The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church

The Rabbit and the ElephantAuthor:  Tony & Felicity Dale, George Barna

Publisher:  Tyndale, 2009

Tony and Felicity Dale, pioneers in the house church movement, collaborated with George Barna, to write The Rabbit and the Elephant, a book that identifies and explores the key concepts and proven methodology of starting and sustaining what has come to be known as “house churches.”  As they point out, the term, “house church” does not adequately describe or explain this type of church.  They prefer the terms “organic church” or “simple church.”  The Dales, founders of the House2House magazine, have also authored two other books related to simple church, Renewing the Mind, Simply Church, and Getting Started, a step-by-step manual for starting a simple church.

The title of this book is taken from a simple analogy.  If you take two elephants, put them in a room together with plenty of food, and a little luck, you may have a third elephant in a couple of years.  On the other hand, if you take two rabbits, put them in a room together with plenty of food, and a little luck, you’ll probably have thousands of rabbits in the same time period.  The reasoning goes like this.  The larger and more complex the organism, the more difficult it is to reproduce.  The smaller, and simpler the organism, the easier it is to reproduce.

This analogy provides food for thought as we face an exploding world population not being reached by traditional evangelism methodology, and a global church planting system that fails to keep pace with the growing numbers of lost people in our world.The authors offer a simple, biblical response to the need for discipleship and evangelism – leverage the power of small, reproducible “cell” groups to reach where traditional churches cannot reach.

This book provides one of the clearest definitions of “simple, organic church” I’ve ever run across in all my reading. Speaking from years of experience in the house-church movement, they point out the dangers and challenges church planters face in starting this type of church.

Chapter 13 is perhaps my favorite part of the book.  Taking Jesus’ example of sending out of the seventy-two, the authors outline six basic principles of church planting.  These principles will apply to almost any type of church plant.   Every church planter should purchase this book, if for no other reason, than to look at these six principles.  Powerful!

I was also inspired and challenged by the “stories from the harvest.” (Chapter 14)   This is one of those books you want to take time to reflect, meditate and internalize each chapter.  I believe this book makes a significant contribution to understanding the future of the church in coming decades.


About Larry Doyle

Larry is the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association. He has served overseas with the International Mission Board (SBC), in Charlotte NC as the Director of International Ministries, and as a pastor in North Carolina and Kentucky. He is married to Rebekah Hill, a native of Greensboro NC, and has two children and three grandchildren.
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