Reflections on Francis Chan and We Are Church

Francis Chan is getting a lot of press these days talking about why he left his mega-church a few years ago and started a house-church movement called We Are Church. I’m not sure how I feel about what he’s up to. I like his ideas and passion, but they may not work for everyone. I think  we should sit back and observe before we form conclusions either way.

I want to start by saying that I like many things about Francis Chan. I appreciate his willingness to think outside of the box and do the unconventional thing. I appreciate how he doesn’t seem to have been seduced by the trappings of fame (well, initially, but he recovered). He’s gone out of his way to live modestly. And I like his passion for God and his unwillingness to compromise what he sees as the truth.

So please don’t mishear what I am saying here. I’m not concerned about Francis Chan as much as I am concerned about how people might misuse his words.

Finding a Better Way

In the article linked above, Francis said he felt that his mega-church was all about Sunday and only focused on his gift of teaching. He thought it was a waste of money. His new church has no staff and no building. It costs nothing and everyone gets to use their gifts.

Who can disagree with this? Church shouldn’t be all about Sunday or one person. And why spend millions of dollars on a building and staff if you can do it for free, right? I can see all the heads nodding as people wonder how so many Christians can be so foolish to attend a church that has a building with staff.

Is it Fair to Compare?

But, let’s think about this a bit. Why is it that Francis can lead this church for free? Well, his fame has produced various streams of income. I don’t knock him for that. In fact, I think it’s great. Most pastors don’t have an outside income to support them. I’m sure we all wish we did. But we have to realize that Francis is in a unique position that enables him to do what many churches can’t do. Most churches need to pay for their pastoral staff.

We Are Church (WAC) has no building, just people meeting in homes like in the first century. How long has this been going on? A year or two. Is it sustainable? Can it grow? Before we judge WAC to be a better way, it might be wise to wait a few years to see if it succeeds or fails. A lot can go wrong in house churches. It’s a wonderful idea in theory. I beat this drum for many years. But it can get very messy, very fast.

Frankly, most people want a building to house their faith community. I know. My church was in a theater and then a mall for seven years. No one cared in the early days because we just loved Jesus and starting something new, but we reached a tipping point where our space stopped working for us. Working out of temporary facilities puts a tremendous stress on an organization.

Francis Chan is Unique

It’s not fair to think that every church can do what Francis Chan is doing. He is one in a million. He has name recognition that might draw people from around the world to join him. He’s going to draw a higher capacity group of people than your average local church. There will be leaders who show up just for the opportunity to work with Francis Chan. Francis might be able to mobilize a million people in five years in house churches, but the average house church never grows beyond fifty people.

Will it Come Full Circle?

My guess is that, in time, if Francis is successful, he will need to hire staff to manage the church, otherwise it will implode in chaos. And he will also need to build a building to house the staff and his need for training facilities because renting them will be too expensive.

Do you see where this is going? In ten years he might have a building, a staff, and a few million-dollar budget. It’s very possible that he goes full circle, back to something that resembles a mega-something.

So I have to wonder why, if he didn’t like the church that he built, why didn’t he redesign it and not leave it? He had a staff, a building, and a gift for teaching people what church should really be all about. Couldn’t he have led them into this deeper life rather than leave them? Maybe he just needed time to sort it all out. I can appreciate that.

Is Francis Chan a Hero?

My concern in all of this is not what Chan does. I’m actually fascinated by his bold idea. I just don’t think it’s fair to make him out to be a hero….not yet. He’s just one man trying to make church work, like most of us. God bless him in his effort, but we ought to be careful not to trash our church model just because he’s trying something new.

I’ve gone through the same cycle from mega-church, to small church, to house church. With each move I thought I was so wise and belittled the previous church. But I’ve come to believe that the model isn’t what makes the church: it’s the people and the mission of the church. Are they committed to developing followers of Jesus or not? Are they committed to loving and serving like Jesus? That’s the goal. I don’t think it matters how you get there.

Will People Use Francis Chan as an Excuse?

I hope people won’t use Chan’s comments to justify leaving the church. I’m just afraid they might point to what he’s doing and say, “See, that’s the way church should be done.” But in reality, they won’t attend that church or any church. It’s just a good excuse for why they’ve given up on church.

It’s easy to point out the problems with church. It’s harder to engage and offer some solutions.

Maybe Francis Chan has found the solution. I hope he has and does amazingly well. I really do, then in ten years we can follow his example. But I question if what he’s doing is reproducible because there is only one Francis Chan. Please don’t project his expectations for church on your church.

Let the Dust Settle

My recommendation is that we don’t jump too quickly on the Francis Chan bandwagon because when people are in process, they will abandon the new wagon as quickly as they abandoned the previous one, leaving you without a leader.

Let’s see what happens, and learn from him.

Give Francis another five or ten years to let the dust settle on his thinking on church before you start quoting him. He might not agree with what he’s saying today in a year or two.

 

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4 thoughts on “Reflections on Francis Chan and We Are Church

    1. karen kersting

      I think it is important to give it some time and be careful to not just jump on the bandwagon…

  1. Elle

    Actually a friend of mine went to his website and it’s not really free at all. He kept saying it was free in his interview with facebook employees (marketing anyone?) but it wasn’t that at all. If you want to pastor one of these things, prepare to pay for Chan’s intensive training. Apparently he deems who is pastor material and who isn’t: https://www.churchintensive.com/

    I’m very skeptical of Chan. I liked what he had to say, for sure, but as a cynical person who has left the church because of abuse, I smell trouble. I’m trying to return to church with my family and see where that leads, so I’m not anti-church. I just worry what Chan is trying to do. Doesn’t seem all so cut and dry as he made it out to be.

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      I think you voice some fair cautions. I noticed that he had a big “donate” button on his site. I’m fine with that, but then it must not be free. There must be costs involved. Of course there are. He could calm the cynics (I’m one too) by just being open about those things.

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