Organic churches offer alternative to traditional service

Wacoans gather at Church Under the Bridge on Jan. 23, for a sermon about the power of the word of God. A wedding between two members followed the sermon, demonstrating the sense of community in the organic church.
Jed Dean | Lariat Photo Editor

By Grace Gaddy

As God builds his church, sometimes he does it in a home, a park or a pizzeria, said Lindsay Cofield, director of multi-housing/organic churches for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Cofield assists and mobilizes the birth, growth and development of organic churches across the state, he said.

He described an organic church as one detached from the conventional concept of a traditional church.

Organic churches typically exhibit a much more informal setting and meet in homes, apartments, recreation centers and other locations.

Cofield said just as Christians point to verses like John 3:16 to grasp the essence and meaning of salvation, organic churches do the same with the definition of a church.

“One of the things I encourage people to do is to read the Bible and decide what they think a church is from the Bible,” Cofield said. “There’s not a place where the Bible says, ‘Here’s what a church is.’ You just have to read the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts and the epistles.”

Cofield said people should ask themselves, “What did the original church look like?”

Dr. Rishi Sriram, assistant professor and program coordinator for Baylor’s higher education and student affairs, said he remembers doing just that.

After bonding with a small group of students during his own years at Baylor, he thought there was something more for them after graduation.

The group decided to form its own local body of Christ.

“We felt like maybe God was leading us to try and do what we saw in Acts together,” Sriram said.

Without a name, a building or a budget, the church took off, rotating meeting locations among members’ houses.

The community celebrated 10 years in July.

“It’s been a huge learning curve. It’s been a huge struggle at times,” Sriram said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Cofield referenced the biblical account of Priscilla and Aquila, who led a group of believers in their home, to support organic churches.

The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, greeted them and affirmed the work of the church that was taking place there, Cofield said.

In a similar way, members of organic churches generally do not have a paid staff.

In fact, they would rather give their resources for the work of Christ, he said.

Organic churches often provide a place for “overlooked people” – those who may not attend a larger institution but would be more open to participating in an organic church setting, Cofield said.

Jimmy Dorrell, who serves as pastor for Church Under the Bridge, echoed Cofield’s sentiment.

Church Under the Bridge, which attracts many of Waco’s poverty-stricken and homeless, gathers every Sunday under the I-35 and Fourth Street underpass.

Dorrell said many of the church’s members would not attend a traditional church.

Without the expense of a building, the organization is able to give away over half of their resources to those who need it.

Cofield, Sriram and Dorrell emphasized that relationships provide a foundational key.

Cofield said since an organic church is generally smaller, it is more relational and community-based.

“There is no back row,” Cofield said.

Amanda and Adam Horton led a group of college students for three years as an extension of University Baptist Church and witnessed the community that blossoms from a home church environment.

“Oftentimes, we go to larger churches just to fade into the background, and people can go to church, and not go to Church,” she said. “The Church — capital C — is meant to be about intertwining with people and being in community.”

This summer, the Hortons branched out to open their home to people who may not have found the larger institution church yet.

Amanda called it a “God thing,” because the response to their invitation was overwhelming.

She said many of the participants were in a phase of transition and the home group was their only church.

To represent a true church, Cofield said, people have to love God, love others and be passionate about making disciples.

He listed five functions every church should have: fellowship, ministry, worship, evangelism and discipleship.

Even in the larger institution churches, everything comes out of those five functions, he said.

“It’s about the people being the church,” Cofield said. “It’s not a place you go to. It’s being Christ’s hands and his heart and his voice and his compassion in the lives of people.”