Unit 1.5 Craig Kennet Miller: What is a faith community?


Craig Kennet Miller

NextChurch.Now: Creating New Faith Communities

(Revised edition with DVD. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2004).

What is a faith community?

Sometimes a simple phrase can open our eyes to vast, amazing possibilities.  For me that phrase is in this section from Craig Miller=s book, NextChurch.Now: Creating New Faith Communities, where he describes a faith community as made up of two cooperative, interacting components: worship and a discipleship system.[1]

Key to this movement of the Spirit is the concept that conversion happens in the midst of Christian conversation, that rather than an us-against-them approach, people come to faith in the midst of Christian community. The primary evangelistic strategy of the 21st century is the establishment of new faith communities that invite people to experience the grace of God through the practice of the Christian spiritual disciplines, through hands-on experiences of mission and ministry, and through the celebration of the Christian life in worship. 

A faith community is created when a worship experience is tied to a discipleship system. A worshiping group without a discipleship system is not a faith community; it is simply a place to worship God. A faith community intentionally creates settings that link worship to discipleship and spiritual formation. The primary purpose of this community is to reach out to new people to offer them experience of the grace of God that can transform them into disciples of Christ.[2]

Miller=s understanding of a faith community can help us to understand what is happening within cell churches that allows them to make and mature thousands and thousands of disciples, resulting in a church like Yoido Full Gospel Church which is as large as 700,000 members.  While these cell based faith communities are organized differently from the church we attend in the United States, there are common factors. Once we get beyond our discomfort with the sheer size of these churches, we can see the common factors and understand how to apply the principles of the cell church to the common factors in our churches with the hope for common results.

I like to call these giant churches Amajor league churches@ because people are comfortable attending major league baseball games in large stadiums filled with thousands of people.  Bishop Eddie Long makes a good point: ASome people are bothered by a large church of thousands of people; they don=t like a big crowd. Well, there are going to be a lot of people in heaven and a lot of people in hell. Wherever you=re going, you might as well get used to it.@ While we can understand the value of a little league game, we can also understand the value of a major league baseball game.[3] We attend major league sports in a small group, often our family. That meets our needs or we would not attend. The other people in the stadium are not our primary concern. Our concern is the small group community we sit with and what happens down on the field. The same concerns fuel large cell church growth. 

The world’s largest church is actually an interlocking network of over 10,000 faith communities, all cooperating to make and mature disciples for Jesus Christ.[4] And while there are many differences because of the size of these churches, they basically operate as faith communities, just like your local church.  While the world=s largest churches are found in Seoul, Korea, they are far outnumbered by churches of fifty or less: ASeoul=s skyline after dark is filled with neon crosses, mounted on the tops of buildings where a church exists. There are literally hundreds of them! A Presbyterian pastor said to me, AMost of those crosses mark small churches with fewer than fifty members. They never seem to grow beyond that figure.@ Those who seek to discount the amazing growth of the cell group churches in Korea must understand not all their churches are growing at the same rate.@[5] Small churches are the norm in Seoul, Korea, as elsewhere in the entire world. Yoido Church has overcome normal and natural systemic limits to church growth through the world=s most effective discipleship, rapidly filling up organizational capacity with new converts to the highest possible size in a context where much smaller churches are culturally normative.

[1]Craig Kennet Miller, NextChurch.Now: Creating New Faith Communities (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2000), 114, 116. Balancing the dual aspects of the large group worship service and a discipleship system of cells in a Atwo winged church@ is a major emphasis of cell church author Bill Beckham, The Second Reformation: Reshaping the Church for the 21st Century (Houston: Touch Publications, 1995). We will encounter Dr. Beckham in Unit Three of this class.

[2]Craig Miller, NextChurch.Now, 6; see also 50-51.

[3]Check out the visual parable at http://www.disciplewalk.com/parable_baseball.html.

[4]For a brief description with examples of cell churches, see pp. 2-6 of the Project Introduction at http://www.disciplewalk.com/Resources.html.

[5]Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here? A Guidebook for the Cell Group Church, 10th Anniversary ed. (Houston: Touch Publications, 1990), 41. We will encounter Dr. Neighbour again in Unit Three of this class.

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