For decades pastors, church leaders, and congregations have wrestled with the best way to reach people for Jesus Christ. Any honest pastor, of any evangelical denomination, would hopefully admit that every local church shares the same essential mission: helping lost people by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ become saved people who are being disciple as growing, committed, reproducing followers of Jesus. We see our mission in what we commonly call the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Sure, we’d all agree that we share a common mission; that our what is the same. But that doesn’t stop churches and people from getting off mission.
Some churches tend toward an event mentality. They host events to which people come and they hope and pray that lost people in attendance respond to the truth about Jesus. Other churches tend toward a programmatic style. Life, ministry, and evangelism are systematically organized around a set of church programs. If you want to grow or expose people to the gospel, it’s done programmatically. Then there are the visitation style churches. Typically, there’s a set night of the week when a set of congregants go visit guests or make cold calls by knocking on doors. Of course, there is the scholastic approach. Begin with a small contingent of people and start a Christian school. Over time, as the school grows so does the church. Over the last 50 years, these styles have reigned supreme.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these approaches, pastors and people alike remain frustrated with the how of evangelism. For some churches, evangelism is equivalent to church growth. The constant tension between reaching people for Jesus and wanting our churches to grow leads us to use evangelism and church growth (both in terminology and ideology) interchangeably. Many churches have evangelistic emphasis times when they host seminars, invite guest speakers, and try another of a million avenues to get the “average Joe” in the congregation to catch the vision for church growth. While it’s true that evangelism will cause a church to grow, the inherent truth that the two are not absolutely synonymous yields frustration in pastors, leaders, and people; creating an undue pressure to measure ministry and evangelistic success by the number of bodies in the building and the sustainability of the budget. Too many churches grasp at straws; trying everything they can think of to grow and expand their ministries.
This downward spiral confuses our God-given what with our desire to see our churches grow, and gets us off mission. It’s a confusion of the purpose of the local church with our God-given mission.
At Northland Community Church we don’t emphasize church growth. We emphasize a biblically simple, organic, systemic, healthy, natural approach to our what, our mission. We believe that everyone who follows Jesus Christ has been put on mission by Him. This mission is to change our relational worlds (a.k.a. Oikos) with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We call it the Oikos Principle.
Oikos (οἶκος) is the Greek word meaning “extended household.” In relation to our mission, our oikos is:
- That group of 8-15 people with whom we share life most closely; whom God has supernaturally and strategically placed into our worlds so that we might see their worlds changed by Him. It is our sphere of greatest influence.
- The people for whom God wants to prepare us to become ideal instruments of His grace.
- A microcosm of the world at large, for whom God sent His Son – that all who place their faith in Christ would be delivered from the bondage of sin.
- The most natural and common environment for evangelism to occur.
We believe that understanding the Oikos Principle causes us to view ourselves as world-changers – believers who actively and intentionally encourage people in relational worlds (our respective oikos networks) to become followers of Christ (Acts 17:6). This Principle leads us to become oikocentric – viewing those 8-15 people we do life with on a regular basis as our personal mission fields.
It’s an overwhelming task if you really think about it – changing THE world! No. We don’t teach you to change THE world, but to change YOUR world with the transforming truth of Jesus.
A Focus on World-Change
The Oikos Principle lets us think beyond the required process and focus on the desired outcome. We don’t define a challenge (our mission / the Great Commission) simply in terms of the tasks involved. When you do, where’s the motivation? Our mission (the Great Commission) becomes nothing more than a simple “to do” list. The Church’s common mission, evangelizing the world, becomes nothing more than a series of programs or events to bring people in and grow our churches. The Church’s mission becomes introspective rather than outward focused. It’s like the line from the movie Field of Dreams; “If you build it, they will come.” So, churches design and execute great programs and events that allow Christians to check the box and assume they’ve done their duty to reach the world.
The Oikos Principle challenges the status quo and reorients our focus. Now, personally reaching our individual oikos networks (those 8-15 people we do life with on a regular basis) and seeing their worlds changed by the gospel of Jesus is what motivates us; not just seeing our church grow. Embracing the Oikos Principle is embracing a way of life that seeks authentic, organic world-change – one person’s world at a time – and causes us to see the people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in our oikos networks as our mission fields. Around here, we like to remind ourselves that oikos is messy business. Truly investing in the lives of those in our oikos networks gets messy, ugly, and draining. But that’s where real world-change
Getting the big picture helps us understand why embracing the Oikos Principle is so important. The world’s 5.3 billion people are divided into approximately 24,000 people groups. Of those 24,000 groups, 12,000 are “reached” –cultures where a viable indigenous church movement has been established. On the other hand, 12,000 people groups, comprising some 2.2 billion individuals, do not yet have a viable Christian representation. These groups include 4,000 Muslim people groups, 3,000 Tribal people groups, 2,000 Hindu people groups, 1,000 Chinese people groups, 1,000 Buddhist people groups, 1,000 other people groups – all with virtually no true gospel presence. Let’s face it; there has never been a believer who has had a global presence influential enough to reach every person on the planet with the gospel, and there never will be. That’s because God hasn’t tasked us with reaching the entire world; He’s tasked us with reaching our worlds.
The Great Commission texts (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8) command every believer to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples within his own world and to the ends of the earth. Living on mission – Reaching the whole world and changing it with the gospel – means reaching our own oikos networks – those 8-15 people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in your sphere of influence with whom you do life with on a regular basis – and seeing their worlds changed by the gospel.
The Purpose of the Church
The Oikos Principle changes our focus as a church. No longer are the people who attend the church viewed as tools to grow the church, because the Oikos Principle isn’t about church growth per se. The church becomes what God intended her to be; a vehicle whereby believers are equipped, encouraged, and held accountable so that they can be more effective in living on mission and reaching their respective oikos networks. Rather than viewing the church as an upward-trending pyramid where people feed into the organization of the church to make its ministries bigger and budget more stable; the church is seen as a downward-channeling funnel where people are equipped and sent out into their relational worlds to see them changed by the power of God. The focus of ministries and programs shift from being self-feeding to equipping. The church becomes a facilitator that hosts a relatively smaller scope of events that are more streamlined to give believers opportunities to bring their oikos networks into contact with others who can help them know the truth.
You see, the Oikos Principle is not just another church program or kitschy evangelism methodology. The Great Commission was given to individual believers. The New Testament Church is responsible for the Great Commission only in so much as it is comprised of individual believers. It’s not the Church’s, pastor’s, elders’, deacons’, etc. job to reach your oikos network for you; that mission is yours. We believe that the essence of the gospel is people. In a very real sense, God is Oikocentric. God created mankind, we sinned, and He reached out to the people He created by sending His one and only Son, Jesus, to become one of us so that He might die to save us. It doesn’t get more oikocentric than that! At Northland Community Church, you’ll learn that you’re not alone. We’ve all got the same mission and this body is here to help you reach your oikos network.
Still confused? That’s OK. Why not come see what the Oikos Principle is all about for yourself.