Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities
Author: Frank Viola / Sept. 2009 / David C. Cook Publisher / 319 pages
This is by far one of the most important books on church planting out today. Frank Viola takes the New Testament seriously when it comes to the methodology and theology of church planting. While you may, or may not, agree with his definition of church, and you may or may not accept his conclusion about the state of the traditional church today, you cannot argue with the Biblical principles of church planting he uncovers in his study of the book of Acts.
Chapters one through five are worth the price of the book. In the first chapter, the author examines the four different models of church planting in the book of Acts: the Jerusalem model, the Antioch model, the Ephesus model and the Roman model. Every church planter would do well to take a serious look at these models, and the excellent treatment given to them in this chapter.
The author also gives a very clear and understandable definition of what is sometimes called “house church,” “missional church,” or “organic church.” Frank Viola’s examination of the current condition of most house churches has a refreshing honesty to it. He recognizes the “short shelf-life” of these churches, and then offers some very profound insights about why this is true.
Chapter five is outstanding, because the author takes a critical look at the modern house church movement. He gives a careful and fair overview of the three great “movements” in the growth of house churches in the United States.
I agree with the author’s observation that the “house church movement” is catching momentum today. There is a ground swell of hunger and passion to rediscover what it means to be a part of a community of faith that is both authentic and real – an organic expression of the body of Christ. It is a “complete, radical shift in the paradigm of church – a revolutionary change in mind-set and practice.”
This, of course, demands an equally revolutionary approach to church planting.
If we want organic churches characterized by a living, vibrant community of Christ followers, then we must begin with that goal in mind – the right DNA embodied in the embryo at conception.
My only criticism of Viola’s work is his assumption that what is found in the New Testament related to what the believers did or did not do in their gatherings, or what the church planters did or did not do in the process of planting these churches, is to be taken as prescriptive rather than descriptive. In other words, the accounts of church practices and church planting in the New Testament should be taken as a description of what took place in that context, not a prescription of how we should do it in our day. Just because it was done a certain way in Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, or Rome, doesn’t mean this is the “only way” or even the “best way” to do it today. I think a better hermeneutic would be to discover the basic principles behind these church planting models and then adapt them to our cultural context today.
This book is a “must read” for church planters. It will make you re-think everything you’ve ever learned about church and church planting. It will challenge you to examine God’s Word and the history of the church planting movement recorded in the New Testament.
Reviewed by: Larry S. Doyle