Book 3: Structure and Strategy in the Local Church

Teaching goals

In this section, we hope to gain the following understanding.

  • Students will understand how the church can create and adapt structures and strategies to do its work, without violating the intent of Scripture.
  • Students should have a feel for the fact that it is alright to change structures, and that many different types of structures are effective.
  • Students should understand what the process of Ministry Networking entails. They will be ready to participate in the Network Seminar.
  • Students should understand the differences and similarities between the old and the new structures employed at Xenos.
  • Students should understand what a task-oriented Ministry Team is.
  • Students should understand what a grounding group is.
  • Students should understand the philosophy involved in Ministry Networking and Fellowship groups.

How do We Create a Structure for the Local Church?

Every local church has certain goals, and a strategy for accomplishing those goals. It also has structures and methods by which it carries out this strategy. How should we determine these things. Since we want to base such decisions on the Bible, it is vital that we approach the biblical data with sound interpretive principles. Unless we do this, we will build the church in ways that are ineffective, or perhaps even at cross-purposes with Christ.

No wonder Paul says that we should "be careful how (we) build!" (1 Cor. 3:10) The following chart illustrates what we believe is a good methodology for accomplishing this goal.


Explaining the boxes

Biblical Data consists of the material from Scripture which describes the essential nature and mission of the church. As argued earlier, this material includes material that is universally applicable (such as ethical principles), Jesus' specific teaching about the church, Acts, the epistles and Rev. 1-3. One of the primary considerations must be whether the scripture is describing precepts, principles, or examples. Each of these provide a different level of authority, application, and/or flexibility to today's church.

Precepts refer to specify commands addressed to the church. These precepts define aspects of the church's mission and are applicable to all Christians in all ages. The Great Commission (Mt. 28:19) and the exercise of church discipline (Mt. 18:15-17) would be examples of such precepts.

Principles refer to descriptive doctrinal statements about the nature of the church which have universal relevance. For example, the analogy of the local church as a physical body (Rom. 12:4,5) describes certain features of church life (e.g. mutually interdependent involvement) which have important implications for church structure.

Examples are just that--examples of ways that the New Testament church gave expression to scriptural precepts and principles. Since cultures and church resources change, scriptural examples are not binding. However, in view of the tremendous fruit borne by the New Testament church, it is wise to carefully consider one's reasons before deciding not to include them. House churches are an "example" which seems to have virtually universal relevance since home groups greatly facilitate koinonia. The Jerusalem church's communal property seems to be an "example" which was not the norm even in New Testament times.

Wine refers to what God is trying to do at this time. Jesus referred to this "wine" in his parable of the wine and the wineskins in Lk. 5:36-38. Although our understanding of the biblical data describing God's program may grow and deepen over time, it is a body of truth that is unchanging and therefore serves as an anchor for our work in building the church.

Field refers to that segment of our culture which God has called us to reach for Christ. "Resources" refers to such things as people, spiritual gifts, money, facilities, reputation, knowledge and expertise which the local church presently possesses. Both of these features are in a state of constant flux.

Skins refers to the present tactics of the church--especially the structures and methods employed to carry out that strategy. On the one hand, "skins" are very important because they have the ability to enhance or inhibit the expression of the "wine." On the other hand, "skins" are subordinate to the "wine" and derive their value from how well they serve the "wine." They have no intrinsic value and should be cast aside once it becomes apparent that they are no longer serving this purpose.

Results refers to the extent to which the church is accomplishing its mission. Both quantitative (more people coming to Christ) and qualitative (Christians becoming more mature spiritually) growth are important results.

Periodic Re-evaluation refers to the necessity of reflection and change in church tactics, structure and methods. As we evaluate the results of our work, and as we evaluate the ways in which our field and resources have changed, these factors will periodically necessitate the innovation of new "skins."


The Need for Change

Thus, while the essential nature and mission of the church should remain constant, its outward appearance should be constantly changing. But human nature naturally resists change. There are many reasons for this fact, but it is a feature which tends to gradually render the local church ineffective. Since we naturally tend to become attached to the "skins," we often preserve them long after they have ceased to serve their purpose.

Because this process is very gradual, those involved often do not even realize that it is happening. But when this occurs, the local church ceases to be a dynamic movement and instead becomes a stagnant institution. Church history makes it clear that unfortunately this is the norm rather than the exception.

One of the crucial responsibilities of the leaders of the local church is to fight against this tendency. Leaders must lead the church into change as often and as extensively as is needed if they are to be faithful to the living Head of the church, Jesus Christ.

Other Wineskins

Each local church has significant differences in both the fields they are reaching and the resources they possess. For this reason, it should not be surprising that there are many different "wineskins" which are effective in church growth. It is important to realize this, since the natural tendency is think that our present "wineskin," if it is effective, is the best way of doing things.

Below are examples of churches which have all enjoyed significant growth, but which have employed a wide variety of "wineskins."

  • New Hope Community Church: Started by Dale Galloway in Portland; focuses on people with "felt needs" as opportunity for outreach; utilizes hundreds of small groups for evangelism; utilizes large meetings for worship
  • Willow Creek: Started by Bill Hybels in suburban Chicago; focuses on corporate male 25-45; utilizes large seeker-sensitive meetings in an impressive, non-churchy building; strong emphasis on friendship evangelism; developed NETWORK to facilitate mobilization of people into suitable ministry; is presently developing home groups for both koinonia and outreach
  • Fellowship Bible Churches: Started by Gene Getz in Dallas; somewhat contemporary worship services centered around solid Bible teaching; strong emphasis on fellowship facilitated by home groups; has successfully utilized Dallas Seminary graduates (where Getz taught) to start several new churches; growth may be largely assimilating Christians, since evangelism is not strongly emphasized
  • Elmbrook: Led by Stuart Briscoe in suburban Milwaukee; traditional worship services with excellent expository preaching; strong line of courses offered, including a branch of TEDS; Briscoe and wife have regular TV show; have successfully daughtered four churches in the Milwaukee area; strong emphasis on foreign missions
  • Bear Valley: Formerly led by Frank Tillapaugh and Paul Borden in Denver; emphasized facilitating laymen starting new ministries; against building larger facility, instead using same facility to house different ethnic congregations
  • Calvary Chapel: Started in Costa Mesa by Chuck Smith who was a key figure in providing acceptance of hippies and direction for the Jesus Movement; moderate charismatic with solid Bible teaching; strong emphasis on domestic church planting. Over 800 churches planted in the U.S.
  • Vineyard: Broke off from Calvary Chapel; John Wimber has emphasized "power evangelism"--relying on Spirit-led encounters rather than persuasion; moderate charismatic large-group worship services and home "kinship" groups for koinonia; Vineyard is a new denomination, starting new churches or assimilating existing groups nationwide