Report about Simple Churches in Europe

by on 28/11/2010

Here is a report from www.simplechurch.eu:

Europe: Simple churches grow with 22 percent annually

While the historic churches in Europe face a steady decline in membership, ‘simple churches’ – small, reproducible communities of faith with on average 3-20 people – grow with 22 percent annually. This makes simple church planting currently one of the most fruitful missions approaches in Europe. This is the outcome of a survey initiated by Simple Church Europe (SCEU) among 48 networks in 16 nations. In Europe there are more than 1.400 simple church networks and 12.000 groups, in which 140.000 people participate.

SCEU, a relational resource network for simple church planting, wanted to get a better picture of how many simple church networks there are in Europe, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what kind of exchange and support would be most needed. As far as known this is the first coordinated research effort on simple church planting in Europe. The outcomes are presented in a five-point summary.

1. What is a simple church network?

For the purpose of the research ‘simple church network’ was defined as a relational network of small groups (3-20 people), made up of people who follow Jesus and extend his Kingdom. Simple church networks have no church buildings or paid clergy, and their meetings can take place anywhere – in neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces, cafés, outdoors. Another common term for simple church is ‘house church’ or ‘organic church’.

2. What types and expressions of simple church are there in Europe?

The simple church landscape in Europe is very diverse. There are simple church networks among specific ethnic groups (like migrants, gypsies), social groups (like businessmen, urban youth) and in specific geographic locations (villages, disadvantaged neighbourhoods, universities). Some are quite organized (leadership team, fixed meetings), others function more informally (groups of friends, often coached by an apostolic worker). SCEU describes three kinds of simple church networks:

(a) Apostolic networks: simple church groups started by an apostolic worker ‘straight in the harvest’, mostly along the lines of the instructions Jesus gave his disciples in Luke 10 (planting a new simple church group in a household/social circle instead of inviting people to an existing church meeting). These networks are primarily made up of new believers who just heard about Jesus, are being discipled, and win others to plant new groups.

(b) Bridge networks: simple church groups made up of existing Christians who intentionally seek to be ‘missional’. They try to build relationships with non-believers, often using conventional forms of evangelism and a ‘come to us’ approach.

(c) Christian networks: simple church groups formed by existing Christians who mainly seek a more relational and participatory alternative for conventional church. These groups tend to be inward-focused and sometimes reactionary: seeing their way of church as more biblical and healthy than the churches they come from.

Of these three kind of networks (a) is most effective in mission and reproduction, and (c) the least, with (b) being on a learning curve.

3. What are the main blessings and challenges of these simple church networks?

The simple church networks consider ‘mission’ (reaching new people with the Gospel) their ‘main blessing’ in 2009, but also point this out as their ‘main challenge’. Especially contextualisation is an issue. What is ‘good news’ to people, is the approach being perceived as relevant, are new faith communities really embedded in the culture? The networks that are most successful in missions put a relatively high emphasis on prayer, developing intentional relationships with non-believers, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (prophecy, healing), the ‘person of peace’ approach as instructed by Jesus in Luke 10, interactive meetings where everyone can contribute, and a focus on reproductive disciple-making. A second challenge for the simple church networks is identifying and training leaders to plant and develop new groups. A clearly perceived quality of the simple church networks is friendship/fellowship/community.

4. How many simple church networks and groups are there in Europe, and what is their growth rate?

Most simple church networks started over the past 10 years; the year 2000 seems to be a turning point. On average a simple church network is made up of 9 small groups and 96 people, roughly 11 people per small group. Based on an extrapolation approach explained in the report SCEU estimates the total number of simple church networks in Europe on 1,417 across 45 nations. These networks make up a total 12,757 small groups, in which 140,327 people are involved.

In many nations in Europe the membership of the mainline protestant, catholic, anglican and orthodox churches is declining with minus 1-3% annually. Free evangelical churches are doing a bit better with an average growth of 0.5% annually (some are growing, some are shrinking). Compared to this, the simple church networks in Europe are doing quite well with an average growth of 22%. The comparison of simple church groups with rabbits (often heard on simple church conferences) might be true for China and India, it’s certainly not (yet) the case in Europe. In 2009 the simple church networks planted on average 2.5 new churches. This represents 30 new members per network of which 7 come from a non-Christian background. So 23% could be considered ‘real harvest’ and 77% a ‘recycling of the saints’. In 2010 SCEU found a higher real conversion percentage of 34%.

5. Recommendations: where can simple church networks improve?

Based on the outcomes of the research and interviews with simple church planters, SCEU offers three recommendations:

(a) Actively learn from the ‘Apostolic networks’ that form the vanguard of the simple church movement. These networks are at least 4 times more effective than the other simple church networks in reaching non-Christians. What can we learn from them about discipleship, missions, contextualisation, training leaders and multiplication?

(b) Be very intentional and ‘out of the box’ in missions. Simple church groups can be started anywhere, so why not adopt a new locality or people group in prayer, and at Gods timing send a small team to identify a ‘person of peace’ and form a new group?

(c) Coach and train Christians in your network to plant new groups. Networks that train grow, networks that don’t train don’t grow.

SCEU points out that the results of the survey are indicative, not comprehensive. “We took the pulse of simple church planting in Europe as far as our relationships go.” The ‘Simple Church in Europe Status Report 2010’ can be downloaded as a free e-report at :http://simplechurch.eu/download

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