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Changing Your Church Organically—from the Inside Out

Neil Cole

Phil Helfer

Dave Ferguson

Title page

Leadership Network Titles

  1. The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs, Brian Bailey and Terry Storch
  2. Church Turned Inside Out: A Guide for Designers, Refiners, and Re-Aligners, Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr
  3. Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson
  4. In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership: Tapping the Wisdom of the World for the Kingdom of God, Mike Bonem
  5. Hybrid Church: The Fusion of Intimacy and Impact, Dave Browning
  6. The Way of Jesus: A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wanderers, Jonathan S. Campbell with Jennifer Campbell
  7. Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration, Samuel R. Chand
  8. Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders, George Cladis
  9. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, Neil Cole
  10. Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, Neil Cole
  11. Journeys to Significance: Charting a Leadership Course from the Life of Paul, Neil Cole
  12. Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically—from the Inside Out, Neil Cole and Phil Helfer
  13. Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, Earl Creps
  14. Reverse Mentoring: How Young Leaders Can Transform the Church and Why We Should Let Them, Earl Creps
  15. Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, Mark DeYmaz
  16. Leading Congregational Change Workbook, James H. Furr, Mike Bonem, and Jim Herrington
  17. The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
  18. Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults over Fifty, Amy Hanson
  19. Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James H. Furr
  20. The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor
  21. The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim
  22. Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement, Mel Lawrenz
  23. Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, with Warren Bird
  24. Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement, Will Mancini
  25. A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, Brian D. McLaren
  26. The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, Brian D. McLaren
  27. Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church, Reggie McNeal
  28. Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal
  29. Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal
  30. The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, Reggie McNeal
  31. A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal
  32. The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, M. Rex Miller
  33. Your Church in Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimensions of Seasons and Cycles, Bruce B. Miller
  34. Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, Milfred Minatrea
  35. The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk
  36. Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition, Alan J. Roxburgh
  37. Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart, Steve Saccone
  38. The Post-Black and Post-White Church: Becoming the Beloved Community in a Multi-Ethnic World, Efrem Smith
  39. Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird
  40. The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church for the Community, Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw
  41. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath
  42. Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis
  43. The Other 80 Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Participants, Scott Thumma and Warren Bird
  44. Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work, Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird
  45. The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions, Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree

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Dave Ferguson

I was sure there would be a fight! I was afraid the Exponential Conference, the largest church planting conference in the country, might end up looking more like an Ultimate Fighting Championship. In one corner, for the first time ever, we had pulled together leaders from the missional-incarnational crowd who advocated for churches being simple, small, and reproducible. And in the other corner we had church-planting leaders trained in the church growth model that believed in launching churches as large as possible. We had both sides represented in several panels; we had thought-leaders cofacilitating workshops and everyone expected sparks to fly, controversy to ensue, and hand grenades to be lobbed back and forth. None of that happened. I’m not sure a single punch was landed. In fact, after I finished leading my workshop with Neil Cole at that Exponential Conference I remember him looking me in the eye and saying, “Dave, for a mega, multisite church guy, you are not too bad!” That workshop was the beginning of my friendship with Neil Cole. But long before that he was a significant influence in my life and in my leadership through his writing and his practice as an apostolic leader and Christ follower. I continue to read everything Neil writes and pay very close attention to all he says. I believe Neil is not only an apostolic leader but also a prophetic voice that gives us a glimpse of God’s church as it’s meant to be.

So what happened to all the controversy at Exponential? There was no controversy; but there was the beginning of a very important Kingdom conversation about how all churches can become missional movements just as Jesus intended. Because of Neil and other missional leaders like him, I have been on a journey with the church I lead, Community Christian Church, and the church-planting network for which I provide vision, NewThing. During the last two years I’ve been sharing what I’ve learned in this conversation through a process called “Future Travelers.” This is a process that is helping churches make the shift toward becoming a missional movement. During the last twenty-four months I’ve discovered there are at least three critical moves these churches must make to make that shift:

  1. Move toward practices that apprentice people in the ways of Jesus.
  2. Move toward clearly understanding and articulating the mission of Jesus.
  3. Move toward a vision of a movement to accomplish the Jesus mission.

Some churches “get” one of the three. Very few “get” two. None of them “get” all three, and most “get” none. If you are a church leader who wants to see your people apprenticed in the ways of Jesus; if you desire to see your energy and effort contribute to the mission of Jesus; if you long to be a part of a missional movement, then Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically—from the Inside Out will show you how.

And that is why Church Transfusion is so important. Within the pages of this book is both the encouragement to make the shift and the practical application for how to make this shift from authors who do “get it.”

Now, I don’t agree with everything Neil says or writes. Check out the shots he takes at multisite in Chapter Eleven. And he doesn’t endorse everything I say or write. But I need Neil Cole. I need his influence and I need to be in conversation with him because he understands the church as a missional movement!

So, throw down your boxing gloves, stop being defensive and enter into an important Kingdom conversation. I believe Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically is the latest discussion in this important conversation about the church as a missional movement. If we take this book and missional movement seriously we will see in the twenty-first-century church in the west what we saw in the first-century church in the east.

Dave Ferguson
Lead Pastor, Community Christian Church and Visionary of NewThing


Neil Cole

Many people have considered me to be against the established church. They see me as a purist who only believes that or­­ganic churches meeting in homes or places of business are the true church. Those who thought this way will be surprised by this book.

My coauthor, Phil Helfer, has been my partner in founding and leading our movement from the beginning. We have worked together for over twenty years now. Phil is one of the most radical organic theologians I have met (and I have met many). But he also pastors a congregation of 250 to 300 people that meets on Sundays in a fifty-year-old building with pews, a pulpit, a choir, and Sunday school. That sounds about as traditional as can be, doesn’t it? Yet Phil and I have been working together to develop the concepts of organic church from the start. If the way people often think of me is true and I am simply a house church purist, then there is no way that Phil and I could start and lead this ministry together. Whatever we have developed in the organic church greenhouse training, which teaches people how to start organic churches by making disciples where there were none before, is applied in Phil’s context as much as my own. You will see that clearly in this book.

We both love the church, and we always have. I have written that those who bash the bride had best be careful because sooner or later they will have to take on the groom. This is certainly not a book about how to change a traditional expression of church into house churches. I do not see the church as only valid in the house church model. In fact, we do not think that organic church is a model at all but rather a mind-set. We believe that every church is organic—or it’s not the church.

That said, I am a purist when it comes to talking about what actually is the organic nature of the church and what releases that healthy DNA of Christ’s body to become the movement it was meant to be. If you were thinking that this book might let you off the hook for the ways you are currently doing church, you may be disappointed. We will not attack any model of church, but at the same time we will not condone unhealthy practices that are preventing the church from becoming healthy and reproducing naturally. The very idea of change requires that one admit that the current forms or practices are not working well.

In a way, while I am not strictly a house church purist, I am a purist on what is needed if the church is to become healthy and begin to reproduce and ignite movements. I am not picky about church models, but I am picky on what the cure for our lack of health is. Jesus is the cure, not any model of church, but there are some models that can multiply spontaneously and others that cannot. I have always said that and always will. Our standard church practices will accomplish only what they have been accomplishing, and that is not good enough by any stretch of the imagination. So this book is about change. We do not suggest that you change to house churches but that churches should become simpler, more organic, disciple-making spiritual families that reproduce.

We are writing this book for all those churches that already exist in whatever form. We want to help them know how to transfuse a healthy and organic DNA that can replicate health and life.

If you have read some of my other works, you will find some ideas repeated here but placed in an entirely new context. So you will see some familiar concepts but cast with new light and application. The concepts I have committed my life to remain, to my own mind, universal and absolute. Because of the nature of this project, you will also find brand-new material that is not found in any of my other works. Even if you read all my other books, this one will contribute new material to your understanding and also reinforce ideas elaborated in other books. This is in no way a rehash of other material.

You will find in this book all the same passion in my earlier works, but the starting place is radically different. Bringing organic transfusion to an established church is a wholly different process from starting something from scratch. While my values, theology, and practices remain consistent in this book, the place where we start is radically different and therefore requires a different pathway to reach our goal.

Most books on the subject of revitalizing churches have a different goal than we do in this book. In most cases the resources are written for plateaued or declining churches to help them grow larger in attendance. This book will not lay out the variety of kinds of churches and stress different practical steps to become more attractive to more people. This book will not describe ways to motivate unmotivated people to do what they don’t want to do. You’ll find nothing of that sort in this volume.

For us, church growth is not a solution, nor is it success. We want to see healthy disciples reproducing other healthy disciples, leaders emerging, and new churches being born that will reproduce spontaneously. If that is not your goal, and you simply want to have a growth spurt in attendance, there are plenty of other books you should read.

In fact, this book may be a good book to read even if your church is growing rapidly and considered a success but you are not content with that because you want to be part of a movement. We believe that what we will share is important for any church and any model to become more authentically organic and release vital disciples into the world to affect neighborhoods and nations.

If you are part of an established church, growing or not, and look at the rapidly spreading movement of organic churches with a degree of longing but also with a deep-seated obligation to the congregation you are currently called to, this book can be good news for you. If you read the book of Acts and then go to church Sunday and realize that these two stories are as different as the sun is from the moon, then this book may be helpful. If you remember when you first felt called to serve Christ and the enthusiasm you had then to see the world changed and now you just fulfill a job description, you have chosen the right book to read. If your church is badly in need of a fresh infusion of life that spills out into the streets, this book is in the right hands.

Neil Cole
June 2012
Long Beach, California

This book is dedicated to those pastors who are frustrated because they have found themselves stuck in an institution that is choking the life and fruitfulness out of their ministry and are now willing to take the radical steps necessary to release that life. Take courage, stand firm, and fight the good fight—you will reap if you do not grow weary.


From Neil: I wish to thank my coauthor on this project, Phil. We are cofounders of Church Multiplication Associates, coworkers for more than twenty years, and now he is my coauthor as well. I wish to honor him not just for his role in this ministry and in writing this book but also for being an example of all that this book entails. Phil, you have been my friend, my cofounder, my coauthor, and always my pastor. Thanks.

I want to thank my spiritual family during the 1990s, Grace Fellowship of Alta Loma, who provided this rookie pastor with lots of opportunities for mistakes and lessons that can only be learned through experience. It has been several years now since I inflicted you all with these lessons, but the impact you have had on my life will never diminish, and many of those lessons are reflected in this writing. Thank you.

I also want to thank Brad and Cari Fieldhouse for the blessing of hospitality I received while writing this book. A strange quirk of mine is that once I write a book in a place, I am unable to write another book in that place. Why? I don’t know, but it is frustrating, and can be expensive. When my oldest daughter moved out, my wife turned her old bedroom into a beautiful home office for me to write in, which I did, and Church 3.0 is the result. Now I can’t write another book there because every time I sit there to write, I am reminded so much of Church 3.0 that I can’t get my mind thinking on the next project. When I was not making much progress on this book, Brad and Cari offered a place for me to have a writing retreat, and the momentum finally kicked in. For that I am very grateful. Oh, and Brad and Cari, you don’t have to worry about another future invasion; I can’t write anything else in your guest room.

That reminds me, anyone else have a place I can retreat to? I still have more books in me, but I need some new places to write in.

From Phil: I wish to thank my coauthor and fellow laborer in the fields for all the years we’ve walked together on this spiritual journey. God has made us brothers in the most intimate sense of the word. Thanks, Neil, for putting up with me and giving me the chance to work with you on this project.

I am extremely grateful to my family: my wife, Lori, for being my sounding board, listening to my crazy ideas, asking the right questions, and urging me on to further discoveries, and our girls, Jenna, Haley and Stacey, for listening to me week after week and asking the questions that matter. I’ve learned more from raising you than you will ever know. You guys are the best!

I’d also like to thank my spiritual family, the people of God known as Los Altos Grace Brethren Church, for embracing and implementing the principles in this book. Without you all, our transfusion would never have taken hold, and this book would never have been written. I am especially grateful to the leaders who have been willing to open their minds and hearts and step into the flow of God’s kingdom. Pete, Dave, Chuck, Mike M., Bill, Mike J., Ric, Allen, and Rick: we have fought the good fight side by side and will continue to do so. May the Lord grant us the privilege of seeing His rule flourish in the hearts of His people!

A special thanks too to Karen, Cindi, and Marianne. You are all tireless workers who are constantly busy doing the things He’s called you to do, and yet you still find time to keep me in line and on task.

From both of us: Last, we would like to thank all the guys at CMA, especially Ed, Dezi, Chris, Paul, and Mike. We have spent many years learning to follow Christ together. You guys are an inspiration to us, and this book comes out of the lessons He’s taught us along the way.