Churches throughout the world teach the Good News in diverse settings. Some churches use a the pulpit to deliver their message every Sunday, while others take a more organic approach meeting outside the walls of the church in several places to deliver the message of Jesus Christ. In America, the mission of the church is set against an environment of secularism. Secular values of diversity and extreme liberty have created a culture of ‘anything goes’ that leads to ambivalence among unbelievers. The universal belief in today’s culture is that if it works for someone, it is acceptable but if it does not work for someone then it can be ignored.
The spirit of truth itself is under attack in the form of diversity and in the propensity to place Christian values in the framework of culture rather than the other way around. In the midst of this situation, each church structure offers different benefits and drawbacks to the Christian mission of bringing the gospel to all the corners of the earth. As such, church structure can be developed in tandem with the needs of the people that the church serves such that the unchanging gospel message and the mission it entails can reach the people in a way that best suits them. The best church structure, then, is one that is fundamentally focused on missions as the purpose of its existence and that crosses with the other structures that best allow for church’s growth.
Traditional Church Structure
Each church structure ascends out of a different set of beliefs about human community and organization. The traditional church structure adheres to an organizational philosophy that is hierarchical with singular unified leadership and an attentive followership. This structure has the advantage of clear leadership and potentially fewer deviations from scriptural truth and from missional goals. A hierarchical structure has roots in the theological structure of the kingdom of God where God rules without question and without democratic votes. Human communities may thrive with democratic structures, but when humans mix with the divine democracy is no longer a viable option. The traditional structure also appeals to a culture that values authority and admires knowledge and expertise.
On the other hand, it may not appeal as strongly to cultures founded on independent ideals and tendencies toward questioning authority because the people will not inherently value the direction of their leaders. This is not a matter of respect; it is a matter of value. If people respect but do not highly value the authority of leaders, they tend not to respond as positively to a hierarchical organization. The exception to this rule is if a church has a pastor who is able to inspire change. Such a pastor is able to organize people and resources toward the goals that the church has set and its specific interpretation of the mission. A transformative pastor tends to be irreplaceable, however, because a certain amount of what might be characterized as hero worship ensues among the members and the absence of the leader causes a sense of loss within the church that is difficult to replace.
When missioning within a church of a traditional structure, then, it is customary for the pastor to recognize and respond to the internal needs of members as a part of church building. It is sometimes difficult, however, for a traditional church to respond to the external culture within which the church is located. The recognition of needs can enable the pastor to guide the direction and development of educational programs to grow the church and encourage the membership through inviting new members, but outreach programs tend to be more inward-looking.
The Attractional Church
Attractional approaches to ministry are very popular today. Mega churches like Saddleback and its pastor Rick Warren, and Willow Creek and its pastor Bill Hybels, have had a profound influence on the evangelical environment in America. These churches, while differing in many ways, often take the basic approach that if we make our building, preaching and programs attractive then people will come. The idea that energies this approach is that if you can just get the people in the doors, you can keep them there. An attractional church is also hierarchically structured but it focuses on missions through attracting seekers and new believers. In the words of Warren, the attractional church emphasizes relationships between believers in small groups that have purpose. These groups include seeker groups, support groups, service groups, and growth small group need to have purpose.” Seeker groups are shaped entirely for evangelism.
They offer a non-threatening atmosphere for nonbelievers to ask questions, articulate uncertainties, and study the claims of Jesus. Support groups serve for congregational care, companionship, and worship. Many support groups are connected to providing support and fellowship during the preliminary stage of life, such as parents and college students. Others deal with restoration of specific hurts encountered by those who have lost a companion by death or divorce. Service groups are formed around a particular ministry such as an orphanage or prison ministry, or divorce healing ministry. These groups find fellowship together through a shared cause, project or ministry. Growth Groups are committed to cultivation, discipleship training, and in depth Bible study. Offered in these groups are approximately fifty different curriculum choices, which include in depth study of the prior week’s sermon.
While small groups will not accomplish every purpose of the ministry, each one must be organized around at least one purpose of the church. In the words of Billy Hornsby, “The attractional church never loses sight of the souls for whom Christ died, with a passion to reach outward to cultures that the church has neglected. It engages these cultures through a relevant, relational approach to communicating the gospel.” Hornsby points out that the attractional church finds it impossible to be indifferent to the cultures around them, whether those cultures are subcultures within the dominant contemporary culture or foreign cultures in other lands. The attractional church perceives missions as the reason for its existence because it is through missions that members fulfill Jesus’ command to disciple others to the ends of the earth. At the same time, the attractional church uses a fairly traditional structure within which to minister and outreach to others.
In addition, the attractional church empowers others through training and leadership opportunities to minister to seekers in a variety of contexts. As such, the hierarchical structure has a bottom-up approach that focuses on the people whom the church serves and works its way up to the top without losing this emphasis. As a part of this focus, attractional churches create inspiring worship services that appeal to many people and intend to encourage members and new believers to participate in building the kingdom of God. As such, the attractional church functions well in a variety of cultures because it creates a web-like outreach and attracts seekers through its message, worship, and small group connections. On the other hand, its shared leadership format can lead to problems with diversity because of the great desire to minister to others and the limited training of many members.
The Organic Church
The organic church is organized in much the same way that the earliest house churches must have been in the days chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles. The organic church has only the amount of structure necessary for its own survival and growth. It does not adhere to any particular form of worship, gathering, or tradition unless those are perceived as important and beneficial to the members. The organic church is based upon outreach and impacting the lives of people. It underscores the importance of having an experience with God, verses having an experience with the church. Organic church life is an impactful experience that is discernible by face-to-face community, every member performing, open- participating meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non- ranked leadership, and the significance and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional leader and head. The organic church is not rule obtrusive so you won’t find people placing many restrictions on each other.
There is a consummate freedom to speak in their meetings with members treating one another like family rather than strangers. Like many of the traditional churches, the organic church does not practice what they are going to do or say in their meetings, but instead are led by the spirit. The glue that holds the organic church together is faith in Jesus Christ, a deep joy in worshiping God, and the gospel mission itself. The organic church is enormously beneficial for cultures where authority is devalued or a subject of suspicion because it gives the gospel a grassroots feel with no official leadership and no external structure that could feel restrictive to members. On the other hand, its lack of structure can lead to destructive differences of opinions that derail the mission of the organic church to share the gospel.
The Hybrid Church
The hybrid approach combines elements of the above structures to form an ideal. In the view of this author, the ideal structure combines elements of the attractional and organic structures so that there is strong leadership, vision, and biblical adherence and the small group programs offer opportunities for organic worship as well as stable and more traditional small group relationships and growth. In this way, the church would combine the best of the attractional model in its stability and development model with the benefits of the organic model for outreach. This is the best structure for modern society because today’s culture can benefit from more postmodern approaches to structure that avoids the tendency to devolve into pluralistic philosophies and religious views.
Today’s culture does not value authority over truth, but the simple fact of the gospel is that religious views that deny Jesus as the Son of God who came to save humanity from its sins and allow them access to the kingdom of God are false religions. People who worship gods other than God are worshiping false gods. Jesus did not say he was ‘a’ savior; he said he was ‘the savior.’ Because of this, today’s authority-questioners cannot be reached through an appeal to their belief in multiplicity.
Christianity must take the position that gives others the freedom to believe what they want, but that recognizes that those who do not believe in the gospel message are merely claiming the right to be wrong. The organic group structure helps churches reach authority-questioners and those who believe deeply in human freedom because it gives them a format that is non-threatening so that they feel comfortable expressing the deep truths of the Bible. Having organic small groups within an attractional church therefore opens the church to reach more of today’s culture without compromising on God’s truth.
Bayes, Paul Tim Sledge, John Holbrook, Mark Rylands, and Martin Seeley,
Mission-Shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing World. New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2010. Cedargroveleeds.org. “Church Structure Chart.” http://cedargroveleeds.org/clientimages/44860/church%20models%20chart.pdf. Accessed December 14, 2012. Cole, Neil. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. Hornsby, Billy. “The Attractional Church.” Ministry Today. http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/features/19072-the-attractional-church. Accessed December 14, 2012. Köstenberger, Andreas J. and Peter T. O’Brien. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001. Powers, Bruce. Church Administration Handbook. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008. Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message& Mission. Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530: Zondervan, 1995.
[ 1 ]. Cedargroveleeds.org. “Church Structure Chart.” http://cedargroveleeds.org/clientimages/44860/church%20models%20chart.pdf. Accessed December 14, 2012. [ 2 ]. Paul Bayes, Tim Sledge, John Holbrook, Mark Rylands, and Martin Seeley, Mission-Shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing World (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2010), 105. [ 3 ]. Ibid. 115.
[ 4 ]. Bruce Powers, Church Administration Handbook (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 14. [ 5 ]. Bayes, Sledge, Holbrook, Rylands, & Seeley, Mission-Shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing World, 115. [ 6 ]. . Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message& Mission (Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530: Zondervan, 1995). [ 7 ]. Cedargroveleeds.org. “Church Structure Chart.”
[ 8 ]. . Ibid. 146.
[ 9 ]. Billy Hornsby, “The Attractional Church.” Ministry Today. http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/features/19072-the-attractional-church. Accessed December 14, 2012. [ 10 ]. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 103. [ 11 ]. Köstenberger and