One of the most successful non-profit incubators I’ve come across is The Underground in Tampa, Florida. Since they launched in 2006, this Christian church-planting network has launched over 200 micro-churches, each centered around supporting a philanthropic cause.
Their main innovation is this idea of the ecclesial minimum, or the minimum viable church. After studying house church movements in China and the Philippines that were growing exponentially (but looked very different from the American middle-class suburban mega-churches), they distilled their sense of what the “church” is down to three things:
- Community - gathering together with others
- Worship - centered around the gospel*
- Mission - serving the needy, the poor, or the unchurched
*interpreted from a conservative Christian perspective
As long as something had those three characteristics, they’d consider it a church, and have supported a wide variety of micro-churches, including:
- Beer and Bible - a Bible study that takes place over beers in a local microbrewery
- Mama Africana - a Christian mentorship program for young girls of color
- Well-Built Bikes - a non-profit bike shop that uses revenue to offer bikes to low-income city residents who can’t afford public transit
As a secular individual, I was surprised by how much I resonated with the ideology of The Underground. However, while they’ve cut out a lot of the “sacred cows” of traditional religious institutions down to what they believe is the core of the church, I believe the definition can be distilled further to take into account a secular & interfaith context.
Here is the adapted “minimum viable church” that I came up with:
- Community - gatherings where one can be deeply known and loved by others
- Contemplation - connecting with some form of the “sacred” or one’s inner life (journaling, prayer, meditation, etc.)
- Contribution - serving to somehow alleviate the suffering of the world
If you’ve read this far, I’d be curious to know:
- How do you resonate with this opinion on what it means to live a good life? (community, contemplation, and contribution to others)
- In which of these areas do you feel your cup is currently full? Is there an area that could use some nourishment?
- Is this definition of “church” missing anything? Does it change how you think about any of the organizations you’re currently a part of?