A Review of
Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee.
The term “organic” with regards to church lends to the idea of a small, spontaneous group of people that come together and immediately become church. There are little things to work out, for instance people must show up. Somebody has to prepare something, but it is ad hoc. I tend to pin organic church somewhere between a weekly class reunion and a Quaker meeting – not quite so flippant and social, but not quite so programmed either.
Yet, anyone who understands organic gardening (which I do not) knows that careful time and planning must go into the organic food. Organic foods tend to be more vulnerable under many situations. Regular care must be given and the plant must be nurtured. For all that work, the end result is astounding: a tastier, healthier vegetable.
Frank Viola, in his new book, Finding Organic Church: A comprehensive guide to starting and sustaining authentic Christian communities, has written, in effect, a manual for church planters to raise an organic church.
Organic foods are still fighting an uphill battle against non-organic foods, so too do organic churches fight an uphill battle just to survive against the institutional church. Like the parable of the sower, many organic churches will land on bad soil, maybe one in four will land on good soil and produce fruit. This pessimistic view by Viola is not all that encouraging, but if it was easy why would he need to write a manual?
Viola does not seem to take into account the soil in which the organic church seed is sown. Soils have different properties, different contexts. Viola speaks nearly nothing to the varying contexts. His organic church feels like a white, middle-class, suburban house church with their four-door sedans parked out front. His rigid guidelines include a scripted format for services so as to be the most effective, but only most effective in a certain context.
Viola is also very ardent at the beginning of the book that church planters hold a specific calling to be church planters (which I believe), but their form must be that of Paul’s, who comes into an area, plants a church and soon – within six months, generally – leaves. I don’t know too many church planters interested in popping into an area, planting a church and taking off. Viola does say that while growing an organic church takes a great deal of attention, it can become sustainable quite quickly. He implies that loss of sustainability occurs when the organic church becomes the pet project of the church planter. While I don’t agree with him that church planters must continually move on, his warning about who has “ownership” of the church is one to be heeded.
Finding Organic Church could be a great first tool for somebody who is just now being disillusioned by the institutional church. For those who have read Viola and other organic church authors, this book can be skipped. To get the best content of Viola’s book, read Watchman Nee instead, as Viola uses his works frequently. It is a quick read, but Viola’s writing style seems rushed and reaching. He has a wealth of experience in working with organic churches and is a good consultant, but outside of a singular context, this manual will gather more dust than dog-eared pages.