"Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words." Saint Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

House Church-How We Got Here

We’d like to take a little blog time here and give you a report/update, if you will, on what is happening in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We realize that some of you may not be interested in this, and some may be really interested. It’s pretty long, and we still have other things to tell. But this will get you started on understanding our mission experience here.

As many of you know we are in the middle of an exciting time. We are part of a house church network. We didn’t come to Brazil with the idea of house churches but the Spirit moved in a strong way to lead us to where we are today.

In June of 2002, our team arrived in Porto Alegre. We had finished an internship together in Abilene, Texas. During these months of language study and training in church planting we learned an attractional way of doing church. Our goal was to set up a church with a nice building and try to attract people to it. The building was the main place of encounters such as prayer meetings, men’s breakfasts, youth activities, women’s activities, worship services, English classes and Bible studies, etc. We had worship services every Sunday night, a prayer meeting every Tuesday night, youth activities almost every Saturday, etc. We opened up our building on Kid’s Day (a special holiday in Brazil to celebrate kids) during a neighborhood party and had over 1000 visitors, had bring a friend worship Sundays, we passed out 30,000 flyers around the city advertising our first worship Sunday (in August of 2003), etc.

We really tried to make our building a friendly, open, loving place and I think for the people who came in and gave it a chance, they found the love of Christ. The problem we found was that most of the people we invited to come to the building had a phobia. Something about the word “church” scared them away. Some examples would be that we had 200 people from our inaugural service (photo to the right) and we never had close to 200 people in the building again except for when we had a “Bring a Friend Day” one Sunday night and had around 190 people. Not one new person returned after that day. Of the 1000 people that entered our building on Kid’s Day and came in contact with our Christian family, not one came back. Of the 30,000 flyers we distributed for our 1st worship only one person was there because of the flyers. We thank God that she became a great friend of Benay’s who later gave her life to Christ and reconciled with her ex-husband before she moved away to another city (so….the money and effort was definitely worth it for this one soul). On one bring a friend Sunday we (our family) personally invited 70 people (friends….not just acquaintances) and only 3 showed up.

We were making relationships with Brazilians, who had an interest in Jesus, but somehow weren't willing get involved with a church.
About 2 years after we opened our doors to the building one of our teammates began sharing how they just could not continue doing what we were doing. He felt as if he were just going through the motions of being church. He wanted more from his walk with Christ in relation to this ministry. We understood exactly the sentiment. For years we have said that we want to “be” church and not “play” church. “Playing church” to us means asking someone on Sunday how they are doing and getting a “good” response when things are literally falling apart in their lives. A level of Christian superficiality that we don’t want to be a part of. We also saw that when we invited people to come to “church” with us, they sometimes (literally) took a step back because just the word “church” was scary to them. But, when we invited some of the same people to our house for a cookout or even a small group bible study, they often came. The question was how do we get these people to not be afraid of the word “church”?

A short time later someone from our sponsoring church came to visit our team and asked all the men on the team what would happen if all the Americans had to leave the next day. To a man, we all said it would die. We had made, without ever wanting to do so, everything so dependent on Americans (money, preaching, teaching, problem solving) that we realized we were creating a great dependency on Americans. God has never guaranteed us that we would all be here for 20 years to make sure this could be completely independent. In fact, we don’t want to be here 20 years later because we “have to” but because we “want to.” Big difference. We were reminded that what we were doing, in the way we were demonstrating what church was (big building, big events, etc), wasn’t beneficial for the Brazilians. We believe God sent this man to us to open our eyes to think in new ways to “be church” instead of “do church.”

Over the next year, God’s Spirit began to work in an incredible way on our team. One by one and in different ways, we and our teammates began to feel a leading to make a change. We began praying and fasting for God’s guidance in this possible change. Our team had a meeting together for a few days at the beginning of 2006 to discuss the future of this ministry. All the missionaries that were committing to stay in Brazil were unified in the decision. House church was where we were being led. We then involved the Brazilians to study Acts with us. We did not want to just announce that a house church network was going to be the next step and come along if you want and if not then you need to leave. We wanted to know if what we were doing was pleasing to the Spirit. We felt that if this was truly Spirit led, then our Brazilian family would be excited about this new future. If they did not want to be a part of it, then this would be our answer. We began having monthly meetings with our Brazilian brothers and sisters as we read through Acts. We asked them to read and pray that God would share with all of us what church meant, what it looked like and how do we get there from here. We never mentioned house churches to them. At the end of the meetings we made a list of things the Brazilians discovered in Acts. They listed almost everything that our team had listed. They were beginning to understand that the word church meant God’s people and not a building. Big difference.

On December 3rd of last year, our team shared with the church family what the united vision for our church family would begin to look like. It was an exciting day. We made a committee of Americans/Brazilians to help with the transition into a house church network. We asked them when they would want to leave the building. They advised the sooner the better. They wanted to be out by the end of the year. Knowing how Brazil works in the summer months (Dec-Feb for us), it would take a miracle if anything got done in that short of time. But thanks to God, we were out of the building and had moved all of our stuff into storage before Dec. 31. Truly another God thing!

In January and February of this year, all of the church family met in our garage. God blessed us with cool weather almost every day which is remarkable for this city in the middle of summer.

On warmer days (photo on the right) God blessed us with enough shade in the garage and out to keep everyone relatively cool. During these worship times together we had some of the biggest numbers of people here that we had had in a long time. It was really encouraging to us to know that God was already blessing this new work. It was further affirmation that we were following the Spirit’s leading. After a church retreat at the end of February, we launched the new house church network in March of this year.

We began with 4 house churches with each missionary family leading and hosting each group. Each house church is, obviously, different than the other and that is the beauty of it. There is no cookie cutter way to do this. We adapt and change as needed. There are now 5 house churches which meet every Sunday. On the last Sunday of every month we have a worship celebration with all of the churches together. We praise God for his unfailing love.

We have been incredibly blessed to be a part of this. Not one Brazilian has left our church family because of these changes. In fact, God’s family has grown. God is good and He continues to add new people to His kingdom. We, personally, feel as if we have seen God move more in the last 8-9 months than we have in the first 4.5 years we lived here.

We will also say that we have never done anything harder in our lives. We know that this is because Satan is becoming more and more uncomfortable with what is going on here. Lives are being changed. We are “being” church instead of “playing” church. He doesn’t like it and he is mobilizing his forces. Just in this last week we have been in the middle of an incredible spiritual battle but, just today, we have seen God give the victory and we know it’s because we have a real family praying specifically for each other’s needs.

We share all of this with you to let you know that God is still in control and our team is actively pursing His will for our lives and for the life of this house church network. Our team has never been more unified. We no longer feel as if we are a part of a church family that is reliant on Americans nor do we feel that this is a Brazilian church. We feel that we are a part of God’s church and He is leading and directing our path. Our goal is to become a self-sustaining, easily reproducible house church network. A family that reacts when someone is hurting and a family that is learning to actively seek the lost and share God’s word with our not yet Christian friends. A family that is learning to ‘Walk across the Room’ to give a hug and introduce ourselves because we realize every single conversation has the potential to change someone’s eternal destination. We aren’t perfect and never will be but we are thankful to be a part of a group who is learning to confess our sins and help each other on this faith walk.

We hope to be blogging soon about more exciting things going on here in Brazil. We will start tomorrow by sharing a video about House Church and what it can look like. We hope it will give you a better idea of what we have tried to share in this blog.


Ed said...

Thanks. I wondered what led to your decision. When I heard what you all were doing, I was skeptical, thinking that you were just trying something that is in vogue here in the states. God bless you all in "being" the church, not just "doing" church.

The Five Luna's said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of your journey and God's obvious hand in your work in Brazil. Please continue to share any specific prayer requests so that we too can be supportive from here.

Sascha said...

Right on! I love that I can read this post and be so pumped up and encouraged and not bored because I have told our story so many times in the last couple of weeks. Furlough is a little difficult at times, but I have never been so thankful for our supporters and the way they are embracing the house churches in Porto Alegre. Praise Him!

We love and miss you all and are fighting for you through prayer here in the states.