The First 4 Years

by Robbie Trice

The following is a summary of the last 4 ½ years, discoveries we have made and where we are now on our ongoing journey.

When we had our first meeting on September 30, 2012, it was truly a step of faith unlike anything we have ever experienced. Although simple church had been thriving for decades in other parts of the world, we knew very little about what was happening where we live or how to do it. So, for us, it was unknown territory. We had a few scriptures, a couple of books and a sense that we were being led by the Holy Spirit that emboldened us to step out, but we had no idea what this would look like. All we knew is that we were to open our home, provide believers with an atmosphere in which to function according to I Corinthians 14:26 and make no attempt to control it.

Our first meetings in our home were exciting. One of the best things we could have done was to begin with a meal. The ice was quickly broken as we fellowshipped face to face instead of looking at the back on one another’s heads. As we sang, shared and prayed, we began to get a glimpse of what it was like when Jesus led His people instead of a man. For the first time in a very long time, gathering with believers did not feel like a program to be executed, but rather a family gathering. Instead of meeting to sustain an organization and building, we were building up one another. The Lord was not speaking through one man, but using all of the members of His body to minister. The contrast was starkly different than our previous structure.

We were given a prophetic word in our first meeting that said, “You have been saying for so long, ‘There must be more’. This is ‘the more’. That did not mean that house church was the arrival. It did mean that we were on the right track.

The next few years were a grand experiment. In fact, the Lord impressed us with two things in the beginning: 1) we would be spending a lot of time in the spiritual “laboratory” and 2) we were to hold on to people loosely. In the lab, you try different things. Some work, some don’t. But as you experiment, you learn something that hopefully moves you forward, closer to a solution, a cure or a new discovery. We allowed ourselves to make mistakes and even enjoyed that freedom. It has been awkward and even messy at times. But even in the times when we didn’t know what to do next, it was refreshing to know that an awkward silence or singing a song that was a train wreck did not mean that someone quenched the Spirit, was not prepared or prayed up. There was real life in what we were doing and it was wonderful.

When we began to approach 45 people in our home, several among us opened their home and we became a network of 3 house churches meeting in smaller groups. Some embraced the change, some had a hard time with it but went along and some left and returned to organized church. A few felt that we needed to have some of the elements that all “real churches” have…more worship, teaching, rituals and structure. Some even thought we should stay together and find a bigger place to meet.

“Hold on to people loosely”, said the Lord. For us that meant that when people leave for whatever reason, love them unconditionally and trust the Christ in them to lead and guide them. People will try it and decide that they just can’t make such a radical transition.  Don’t take it personally.

When we multiplied into smaller groups, we began a monthly corporate meeting at a larger location. At one point we felt that we had so many new people that we spent about 4 months in corporate meetings teaching the principles that we had learned and experienced thus far particularly as it related to simple, organic church. When we finished that season of teaching, several others opened their home and began meeting. Some survived and some didn’t, but we still had a core of people who were flexible enough to ride with the changes.

Then came 2016. Althought this part of the journey is personal, it is significant in the discoveries we have made regarding the church. In January my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course, we didn’t see that coming.

We had planned to fight this battle quietly with a few close friends and family. In May of last year, a well meaning sister posted about Martha’s illness and tagged both of us. The word was out and we were very upset…until the flood of love, support and prayer began to come. The same day it came out on Facebook, a long time friend called me and asked if he could set up a Go Fund Me for us. He had no idea that although we had insurance, we were facing a high deductible plus out of pocket expenses. We humbly accepted his offer and he created https://www.gofundme.com/supportmarthatrice.

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity and love that we have received. To say we’ve been blessed and cared for beyond anything we deserve is an understatement Through all the tests, scans, chemo treatments, surgery and battle after battle with the insurance company and Obamacare, Jesus and His body have sustained us every day.

To read about and follow my wife's personal journey, visit her blog at http://marthatrice.blogspot.com/. A friend has also created the Facebook Page, Friends Standing with Martha

In the midst of this, the meetings in our home became less frequent as Martha was not able to host. A couple in our fellowship graciously opened their home to provide a place for our small group to meet, whether we could be there or not. Additional changes began to occur. One couple who are some of the most loving, sacrificially giving people we know, had to end regular weekly meetings in their home for a number of valid reasons. Regular house church meetings at the beaches continued.

As we were able, we made it our intention to meet with individuals and couples throughout the week over coffee or dinner more often than in weekly house church meetings. In that process, we began to discover that those relationships were growing deeper and more meaningful. Then when our friends set up the Go Fund Me and Facebook page, I realized that most of those who responded (and responded so quickly) were those relationships that might have been initiated in meetings and churches we had been a part of in the past, but were deepened into life long relationships outside of meetings. They were the relationships that developed, grew and have endured beyond the 4 walls of any building, organization or program. Martha has said for years, "True relationships will go beyond the 4 walls of the institution". I began to ask myself, “Could this be ‘the more’?” 

About the same time, a lady in our fellowship (who is one of those we have become closer to beyond our meetings) gave me a book called Finding Church by Wayne Jacobsen. In his book, Wayne describes his journey from an institutional pastor to a Christ follower in search of “the church that Jesus is building” (Matthew 16:18). Although he tried a number of expressions of the church outside of the traditional structure, including house church, he felt that there was more. He found that the Lord was bringing people into his life in all sorts of ways and that he was experiencing great fulfillment and life in the simple connection with one individual. In time, it became clear to him that in his everyday life there were divine appointments that were designed and orchestrated by the Lord Himself. At some point, it dawned on Wayne that this is the church that Jesus is building. This is the church that we have set our sights on. 

Another prophetic word that we received in those first meetings was, “I am sending you divine appointments. They are all around you every day”. In the following weeks when we met together, there was testimony after testimony of those of us who were having these divine appointments. It wasn’t long before we realized that they had been there all along. Now we were beginning to recognize and respond to them.

We are seeing that His church is not predicated on one individual’s organized effort to bring people together. She is much greater that that. That’s not to say that meetings are totally unnecessary. However, meetings are not full expression of the church that Jesus said He would build. They are not even the main thing. If we think that "house church" is "it", we are limiting ourselves to a very small part of the great variety of ways in which Jesus is expressed though His body. We’ve seen many organized churches come and go, up and down, grow and split. In the end, it cannot be sustained without a lot of people and their money. Likewise, if we are having to sustain a house church or a network of them, we may be doing more to "help" build the church than we are supposed to. But Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell would not be able to stop the church that He was building.

There must be some organic, unseen quality to His church that we must first find and then simply flow with. Someone called it “liquid” church. Jesus doesn’t need our help to build it. All we have to do is find it, get in it and go with the flow.

I don’t expect that this will resonate with everyone. It really requires not just thinking outside the box, but putting the box totally out of your mind. But I do hope you know that with all my heart I want to do nothing more or less than what our Lord wants for His body. This is a life long quest. 

We still have a vision and commitment to help those who no longer connect with what is happening in organized structures to find their way to healthy, life giving and encouraging relationships with others in the body of Christ who are on the same journey. I encounter them nearly every day.

Since we now see a much bigger picture, we are no longer focused on planting house churches. We will focus on building deeper relationships with those whom God has brought into our lives for a purpose and reach out to the “dones” wherever they are and by any means available. Through the use of social media, resource websites, Skype, phone and networking and face to face contact when we are able, we will be more outreach driven. We will also have periodic Connection Gatherings for the building up of the body in Jacksonville. These will not be meetings for the sake of meetings…these will be meetings that matter. If house churches result as one expression of the body that will be God’s doing and not human effort.  

According to a study by Josh Packard PhD, a sociologist, professor and researcher at the University of Northern Colorado, there are currently 65 million “dones” who have walked away from the organized church. For the first time in modern church history, that equals the number who still has an affiliation with one. We will be here for them.