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I read Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens” last summer. Cole is founder and Executive Director of Church Multiplication Associates, which began in 1990 fostering and serving organic church movements and the network he founded called Awakening Chapels. I found myself in association with Neil in 2006 when he and I were both asked to consult the leaders of the Campus Transformation Network. Neil is also author of Cultivating a Life For God, co-author of Raising Leaders for the Harvest, and Search & Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference.
This book is an appeal to Christians to go where life happens to connect with the disaffected people who would not otherwise come to church. Cole presents more than a consistent organic theme as he outlines his story and the story of a movement of simple, reproducible churches, he argues that the very nature of the church is organic and must therefore contain within the smallest grouping the complete DNA for reproduction.
The core of this book is the study of the “DNA of healthy church life and reproduction” (99-140) Cole wisely shows that the practice of Modernity, seeking a universal principle or pattern, such as Thom Wolf’s “New Testament Discipleship Pattern (NTDP),” is not necessarily wrong. Cole shows how the “pattern” must be “easily passed on by both example and teaching.” Wolf called this “napkin theology…if you can’t pass it on by writing it down on a napkin at a restaurant, then it isn’t worth writing down at all.” (110-111) Cole has benefited from Roland Allen’s “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” and George Patterson’s thinking about “spontaneous multiplication movements” and “obedience-oriented education” in his journey seeking the simple reproducible church model. (113)
Cole examines the organic nature of the Church in Jesus’ agri-parables and the organic nature of the Kingdom of God through agro-biology and astronomy. Seeking the basic pattern of church multiplication, Cole explains how the organic church goes beyond the popular “cell churches or house churches.” Cole shows how the scriptures consistently affirm the small group of two or three, “the ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry” where reproduction is easiest and community, accountability, confidentiality, flexibility, communication, direction and leadership are strongest. (100-102)
The DNA of Christ’s Body (D-Divine Truth or Faith, N-Nurturing Relationships or Love, and A-Apostolic Mission or Hope), like a seed, which is the “contagion” of the Kingdom of God, “must be whole, intact, and in every cell…complete in its simplicity.” (117-120) Cole warns that many churches have succumbed to Modernity’s tendency to specialize, concentrating on one part of the DNA and eliminating or segmenting out the other parts, such as “excellent preaching on Sundays, which is where we have divine truth.” Those same leaders will argue that they have small groups for nurturing relationships and a mission committee for apostolic mission, however Cole argues, “To separate each part is to destroy the whole thing.” (120)
Cole defends the “beautiful…design and order” of the organic structure of church, which is of “utmost importance.” (124-125) While some church leaders may argue that an organic structure will lead to disorder and chaos, Dee Hock, founder of VISA, author of the book The Birth of the Chaordic Age, writes:
“Purpose and principle, clearly understood and articulated, and commonly shared, are the genetic code of any healthy organization. To the degree that you hold purpose and principles in common among you, you can dispense with command and control.”
Some may think that Cole is arguing for chaos, but he clearly states that, “structures are needed, but they must be simple, reproducible, and internal rather than external.” (124) For internal structure, a structure based on principle and purpose, to work, we must put more faith in the DNA than in organization.
In summary, Cole simply reminds us that, like a seed, “multiplication starts with death” and “there is no resurrection without a death.” (103)
2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.