micro church network. Each specialized store operates individually, but flourishes within the cluster of other stores in the mall.
Micro churches do not require as much organization and administration as other types of churches. They have no building to maintain and seldom pay any staff. When a home is filled to capacity, a healthy micro church will multiply and start a new micro church. Sometimes micro churches network together and share an office to save on expenses.
The specifics of different micro church meetings vary. Most micro churches include having a meal together as a vital part of their fellowship time. The length of meetings, structure of meetings, leadership approach, and ways of handling children, small groups, and offerings vary a lot from church to church.
There are many creative options for helping children take an active role in micro church life as part of the spiritual family. Some micro churches gear the entire meeting to the family and have children remain in the group setting the entire time. Another option is for children to remain with their parents during part of the meeting then move to another room for adult-supervised activities. Creativity and flexibility are the keys to providing fellowship and spiritual training for children. Some micro churches hire someone who is not a member of the micro church to teach children during the gatherings.
A micro church should encourage even smaller groups to meet for prayer, encouragement, discipleship, and accountability. For some, this takes the form of an early-morning breakfast where new believers can be discipled and encouraged.
In micro churches, members give tithes and offerings to the micro church. The micro church leadership team prayerfully distributes these finances as needed for serving people in their communities, giving to missions, and covering other expenses. Micro churches often give a tithe of the finances they receive to the micro church network they are a part of.
People often inquire as to whether micro churches need leadership. The answer is “yes”—they need servant leaders and leaders who are spiritual fathers and mothers, but always some form of godly leadership. Watchman Nee once said, “We do not have authority unless we are under authority.” Team leadership is important, but God always calls one person to be the primary leader of the team; otherwise, the leadership team will struggle.
Godly spiritual leaders bring protection to our lives. Although some unfaithful spiritual leaders have abused their authority, we cannot blot out the truth of spiritual oversight from the Bible (Hebrews 13:17). Yet as much as we need leaders who can provide accountability and oversight, obedience and faithfulness to leadership must always be secondary to our higher loyalty to God.
The churches that met in homes in the New Testament received oversight from apostolic leaders. In Titus 1:5, Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every city. It appears that these churches were given oversight by Titus who served on Paul’s apostolic team.
When finding a spiritual oversight connection for a micro church, it is important to seek and follow God’s timing. Accountability cannot be forced but should flow naturally out of shared vision and authentic, trust-filled relationships. God is connecting His Body together in a way that brings great blessing to all who are involved.
Pitfalls of Micro Churches
- Pride: A common pitfall to avoid in micro churches and micro church networks is pride. If those of us who are called to micro church networks take a superior attitude, the Bible tells us we will fall (Proverbs 16:18). Micro churches are not the panacea for today’s ailing church, but one among the many approaches God is using for Kingdom expansion in the world today. We should never have an exclusive attitude.
- Fear: Another trap to avoid is fear. Micro churches are largely unproven entities in today’s Western church world. There are multiplied thousands of micro churches in nations where believers in Christ are persecuted, but they are fairly unknown in the Western world. Some believers could be fearful about being involved in something that is “new.” We must learn to walk in faith, not in fear.
- Independent spirit: Another hidden danger is developing an independent and isolationist spirit. Sometimes those who do not want to come under any type of spiritual authority gravitate towards micro churches because they believe they can do their own thing without answering to anyone. This kind of independent spirit is a form of pride and can bring us down.
- Heresy: Micro churches can fall into a trap of heresy if they are exclusive and unwilling to work with others. All this can be avoided by being accountable to other leaders in a micro church network and to the Body of Christ at large. We all need accountability to protect us from heresy. The Scriptures tell us to receive confirmation from two or three witnesses on any matter (II Corinthians 13:1).
- Bitterness: We need to guard against forming a church simply because we may be hurt and disillusioned or bitter toward the established church. Unwholesome conversations that revolve around criticism of other churches should never be that which brings us together. This would result in a group that is cut off from the Body of Christ. Some books even advocate this type of unwholesome behavior. Ralph Moore, who planted dozens of Hope Chapel churches throughout Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States, once said, “The anger of man still cannot work the righteousness of God.”
Churches of any type should never be exclusive entities cut off from the rest of the Body of Christ. The litmus test used to discern if a micro church is healthy is simple: it will be a church in which the participants focus on loving the Lord, loving His Word, loving each other, reaching the lost, making disciples, and loving the Body of Christ. “Jesus came to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Embrace Micro Churches
Micro churches are changing the face of the modern church. They not only meet in homes, but could gather at coffee shops, restaurants, and various places of business.
Home schooling was almost unheard of fifty years ago, but today nearly every community in America has parents who are homeschooling their children. Although micro churches seem to be new to many in the Western world, in a few years they will be as well known as homeschooling is today.
Any new movement tends to invoke criticism or suspicion from established churches. Over the course of history, one move of God, even though it had itself been new for a season, often persecutes the next wave of God’s Spirit. Early reformer Martin Luther later persecuted the Anabaptists and had them thrown in prison. In the 1980s our gatherings had a different structure than established churches in the area, and some local churches initially suspected we were a cult.
Some of my Assembly of God pastor friends lament over having criticized the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Both groups believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of spiritual gifts, but the new movement was viewed as suspect by many denominational churches. The new Charismatic churches did not replace these churches, but grew alongside the established churches.
Likewise, the present church movement should guard its heart as micro churches spring up alongside community churches and megachurches. The church today is a diverse one, and diversity is healthy. God is working through many types of churches including community churches, megachurches, and micro church networks. Remember, we are called to stand together in unity, not in uniformity. Creativity is healthy.
To care for the harvest of souls coming into God’s Kingdom, more churches are needed. Fuller Theological Seminary found that if a church is ten or more years old, for every eighty-five members only one new person comes to Christ annually. Churches that are four to seven years old bring in one new believer for every seven. Churches less than three years old average one new believer for every three members every year.
You can see from these statistics that the opportunity to reach the unchurched for Christ has great potential. New micro churches networking effectively together in our communities give the opportunity for thousands of new churches to be planted rapidly across our nation and the nations of the world. This will result in multiplied thousands who will give their lives to Christ. Now is the time to prepare for the harvest.
Brian and Kim Zimmerman from Lititz, Pennsylvania, started meeting weekly with several friends—reading through books of the Bible, sharing life, praying, and growing in faith. Initially, Kim had been discipling three young women who wanted to learn more about how to read and study the Word. Their lives began to change. These young ladies were so excited that they would bring their friends to the Bible studies, then their husbands. With more people attending and coming earlier for the weekly meetings, they introduced the idea of having a meal together as part of the evening events. Soon, Brian and Kim realized this was actually a micro church. They called their new micro church Shift.
While this new group was experiencing church in a micro church model, a small group of us were serving with Chad and Chris Miller to start a new micro church, The Gathering, also in Lititz. One of the many strengths of The Gathering was its various discipleship groups. Every other week after we ate and worshipped together, we met in these small discipleship groups in different rooms of the house. Many found healing and freedom and grew as believers in Christ in these small groups, and future leaders were trained.
With the planting of these two micro churches, we formed a new DOVE micro church network that is today called the House to House Micro Church Network. Over the next few years, leaders from The Gathering micro church were trained and sent out to start two new micro churches. The House to House Micro Church Network has now grown to twelve micro churches with more new micro churches on the horizon. These micro churches meet on different evenings throughout the week. One meets on a Sunday morning.
Each micro church reflects its own call and its own personality. One micro church focuses on outreach in a local park at least once every month, while another micro church focuses on helping people find freedom and healing from emotional wounds. Other micro churches focus on other areas of ministry like feeding the homeless, discipling new believers, or building a strong spiritual family. But the leaders of each micro church have a vision from the Lord to make disciples and train leaders who will also train leaders to start new micro churches in the future.
The network provides the governmental registration and spiritual and financial accountability for the churches in the network. The lead elders (pastors) of each micro church receive mentoring and spiritual oversight from one of the couples on the network leadership team. We call this network leadership team an apostolic council. This team gives leadership to the vision for the network. The apostolic council also meets with the lead elders of all of the micro churches one evening a month. We spend time praying for one another and sharing God’s vision for the future as new micro churches are started. There is also a youth group for youth from the various micro churches since the micro churches are relatively small and youth need opportunities to connect with other youth.
Each micro church receives tithes and offerings and each has its own bank account. Nearly all micro church leaders have a job or business that supports them and therefore do not need to receive a salary from the micro church. This avails funds for helping the needy in their church and community and giving generously to missions. Remember, most micro churches do not have to pay staff salaries, buy a building, or even pay rent. They are blessed to have money to give to bless others.
After the House to House Micro Church Network was established, the Zimmermans, who were leading Shift as mentioned above, began to disciple several young couples who were preparing to get married. But this was more than pre-marital counseling; it was a walk of mentoring and discipleship. After several years, these unchurched couples requested Brian and Kim to start a church for them. So instead of inviting them to their micro church and multiplying a new church out from the micro church they already had, Brian and Kim began a new micro church with these couples who had recently given their lives fully to Christ. One of the couples in the new micro church offered their house and they started a micro church called Thrive. This is the strategy we find in Luke 10. Do not always invite new persons to your micro church, but instead, pray for a person of peace and start a new church in their home.
The Zimmermans believe the heart of a micro church is relational, and works best with twenty or less people. They find that most participants prefer the smaller, more intimate settings. Keeping the groups smaller also works better logistically because it is often difficult to fit more than twenty people in one house comfortably. We encourage micro church leaders to start small groups or prayer groups within their churches. Small groups that meet either during the meetings or at another time help future leaders to grow.
One of the initial micro churches, The Gathering, eventually closed, and the original leaders moved across the country to California. This church fulfilled its purpose in God to reproduce two new micro churches that are thriving. The new churches have a call from God and a desire to reproduce again.
The focus of the House to House Micro Church Network is to make disciples and to train leaders who train leaders who train leaders (II Timothy 2:2). This is the strategy given to us from Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. We are very excited about the churches that will be planted and the networks that will be birthed in the coming months and years through the House to House Micro Church Network.
If you want to know more about micro churches, pick up my book Micro Church Networks: A Church for a New Generation, which gives much more detail and many practical insights into the new micro churches.
Learn more about micro churches in the book Micro Church Networks. Check it out here.
About Larry Kreider
Larry has spent the past four decades training leaders to make disciples with the small group concept. Larry serves as the international director of DOVE International, a worldwide network of over 1,000 churches in 26 nations. Larry has written more than 40 books and travels extensively teaching and imparting practical discipleship to leaders globally. Read about Larry or catch up on Larry’s blog.