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Discipling Viral Disciples by Roger Thoman

I no longer try to start simple/house/organic churches. I think these churches are great.  They provide a place for people to experience participatory, everyone-matters church life.  They provide a way for people to really connect into authentic, one-another community.  They often provide a place for people to recover from some of the pains caused by institutional church life.  But house churches are no longer the end game for me.

Viral Disciplemaking

Jesus invited us to join him, organically, in the reproduction of life.  His church is a living, thriving, reproducing organism (Mark 4) that allows life-in-the-Spirit to spread virally from one disciple to the next.  His church is alive as illustrated by a seed (Mark 4) that brings forth 30, 60, or 100-fold reproduction.  That is the life of the kingdom.  His life in me is passed on to the life of another (2-fold) which is passed to the life of another (4-fold) which is passed to the life of another (8-fold), etc.  That is the way of organic/viral life and this is what the kingdom IS.  This is ultimately what Jesus invited us to become part of: discipling viral disciplers.

Kingdom life is viral, organic, and, by nature, a movement.

When I have made house churches the end game, I have discovered that they do not naturally reproduce nor become movements.  In fact, house churches have a shelf life.  They may serve a purpose for a season, but when that season ends (and it will) the “movement” is over.  The influence of a house church is temporary.

This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches.”  He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.”  He said, “go and make disciples.”  This shift from starting gatherings to making disciples (who go and make disciples) goes to the very heart of the matter.  Discipling viral disciplers is the end game.  This places us squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about.  We become movement-starters not church-starters.  We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond as those they disciple disciple still others.

Now, not to confuse the issue, but often in the work of discipling viral disciplers I will be gathering people together in a manner that looks an awful lot like a simple/house church.  Absolutely!  But the underlying DNA makes all the difference. When I reach and disciple a viral discipler, that person is going to gather with other viral disciplers for encouragement, and then, as each of them reaches others, still more gatherings will take place.  So, along the way, house churches are started.  But, but rather than being the end game, they become a means to support the life that is being reproduced from one disciple to the next.  The house church gatherings themselves will shift, change, morph, end, and re-establish themselves in new forms but the movement of disciples who are reproducing disciples will continue.

Sustainable kingdom-life does not take place just because of the way we gather.  But it does take place when we step into the role Jesus called us to: making disciples who know how to make disciples.

As mentioned, starting house churches and discipling viral disciplers (who gather in house churches) might look very similar on the outside.  But the process is very different!  When we start house churches, our focus tends to be on the gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc.  We say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church 24/7 (and we may even go do missional things), but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form of simple house church gatherings.  When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we will have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality.  This shift changes the processes we walk out from top to bottom.  And, this shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches spring up along the way).

There is much more to share about the process of discipling viral disciplers, but suffice it to say that it does ask us to examine our own “followership” as a starting point.  Jesus, the adventurous, undomesticated, on-the-move God invites us to join him daily where He is working.  What does that look like for me today?  What does it really mean for me, today, to be the church (Jesus’ follower) in the world?  From that starting point, we can begin to look at and grasp a process that will “infect” others who will then “infect” others to fully follow Jesus.  Ah… a movement!

Copyright 2009 by Roger Thoman

Originally posted on May 6, 2009 at

See also the article Duck Discipleship

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