Honey, I Shrunk the Church

Honey, I Shrunk the Church

Growing up in the 80’s, I watched Honey I Shrunk the Kids. The movie is basically about the adventures of some kids who are accidentally shrunken down to the size of insects. So much of the culture around me says that bigger is better; size is the measure of success. I wondered if this was true for the church. After praying, I shrunk the church. This is the story of how and why.

Going Simple: A New Vision for Church

I grew up within mainline Baptist and Pentecostal churches. The churches I’ve been part of have done some awesome things in shaping me to be the follower of Jesus I am today. I’m so grateful for the things they do in my community and the way they are still building God’s kingdom.

In the myriad of positives, I also found struggles. The biggest struggle was that church seemed to lead me to being dependent on the pastor for spiritual growth. As a pastor myself, I know this isn’t what pastors want, but it can be a by-product when it’s the leader ‘doing’ the ministry and we receive it.

What if there was a way to help take followers of Jesus from being passive church attendees and lead them to active participants? As I prayed about it, I realised this wasn’t about programs, or even structure. This had more to do with people’s hearts and culture.

Honey, I Shrunk the ChurchWhat if church went simple? Can you imagine how ministry might look when everyone gets to play? What would it look like if there were churches that were smaller, ‘back to basics,’ ‘bare-boned’ communities that reached out into our neighbourhoods to those who don’t easily fit into mainstream churches? What would be the impact of those devoted to God’s Word, worshiping, praying, celebrating and serving together, and see mission as a natural overflow in life? Can you imagine church life where everyone, adults and children, contribute in discipleship and making disciples who make disciples?

Planing Afresh

I had a conversation with one of my Bible college lecturers that left a lasting impression over a late night coffee at a kibbutz in Israel during a study tour. He offered some great advice after I shared how I was wrestling with my desire to create a culture that changed people from being attendees to becoming participants.

‘It is extremely difficult to change culture when it is already established and embedded. It is far easier to start something fresh.’

I was in a unique position where there were options. On one hand, I could look for ministry positions and try to effect change, or, on the other, I could church plant. As I prayed about it with my wife for nearly 9 months, it seemed clearer that God was leading us to plant a church.

The Baptist Association here in NSW are encouraging church planting and exploring different expressions of church. So it was a natural thing for us to partner with them.

Planting: Shrinking the Church

We planted Cornerstone Church in November 2013. Talk about under-prepared. You know how most church plants have their venue hired, worship team sorted, kids program and youth group done, small groups ready to go? Not us. We met in our lounge room. No worship team (or even musicians). No sermon. No real programs. We discussed our identity in Jesus from 1 Peter. We included the kids wherever we could. We tried to help them apply what we talked about to where they were at school.

It started to grow. At first it was 2 families – ours and another. Then another joined us. And another. And another.

The newcomers already followed Jesus, but this wasn’t transfer growth. These were followers of Jesus who had disengaged themselves from body of Christ for various reasons. We provided a place which said, ‘Welcome home. You belong here.’

I love extending this welcome. One of the mums at my kids’ school talks about the itch her father gets on his amputated foot. Of course the foot isn’t really there but the itch is real to him. When followers of Jesus cut themselves off from the body of Christ we feel their absence like an amputee feels phantom pain. What greater gift can we show people who struggle to know they belong than to simply love and accept them.

Developing the Mission

The conversation changed from who we were in Jesus to how the gospel shapes our everyday life as our community grew. This was on purpose. We wanted a culture where discipleship and the gospel were 2 sides of the same coin.

We de-mythologized evangelism. It’s not about a tract, or door-knocking. Or even getting your friends to come hear the pastor or evangelist at church.

Instead, we helped people see that life on mission was joining in what God was already doing. We challenged people to ask God to help them see where he was working in the lives of people that don’t know him; to see others the way Jesus does; and to dive headlong into friendships with no expectations.

Basically we shrunk the church and established everyday rhythms where people were able to learn and see how the gospel impacted normal life, and live this out in their own unique contexts.

Honey, I Shrunk the ChurchSlowly the stories started to come in. One lady offered to pray for a co-worker experiencing family troubles. A few weeks later she shared that others in her workplace had started coming and asking her to pray for them.

The child who took a CD to school because she wanted to share her favourite song (one from church) with her class for news.

I chose to get my haircut at an Iraqi barber because I want him to know as a foreigner that, as a follower of Jesus, I love and welcome him to our country. I trust the Holy Spirit we open a way to talk about Jesus as our friendship continues to grow.

I love when we get together and what we get up to in the community. I love it because we are try follow to Jesus as best we can. Sure, we’ve failed sometimes, but Jesus’ grace always picks us up.

That’s why I shrunk the church. In doing so, I’ve found smaller, simpler gatherings of Jesus’ followers are incubators for missional and discipleship growth. And I’ve watched people grow. In our 5 years, we’ve sent out a family to help co-ordinate a church plant in their neighbourhood. Another church plant is preparing to be sent. And a third is in the planning stage stage. That’s exciting.

5 thoughts on “Honey, I Shrunk the Church”

  1. We started off wanting to be big and wanting all the frills. I planted with the intention of rapid growth within the program-driven design. It didn’t happen, no matter what my team did or how hard we prayed. It took a while for me to understand that it wasn’t size or form, but spiritual dynamic that the Lord preferred for us. We’ve since converted to this way of thinking and now have a hybrid of elements useful for overall discipleship. Though as a pastor, I still maintain a certain baseline of responsibility, I more feel I am also a normal Christian in the process of growth and development within this community. When people themselves are the goal, and not the means to reach a goal, wonderful things can happen.

  2. I love the way The Lord is changing Leaders hearts to do church differently. My husband and I live in the UK and we came out of the Box as we call it some years ago but felt isolated a little from the body who basically thought we were either backslidden or heretics or worse. We certainly got judged. Once you said you didnt go to a building basically judgement came. One woman just would not speak to us any further in a cafe she served in. Well God is doing something in the body of Christ, we followed Wayne Jacobeson (The God Journey) although he is not in this country he made a lot of sense. We toured as house sitters for three years so could not settle in A Church! now we are in our own house again but we do fellowship with Burn 24/7 and local groups who meet to worship and pray for the towns around us. Francis Chan also had an experience wherby God was challenging him away from the Mega church. My own Son has recently left a very large church in London UK to go Itinerant. Now he has to trust God for his wages. Every blessing to you as you walk with the Lord

    • Hi June. I’m really sorry for your bad experiences. I didn’t share this in the post but God had to change my heart. I used to think of people in house churches as being hurt, theologically skewed weirdos. Even though God changed my heart, I understand how lonely it can seem. One of the reasons for this it that we, as a culture, are so used to the ‘way we do church’ that we need to unlearn things to adopt something new. When the new thing stands out, people naturally question it. This can be very hurtful. In our case, the denomination we’re part of are behind the movement, so we felt validated if someone accused us of backsliding (not that anyone did). But this is rare. I’m so glad that you’re able to with Burn 24/7.

  3. Oh Wow. I love this article. You just spoke my heart.

    I have been in continued prayer about this very thing. I have noticed the same passive attitude with individuals in large congregations. This type of attitude leads to a lack of accountability of ourselves because our sins can stay hidden among the masses. They can sit comfortable and just listen to a pastor. Their worship can stay hidden in fear of what other will think about them.

    I have visited big churches before and to my surprise there was very little “fellowship”. It was like attending a concert. Now I’m not saying that is bad but where is the edification.

    I attend a small congregation and we worship our Lord, we study God’s Word, we talk about our blessings and our tribulations. We are at the alter laying our sins at the cross. We hug, we cry, we encourage each other. Do we have issues? Of course. But we can work on those issues together, building each other up. Hebrews 10:20-25 points out the body of Christ being guided only by the high priest which is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Our Savior, our King. Verse 25 states:

    “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching”.

    It is hard to do that with such large numbers but with small numbers like a family, it is truly a blessing and all the members are part of the ministry.

    Every part of the body of Christ has a purpose. 1st Corinthians 12:4 states, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit“.

    I am taking online classes with Christian Leaders Institute for my degree and I took a class from Larry Kreiger of Dove International dealing with Church Planting. Larry did this very thing. Starting out with the youth in his town, he and his wife started small groups of home churches. You might want to consider checking out his testimony and story. It is awesome.

    Again, thank you for this article. Sorry for the long comment but I am passionate about true fellowship among believers. May God continue guide and edify hearts through your ministry.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I love your description of the congregation you’re part of. What you’ve described is gospel ministry taking place. Whenever people come together issues come up (there’s no perfect group of believers) but it sounds like in your context, people are being lead toward Christ-likeness in this process.

      The image of family is a good one as an environment for growth. The times when I’ve observed it to be most effective in larger churches are when the church is structured around smaller groups. Not so much Bible study groups, but more simple expressions of church or communities on mission that all gather to celebrate together. Thus the Sunday service isn’t the focus but discipleship and disciple making.


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