I spent the weekend reading Frank Viola’s Finding Organic Church. What a stretch! What a challenge!
Although the purpose of this article is to help you determine whether this book is worth reading or not, I find that this is a book that invites conversation. I cannot give you a review without giving you a bit of my opinions on his thesis as well.
On the positive, this book is incredibly well researched and thought through. Given the fact that it is the fourth book in series, perhaps a bit too much on the research.
The book’s subtitle is “A comprehensive guide to starting and sustaining authentic Christian communities. I found that the comprehensive guide didn’t start until page 171.
Frank Viola is an incredible thinker and visionary. He is VERY fair in his appraisal of the landmarks and potential pitfalls of his organic church approach. However, I don’t agree with all of his conclusions.
Viola appears to believe that authenticity and organic relationships cannot happen in the traditional church. Part of me understands his skepticism, but I think he is wrong.
I’ve been mulling this over since the Fall of 2002, and I believe that whereas the house church movement has some definite draws, the drawbacks are too strong to be ignored. Particularly that of oversight.
Viola tried to fix this, I believe, but the results look like something like Viola beginning his own denomination as he seeks to provide resources for house churches and a clearing house for apostles/guest speakers who understand the venue and have decent theology. (He is currently offering resources, I think the clearing house is just the next step.)
Viola is right in that the traditional church structure also has some incredible problems that must be overcome in order to see the church continue very far into this century. It is impersonal at times, and allows people to remain “anonymous” if they so choose. Unless the leader is a particularly gifted equipper, the structure can also limit people’s involvement in ministry.
Since I believe strongly that everyone should have a ministry, and everyone should be heard in some small group setting, it is (to me) a tragedy that many have not had this experience in the traditional church. I understood Viola to disagree with the very premise of the traditional church, and that he would like to see us spend more time “being” than “doing.”
It is my contention that the answer will be found as a marriage of the organic and traditional church formats. The traditional church has attempted this, with the small group movement, but most of the time this falls short, becoming very much like a ‘mini-church’ and not providing an atmosphere for real relationships and interpersonal authenticity.
I think that Viola’s most compelling argument in this book was that you can’t build an organic community until you have experienced one as a member first.
Here is my review of this book: If the future of the church concerns you, you can’t afford to ignore Frank Viola. Not because he has all the answers, but because he is definitely part of the conversation. He sees from a perspective that many of us don’t, and we need to hear his voice. He is a great thinker, and he is very articulate. He understands a perspective that we definitely need to add to the mix. He doesn’t just espouse a thought, but he does research to put his thought in a historical context (although again, I didn’t always agree with his contentions).
If you are just bored with church, well, I’m not sure if this book will fix anything for you. If you really want something different, I think you should try getting involved in changing your church. If you want to understand the organic church from beginning to end, read the entirety of Viola’s four works (Pagan Christianity, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, From Eternity to Here, and Finding Organic Church) to understand his movement.
Want to buy this book? You can buy it on Amazon.com.
Interested in other titles? Here’s another Frank Viola title I reviewed some time ago: From Here to Eternity