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City Wide and House-to-House: Why the Church Needs Both

This Problem in Missional Communities

Most missional communities/new missional start-ups I know start by inhabiting a context/neighborhood with oikos. It is rich, contextual and a place to work out on the ground what God is doing. This makes sense to me. Every home is a place to be present to Christ and one another and allow the Kingdom (His Lordship) to shape this place and our presence together in the world. But eventually, if there is no public meeting, this small community gets shut out from the neighborhood because of the intense intimacy and incredible encounter. It becomes a clique, a cult. No one can break in. (The early church had this problem).

Certainly members of the small house gathering make friends, relationally the Kingdom happens, and they can invite them in. But!! Too often the boundaries to enter are too high. The habits of the small intimate gathering have gone unchallenged for too long by the social reality outside it. There is no bridge place for outsiders to make sense enough to commit to becoming part of an oikos.

And so, I believe it is as essential for the local oikos to have ekklesia, just as it is for the ekklesia to have oikos.

The more I think about this, and the more I hear of what others are doing in cities like Minneapolis, Cleveland, etc. (Mike Breen has advocated a version of this here), the more I see the advantages of organizing the church gatherings into something like this (although there are many other ways to accomplish holding oikos and ekklesia together in tension without either melding into the other).

1. Keep oikos in the homes. Here we have a sharing of a meal. We have mutual sharing of our lives. We have Scriptural proclamation. We have Eucharist and prayer. We have presence with one another. We have a sending.

2.Once a month, however, we have a broader celebration friendly to the public (ekklesia): Call it “Celebration of What God is Doing” in (town or village you inhabit).”

Here we would:

  • Invite all churches in the neighborhood to join us.
  • We would collectively tell stories of what God is doing in neighborhood …
  • We would proclaim the gospel over this neighborhood (what we used to call preaching) in such a way that connects to everyone in neighborhood.
  • We would praise God in music and celebratory praise and invite the world into this.
  • We would send out with a blessing over the city/village we inhabit.

Here there would be NO Eucharist—no intimate settings where we share life … it could not possibly be a staple of Christian life. But it can be a public ecclesia gospel witnessing event that gives people the wherewithal to make sense of what they are seeing (hearing rumors of) in the neighborhood, and encouraging everyone into what God is doing.

If you have a large building in the center of town, use this building for this grand celebration every month. But do not let this meeting become the center of Christian life or else oikos will be lost and the church will lose the tension.

Instead, use the larger building (larger than a house) for gathering together to take care of important functions in the church such as children’s catechesis and serving needs of the community—food for the hurting, recreation, concerts for the local businesses.

In summary

Every missional church needs both oikos and ekklesia. Many hold oikos and ekklesia in tension in different ways. At Life on the Vine, what has evolved is a singular gathering where both are held together in one gathering with intensified oikos developed in local missional order house gatherings. On the other hand, our discussions in Peace of Christ church suggest another strategy altogether. There are many different approaches, but the two must be held in tension. How do you hold both in tension at your church? How does one get lost in the other?  

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.