It’s an unlikely scenario. A celebrity pastor trades in his thriving megachurch for the house-church model. But that’s exactly what pastor and best-selling author Francis Chan did.
During the height of Chan’s megachurch ministry, he drew a crowd of 5,000 to Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Then he left the megachurch and totally restructured his pastoral and discipleship model. But why?
Chan shared his reasoning during a talk at Facebook’s headquarters back on June 22. So this story is a few months old. However, in June I was on maternity leave and missed this news coverage. Maybe you missed hearing this story too. And because the topic of church models is so relevant (and fascinating) to our Juicy Ecumenism readers—many of whom are church leaders—I thought it important to go ahead and cover it here.
During Chan’s talk, a Facebook employee asked, “What is working well in your ‘We are Church’ model that others can reproduce in other areas in San Francisco or elsewhere?”
For those who didn’t know his backstory, Chan explained the mega-church model was “all I knew what to do.” But over time he grew frustrated with his congregant’s contentment with only showing up on Sunday to sit and listen to a sermon.
“I’m going, wait a second, according to the Bible every single one of these people has a supernatural gift that’s meant to be used for the body,” Chan said. “And I’m like, 5,000 people show up every week to hear my gift. See my gift. That’s a lot of waste.”
He also acknowledged the millions of dollars it costs to maintain a megachurch’s spacious building, staff, sound system, and other resources. “And I’m going, gosh, how come people in other countries go to church for free,” Chan admitted.
Rather than worry with the number of filled seats, Chan grew worried over the major disconnect between his congregants. Chan confessed he was “convicted” by Scriptures’ call for Christians to love one another and noted “that’s not a small command.” Recalling John 13:35, he recited, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Chan realized it was time to reconsider the direction his ministry was going. He shared with his Facebook audience that he wanted to gather people together in a format “where they can actually use their gifts” and “get everyone reading the Bible” on the same reading plan. Thus, his “We are Church” model was born.
According to the “We are Church” website, Chan’s new church model is structured as follows:
1.) Each church meets in a home.
2.) Each church has two pastors, both of whom aren’t paid.
3.) Tithes and offerings are collected, but all are set aside to be used for missions locally and abroad.
“Everyone’s in these homes so that it cost nothing,” Chan described to his audience. “We have 30 pastors now that all do it for free. We send them out in twos. So we have 14/15 house churches. And we just plan on multiplying, doubling every year. In ten years we could have 1.2 million people. And free.”
Chan no longer preaches. Instead he focuses on training church members to become effective church leaders. Chan said he believes his new church model works well because members “suddenly have responsibility.”
“One guy put it like this, ‘It’s like being adopted rather than being in an orphanage,’” Chan recalled. “The Church the way I was doing was like an orphanage. Here’s a bunch of kids with one leader.”
“It’s not without its issues because relationships are messy,” he warned, lest anyone be tempted to believe there is a flawless body of believers.
Chan even admitted the mega-church model was easier in some ways. His megachurch’s disjointed structure allowed him and members to live removed from the real needs of their fellow congregants and call to care for those needs.
“When it’s family it gets messy,” Chan concluded. “[But] that’s what Christ wanted. And we fight for it. And it’s been a blast.”