Organic Church?: Models and Methods of Planting

There are a variety of models for church planting that have proven effective. Church Planting Village lists five main models:

  • Program-driven
  • Purpose-driven
  • Relationship-based
  • Seeker-sensitive
  • Ministry-based.

Ed Stetzer includes all but the Program-driven model, but notes that only 19% of planters (among Baptists) actually identify themselves with a model. My guess is that this low percentage is a product of post-modern scorn of models, as well as ignorance regarding models. Whether you like it or not, your church plant methodology will put you in the orbit of some kind of model.

Relationship-driven Models

Relationship-driven models are on the rise and include House, Cell, and Missional Community churches. Because of their relational emphasis, these churches are typically drawn to the more Organic method of church planting. Early in our core team phase, Austin City Life was thinking organically but still held onto “the Launch” as a part of our methodology. Most Organic churches jettison “the launch” in favor of a people-focused ecclesiology. We did just that, but the reason was more Spirit-led than “organic”. I’ll take a stab an explaining what I see as the difference between Organic and Spirit-led church.

Organic Church

As I see it, there are two main types of Organic Churches:

  1. Unintentional Organic: clueless organic church planting because you like stuff that is different. A kind of “wherever it grows” attitude.
  2. Intentionally Organic: informed organic church planting that builds structural lattice for the plant of church to grow on. Relies on gospel soil, relational stalk, and thoughtful structure.

Although we certainly appreciate #2 more than #1, we have sought to cultivate a Spirit-led organic church, which fosters slightly different growth. I’m not saying that the Spirit is absent from the approaches above, so bear with me. The Spirit-led church places its emphasis on relationship/community underneath its reliance on the Holy Spirit to grow and mature a missional church. Spirit first, community second, not community first, Spirit as an holy nod.

Spirit-led Church

The more I learn about being a Spirit-led community, the more I realize I have to learn about what it means to follow the Spirit, not just the organic growth of spiritual disciples. Craig Van Gelder defines the church as: a people of God who are created by the Spirit to live as a missionary community.” For Van Gelder and for us, Spirit-led is more than a nod; it animates decision-making, structure, organization, community, and mission. Van Gelder lays out his theoretical ecclesiology in Essence of the Church and a functional ecclesiology in The Ministry of the Missional Church.

One of the strengths of being a Spirit-led church is the emphasis on church as our identity, not our responsibility; its nature over its function. We need to plant and grow churches based, not on function (organic or otherwise), but on natureSpirit-led missionary communities. On this Van Gelder writes: “Failing to understand the nature of the church can lead to a number of problems. Defining the church functionally—in terms of what it does—can shift our perspective away from understanding the church as a unique community of God’s people.”

Our models and methods should be determined from our ecclesiology, not form our ecclesiology. This is why I make a distinction between theoretical and functional ecclesiology. Others would call the latter a Philosophy of Ministry. Whatever you call it, you models and methods should be primarily governed by the Holy Spirit and a biblical understanding of the nature of the church. In my next post, I’ll try to unpack and illustrate this from our own experiences.