The Organic Church FAQ. A Brief Review of Church 3.0

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Book Review, Church Growth, Church Planting, House Church, Leadership, Missions
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Cole, Neil. Church 3.0. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2010. 274 pp.

Church 3.0 is a follow-up to Cole’s earlier book, Organic Church, and is structured to answer questions that might be asked about organic churches. The terms organic, simple and house church are sometimes used interchangeably – as you might see in my review of Felicity Dale’s book, An Army of Ordinary People. In short, organic are meant to be “relational, simple, intimate and viral” (from the flyleaf of Church 3.0) and are usually separate from buildings and hierarchy.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t care for. I don’t care anymore for books that use the Bible to say “this is the only biblical way.” I think I didn’t mind that much the first 10 books I read that said that about their methods. With each new book, that makes the same claim, though, I get more and more frustrated. Of course, Cole – and every other author who writes like this – is convinced that his method has biblical support. Fine, I get that. And the Bible is our primary authority. However, I often wonder if this type of argumentation would make it very far in an academic setting with higher expectations. Of course, feel free to remind me of my words when I write my first book explaining why my method is the only biblically supported method!

The title, and assumption that organic church is the next “upgrade” on church, equal to church 1.0 (pre-Constantinian) and 2.0 (Church since Constantine) – well, seems just a little bit presumptious. However, since I don’t have near the experience that Cole does, it would be presumptious of me to criticize his presumption 🙂 This presumption looks very similar to Hirsch’s history of “missional mode” from Forgotten Ways, which I critiqued here.

Although I really liked the perspective on groups of 2 or 3, I thought he overdid it with the proof-texts in support of the idea. It might have been enough to focus on the “sendings” – Jesus sending the disciples in groups of 2 (Luke 10:1b) and the Antioch church sending Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2b-3) Both examples are on page 140 – where we also find Cole’s statement, based on Matthew 18:20, that “Jesus promises to join the meeting when two or three come together, no matter where or when it might be.” This strikes me as a great-sounding statement based on a verse ripped kicking and screaming from the context.

Here are my 3 favorite insights from the book:

  1. The base unit of life: two to three people. Community. Accountability. Confidentiality. Flexibility. Communication. Direction. Leadership. All are stronger with 2 or 3. (139-142)
  2. Integration is better than segregation for children and adults (211-221)
  3. A manipulative leader cannot take advantage of Life Transformation Group participants because they are not a biblically illiterate following (239)

Yeah, I know I criticized the way he took verses out of context to support the groups of 2 or 3. However, the base unit was still an eye-opening concept for me. Although the other sizes that Cole uses – leadership team (4-7), family unit (12-15), etc. are in place in our Lublin structure, we have faltered in discipleship, especially in application of Scripture and in accountability. I think implementing the 2-3 idea will be a great help. This size is probably most cross-cultural, as well, whereas I think the other sizes would need to be adjusted in other cultures.

We haven’t integrated children in our groups. These groups have ranged from a simple Bible study to house church, but we still haven’t included children. Sometimes it happens unintentionally, but if we are able, we usually send them to do something else. However, in WI, in our LifeGroup, we involved 3 young children, and all of us were better for it. We ought to be able to do the same in Poland.

I loved the emphasis on discipleship throughout the book. The idea of people reading large portions of Scripture in the 2-3 groups, and being accountable for application really should help produce literate, biblically-informed, obedient disciples. Those kinds of people are much less susceptible to heresy than those multitudes who gather around a charismatic manipulator – demagogue. Life Transformation Groups mitigate against demagogy, and do seem to be an excellent bulwark against heresy. I think Cole might be overstating it when he says a manipulative leader cannot take advantage of people in a Life Transformation Group, but I can see where it would be much more difficult than in large, more biblically ignorant group.

You can buy Church 3.0 at Amazon.

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