COVID-19: Decentralization Leads to Home Churches Rapid Growth During This Season


Jeremiah Morris, Lead Pastor of Seven Mile Road Houston, shares how their house church model has shifted and has been rapidly growing in this season. Decentralization has been deepening their connections and allowed them to tap into the gifts and passions of their people like never before.

"This has the potential to be the great catalyst for God's kingdom coming in our world and nation and in our city, particularly as it is in heaven. . .We don't have all of the strategies worked out. We don't know the timeline, but this is a gift. I don't mean the suffering and the sadness. . .but I mean, from a leadership perspective, leading God's church in a season like this, this is a gift."

Resources Mentioned:

Seven Mile Road Houston

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Hello, this is Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds and today I'm joined by Jeremiah Morris with Seven Mile Road Houston. They're a family of house churches here in Houston. So it's great to get his insight and thoughts as we look at what does a coronavirus 19 looks like as our churches move forward. Jeremiah, thank you for joining us.


Jeremiah Morris:

Yeah, thanks for having me. I've been looking forward to it Tommy.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. Now tell me a little bit, you've been around for three, three and a half years. Tell me a little bit how Corona...first of all, for those that aren't used to house churches, tell me a little bit about your structure so you can catch them up to speed, but also talk to us a little bit about how this coronavirus, COVID-19 has affected, Seven Mile.


Jeremiah Morris:

Yeah, absolutely. So we planted three and a half years ago and really the planting started about a year before that with 30 folks in my living room that we began to train in the ways of Jesus. And then we planted our first five house churches before we ever had a Sunday gathering. We call them, they're kind of like missional communities on steroids. We really are saying this is the front line of pastoral care. This is where the church happens. If our folks were to choose between a Sunday gathering and ongoing commitment to a house church, we're saying you need to be in a house church. This is the church. So that really is who we are. That's our DNA. And so we planted with five house churches before we ever had a Sunday gathering and said if we multiply out of the harvest, we'll plant a Sunday gathering because now we need to gather and have communion and baptism and celebrate what God is doing across this network and this family and the way that we read about in the New Testament.


So that's a little bit of how we took shape. COVID's effected us in plenty of ways. I think in many ways heat and pressure reveal, the good and the bad. And so I think we were really grateful for the way that the pressure of this season has kind of called out the health of our system and strengthen it as well as some of the challenges and the difficulties that we're growing through. Um, I think the biggest effect has been all of our eggs because we want to be a viral decentralized movement. All of our eggs have been in the leadership development basket. And so we had leadership trained for the 26 house churches that were currently functioning, but we had another 80 leaders that had been through our leadership incubator that had yet to step into leadership. But we had a really deep bench people ready to run who were just waiting for something to be directed to.


And so our 26 house churches kind of overnight, we said, okay, communities of anywhere from 15 to 30 people are not going to be able to foster this sort of community and mission and connection on a virtual platform and the way that they have in each other's living rooms. And so we took those house churches and we multiplied them into huddles, five, six, seven people. And so overnight 26 house churches became 124 huddles and has become the structure that's really our system right now. Our people are growing really deep roots, deep connections with one another being immediately empowered towards the mission and it's happening in an entirely decentralized way through the priesthood of all believers, which has been a great, great gift to watch. That's been one of the real immediate impacts on our community that we're rejoicing in, that that's God's grace to us, that we were prepared in that way.


Tommy Rosson:

It's fascinating how much the leadership development, discipleship aspect of what you've done and how that really came to fruition during this season. And so talk to me a little bit about what that looked like beforehand and now obviously I know that going to 124 huddles, you've still got leadership development that's growing. Talk to me a little bit about your leadership development process and how that helped you during that season.


Jeremiah Morris:

Yeah, that's great. I mean, leading up to it, we've put a lot of emphasis on it in the sense that we're, we are all about identifying and raising up leaders. So our house church shepherds, which are the front lines of pastoral care, are always pinging us the shepherds of this community that are laboring to serve this mission. Saying, Hey, here's somebody that ought to be on the radar that really understands our mission and his own mission with us and is theologically astute and prepared to lead.


So we bring them in. We shore up theology character and work through some things in an incubator where we really get to know them and they get to know us. And so we've been doing that for the last several years. And as a result of this growing kind of a group of leaders and this season, honestly, one of the things that now we're trying to work through is we put such high emphasis on the ongoing care of our leaders once a month training with once a month personal contact, elders that are overseeing each of those house churches. We were in a strategy session this morning recognizing the great benefit of multiplication but also the threat of it that we now, it is truly viral. It's out there and things are happening. We're adding groups weekly and so we are right now brainstorming the best way to continue to provide the sort of ongoing care and the guardrails, the quality control for each one of those huddles in when the time comes that we can start meeting in groups of, you know, if it goes back to 10 or 20 or 50 is that as the wave comes back on, seeing some of those huddles gather back together and be able to provide the same sort of leadership training we've been doing, we really think what God's doing there is preparing the way for increased multiplication in the future.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. I can only imagine that through this season if it's, you know if it's two months if it's three months, four months, whatever that is. That so many of these huddles are going to probably become house churches within themselves or they not only have you seen multiple cases from huddles going backward, you're probably looking at the multiplication of house churches.


Jeremiah Morris:

Precisely. Yeah. We were, what was on our whiteboard beforehand was we needed to get from 26 to 40 by the fall. And there was some challenge in the that we were thinking kind of like old mental models and the Lord and his grace broke those open and we're really going, were easy it at 50 in the fall, which is more of where we needed to be to continue to serve the discipleship of this growing body. But, in some ways, it took God's hand and in this kind of unsettling sort of way to actually open our eyes to new opportunities and new ways of thinking about the mission that we're on.


Jeremiah Morris:

It's just so fascinating to think about the impact of not just what you did beforehand, but also forcing leadership, that has had to happen during the season. And I know that when we look at previous disasters, whether it's, you know, floods or whatever happens in Houston, we get them often. You just see this bubble of lead... Not only do you have an amazing opportunity to love your community, you see this bubble of leadership grow up. It's fascinating for you. This bubble of leadership is not just going to grow up and have a DNA stamp on the church. They're going to grow up and they're going to have a multiplication of house churches. So, that's such a fascinating aspect of this. One of the things that you also do is you, by de-centralizing your church and that's a big focus for you. Talk about A) what that means and then B) what does that look like when it looks, when you're talking about meeting the needs of your community, especially in this season?


Jeremiah Morris:

Yeah. Decentralization means a lot for us cause it kind of runs straight through all of our philosophy of ministry. So anything that we can do to push decision making, pastoral care, mission, down to the grassroots as much as possible. We were trying to think about that and all that. We do. So a for instance that has been tied the knot to what we're doing currently with COVID is that we put quite a bit of budget back into the hands of our house church shepherds. And one of the things that they're leading people on is saying, okay, if you were to bring Shalom to this particular area of the city where you shepherd, here's money as a wind in the sails from the centralized budget of Seven Mile Road that's been, you know, the tithing of Gods people. But we're saying this is specifically for one thing for you blessing the neighborhood you're in dreaming and praying with the people around you, finding the right partner there.


And so a lot of our strategic partnerships have bubbled up from the gifts and the callings of individuals in particular neighborhoods that quite frankly, our group of elders or me or our structure, our leadership team, we would've never come up with. And so it, we are increased creativity and effectiveness and mission has come from grassroots by funding and when all of a sudden starts, something starts to take shape, we run there and pour fuel on it and give energy to it from the way that we're platforming it from the centralized structure. So that has kind of informed the model of what we're doing. So instance, one of our partnerships that bubble up from one particular house church was with CPS. We kind of started that fire rubbing some sticks together three years ago and we've been fueling it and our partnership of CPS has grown exponentially.


And as a result, they've reached out to us with just some specific needs and issues and that we're being able to meet providing, you know, masks for all the CPS workers. They're still on the front lines and need medical masks. So all of our people making masks at home and delivering those to meet the most recent standards. But then also, for instance, being invited into adopting a home that has 17 teenage boys that all live together with house parents that are now trying to educate those boys at home while all living under one roof. So we're providing food, building a basketball court outback, we are providing a computer so that those boys can keep up with school from home. And all of those things in some ways were built from pre-COVID. What was happening through de-centralization and tapping the gifts and the passions of our people funding that and envisioning that now is being strengthened exponentially because we're not all gathering as a leadership team and going, well, how do we brainstorm solutions to the needs of the city?


Cause it feels so unruly and unclear, but really it's still coming in some ways from grassroots, from partnerships that have been formed. And that's been a great joy to us. One other note that we've done is raising up new people that have passion for this particular season. So we, not unlike what I've seen a lot of other folks do, but just a simple signup form, Hey, here's what I'm passionate about, here's what I can do to help or here's where I'm in need of help. We've built a solid group of, we'll have about a dozen teams and the same way we're funding and empowering those teams to meet the needs of the city. And so we're starting to see some ideas bubble up in the ways that they're taking care of the folks that are shopping for us at HEB and putting themselves in, you know, day in and day out, continuing to work and interact with people all day, trying to bless them all blessing local neighborhood restaurants and continuing to write notes and share the gospel as they bless people on both sides of the coin. So different ideas that are bubbling up from our folks and we're continuing to see that get carried out.


Tommy Rosson:

Well on the de-centralization model. I mean, it allows you, and this is true with any business structure, but it's also true in the church structure, which is, you know, it allows you to adapt to fast. You have empowered people on the ground that allows them and so by empowering them, but you also put it in the hands of their relationships. It's their relationship with CPS. It's their relationship with these ministries that allow you to quickly integrate into what they're doing and explode them as you're moving forward. The decentralization aspect of this, when looking at how other churches, I mean, one of the things that's happening right now is you hear a lot of pastors talking about we're kind of going to our own house, church kind of model. What are some of the things that you could, I know First Presbyterian has been a major supporter of your church. What are some of the things these classical churches, with restructure, whether it's a multisite or single site, what are some of the things you think might be helpful for them? Cause you've been in those environments, that would be helpful from you for those pastors and church leaders for those larger churches or not larger churches, but actually just there for instruction.


Jeremiah Morris:

Yeah. And, in a sense, what you're saying is, and moving towards more of a house church model as that becomes more of an opportunity, what would be helpful there? Yeah. You know, I think, in some ways, it's not rocket science. It's the same. It's a simple Jesus' ministry, it's being really selective and thoughtful about who gets the majority of our time and energy. Jesus was really strategic with his three. His 12 is 72 and the 120 and that's how he ministered to 3000 effectively that and the ministry to those 3000 was in his absence, which is the ultimate de-centralization. And so we are convinced that our effective ministry to 3000 is going to come from the 3, 12, 70 to 120. And so I would just want to reverse engineer that. If I were in an established tall steeple church, I'd want to ask the question.


You know, starting with starting close with the three and the 12, but really thinking critically across our ministries, whether it be a Sunday school structure, who are the 72 that are so invested and gifted, no matter the size of the church, there's always some core down at the heart of it that is really pushing ministry and trying to get the necessary equipping in their hands too. If we do have to go to a model where we can only meet in groups of 25 or 40, I would both want to put great things in their hands and then make all of my energy about followup and encouragement with those people because I'm convinced that really great curriculum in the hands of ill-equipped, poorly informed leaders will never pan out. And I think subpar curriculum in the hands of really excellent, empowered and supported leaders is going to sing that it all rises and falls on.


Do our leaders have access to the key leaders in the life of our community? Are they being empowered and is that empowerment in an ongoing way? So, for one last for instance, you know, we immediately, when we couldn't meet physically, we said, okay, every two weeks we want to see our house church shepherds in this sort of scenario checking on the situatedness of their soul and continuing to keep the crossbreeding, the cross-learning, Hey, we just heard from this group, they're doing this and it's working out really well. What do you think about that? How does that intersect with you? And then also pushing them into group learning scenarios. So that every group is constantly getting better learning from the other groups. That's sort of ongoing support for the leaders, keeping them unified, prayerful, healthy. There's no substitute for that. But I think that can happen in any place. It's just very straight forward Jesus stuff. Empowering the 3, 12, 70 to 120 to do what they're called to do.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great input. I've heard so many people, so many different pastors talk about how they've had to come back to the basics of what church is and what does it mean to live into that and what does it mean to truly just be discipling people and building relationships into people, to strengthen them up and empower them to go out. And it's really taken what many pastors have assumed as their greatest power, which is the service itself and decentralized it in such a way that even though they could still perform and provide things online, they have to have those relational connections to truly, being growing people.


Jeremiah Morris:

Yeah. So good. That's so good.


Tommy Rosson:

Anything else you'd like to add?


Jeremiah Morris:

Oh man, I'll just say this, I'm really grateful, Tommy, for what you're doing. I think this is so important that we're learning from one another, continuing to collaborate. And I just, I think a lot of us have this, have the sense bubbling down in our souls, but I just want to keep speaking it into existence in a sense of all of us together agreeing in, praying for begging for God's presence. This is a season of revival. If we can be pressed into our prayer closets. If we can be reminded of the simple Jesus practices. We are united, prayerful, hungry people that are about the things of first priority. This has the potential to be the great catalyst for God's kingdom coming in our world and nation and in our city, particularly as it is in heaven and so I just want to continue to encourage anybody that's tuning in. It feels heavy. It feels anxiety written. We don't have all of the strategies worked out. We don't know the timeline, but this is a gift. I don't mean the suffering and the sadness that's there are things to be lamented. There's heartache, there's struggle. But I mean, from a leadership perspective, leading God's church in a season like this, this is a gift. And I want us to lean in, to receive it with anticipation, that revival is coming. And so I would just encourage anybody who is listening and let's pray and believe that we're on the brink of that sort of reality together.


Tommy Rosson:

Jeremiah, I love that what you have said as a pastor of 26 house churches, is in the same vein, if not the exact same spirit of Dr. Ed Young who's the pastor of the biggest of the mega-churches around here. And so it's just fascinating that in both places, there is this idea that now is the season for us to lean into our people and now is the season for those people to lean into their neighbors. And God's gonna utilize that.


Jeremiah Morris:

Amen. It's awesome.


Tommy Rosson:

Thank you very much for joining us today.


Jeremiah Morris:

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.


Tommy Rosson:

You bet. Church leaders. If you would like more of these resources, you can go to Houstonresponds.org/covid-19. And we'll provide up to date information for churches. We'll also provide more of these faith leaders insights. Thank you for joining us.


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