If you lop off the head of a spider, it dies. It is a very

centralized organization.

If you cut off the leg of a starfish, it will grow a new leg, and the leg will grow a new starfish. It is a very decentralized organization.

Question: what kind of organization is the church? What kind of organization should it be?

Starfish style organizations are multiplying . . .

AA is a starfish organization. No president. No leader. Or, more precisely, everyone is a leader. No one owns AA. No one has any idea how many members they have. Suffice it to say, a lot!

Wikipedia Arguably the largest depository of information on the planet and it is all user created. You can edit the content yourself. Users decide what is included and what is not. Very decentralized.

Napster–the old Napster before the feds got a hold of it–very decentralized. And, in various incarnations, the idea continues to thrive because of its decentralization.

OpenOffice. A Microsoft office look-alike. All user created. All free. Very decentralized.

The House Church Movement in America is another example of a starfish movement. From all accounts, it is growing and growing rapidly. Consider these facts for the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research http://www.namb.net/cmr (This is gathering information from several sources. There is some discrepancy between the findings.)

House churches have shown remarkable growth in the past decade—shooting up from just 1% to near double-digit involvement.



Zogby poll: We asked, “Do you meet weekly with a group of 20 people or less to pray and study scriptures as your primary form of spiritual or religious gathering?” Remarkably, 26.3% of the 3600 sampled Americans who were asked that question indicated that they did—as their primary form of spiritual or religious gathering.


One out of five adults attends a house church at least once a month.


It’s estimated that more than 70 million adults have at least experimented with house church participation.


In a typical week, roughly 20 million adults attend a house church gathering. Over the course of a typical month, that number doubles to about 43 million adults.


Millions of Americans are intermittently engaged in a house church, alternating back and forth between house church and conventional church. (For clarity, the survey distinguished between involvement in a house church and participation in a small group that is associated with a conventional church.) The Barna survey revealed that of those who attend a house church, 27% attend on a weekly basis, 30% attend one to three times per month, and 43% attend less than once a month.



There is an explosive house church movement in our land. It is a decentralized, leaderless, starfish movement. How should we respond? As I see it, we could take one of three approaches.


Ignore it

This was my approach at first. It seems too big a movement to ignore.


Bring a bucket of water

As I have had the opportunity to talk to church leaders about the house church movement, this is the most common response. The conversation usually includes this sentence: “Well, those house churches are all well and good, but I just think there should be some accountability.”

I am thinking, “Accountability to whom?” and I think I know the answer. I think he is sitting across the table from me.

But, if this house church is a real church, I thought we believed in the autonomy of the local church. I thought we believed local churches were not accountable to anyone except each other and God.

The Catholic Church is very spider-like. It is very centralized. Very command and control. The protestant movement was much more decentralized. Baptists in particular are extremely decentralized. I have always thought the name Independent Baptist was a bit redundant. What other kind of Baptist is there?

The House Church movement begs the question: how far do you press that?


Bring a bucket of gasoline

Well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out I think this is the best approach.

What would you call a ten fold increase in house churches in ten years approaching 25% of the population. They have done that with no budget, no money, no visible leaders, no literature, no program, no nothing. I would call it a movement of God. If it is a movement of God, I think we do well to fan it into flames lest we find ourselves opposing what God is doing.

Local churches can do at least three things to partner with and encourage house churches:

Identify them. See if you can identify people in your church that are participating in an independent home Bible Study. Get their names, phone numbers and email addresses.



Encourage them. Validate what they are doing. They are studying the Bible and fellowshipping. It is a good thing. Don’t make them feel like rebels. They are not rebels. Some of them are good members of your church. Just as some of your church members attend other activities at other churches, some of your church members may be a part of a House Church. (Approximately 20% of those who go to church routinely attend more than one church.) Validate them publically from the pulpit. Encourage them privately.


Train them without trying to control them. Provide training and resources if they want it. Don’t try to control them. These are independent churches. You wouldn’t want your Association trying to control you; don’t try to control them.


Create networking opportunities. People like to fellowship with like-minded individuals. There are many house church networks in major cities across America. Identify any that exist in your area. Allow them to use your building if they want to have occasional large-group networking meetings.


Pray for them; pray with them. It is my prayer that America will come to Christ. My vision is that they can do this through doubling groups. It seems that God is doing a new thing in a multiplying movement of doubling house groups. I think it will happen through all kinds of churches–mega churches, house churches, new churches, old churches. Pray for this movement.



To respond to this, go to www.sundayschool.ning.com

To read more on this, pick up a copy of The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom