Archives For House Churches

The first post in this series addressed how Storyline does discipleship. This post addresses how Storyline is structured.

I’ve always struggled to find literature and resources for methodology and structure that spoke to Storyline’s context. As a network of house churches that meets all together for a monthly gathering and every remaining weekend for house church gatherings, we fall in between the poles of ministry structure from which most material on church methodology is produced.

On one end, you have the traditional church growth, Sunday service-oriented, high impact, programmatic, megachurch literature. Think Andy Stanley; Rick Warren; Nelson Searcy. There’s some good stuff there, but it doesn’t fit a community that does not have as its primary strategy to grow by increasing the attendance of its weekend services.

On the other end is the simple, organic, house church, non-institutional, micro-church literature. Think Neil Cole; Wolfgang Simpson; Frank Viola. There’s some very good stuff here, too, but most of this literature is geared for individual organic communities that don’t ever exceed more than 20-30 people in size. Storyline, however, is structured as a network of house churches. A network has more organizational structure and different size dynamics than a single house church. So while Storyline shares most of the values of the missional paradigm found often in more organic-type churches, it is more structured than most.

As you can imagine, it’s been difficult finding mentors and resources to speak directly at what we’re experimenting with in the Storyline Community. For a long time, the most helpful by far were Hugh Halter and Matt Smay – particularly their book AND. The community they started in Denver, CO – Adullam – has a large gathering every Sunday, but is held together by a network of “incarnational communities” or “villages” that lives on mission in various neighborhoods. Still, the weekly frequency of Adullam’s large gatherings has different implications for them than for Storyline.

And then…

I discovered 3DM and “Missional Communities.

The mental grenade was first thrown by Alan Hirsch at a small training event I attended for church planters in October 2010. He said, “The small group, nuclear family, 6-12 people approach to church is not sustainable. The structure of the early church centered on the form of oikos, an extended family household, usually between 20-50 people.”

As a house church planter, I knew he was right. Before that point, I had not been ready to admit it. The recent transitions and plateau in Storyline had prepared me to own up to it.

I later discovered that Hirsch was drawing on the very important work of Mike Breen (and company) around “Missional Communities.” In the past 20 years, they had facilitated the start of hundreds of missional communities all over Europe. In fact, the European Church Planting Network (associated with Leadership Network), adopted the MC approach and started more than 720 churches in three years (2006-2009). That’s a first in European church history.

Mike Breen has since moved to South Carolina and is training American pastors and church planters in this approach through the resource organization 3DM.

After years of demand, they finally produced a “field manual” in November 2010 for starting missional communities called Launching Missional Communities. I bought it and devoured it; it was worth every bit of the unusually high price ($29.95).

The Wikipedia article on “Missional Communities” (I suspect written by Breen or someone on his team) defines them as follows:

A Missional Community (also called Clusters, Mid-Sized Communities, Mission-Shaped Communities, MSCs) is a group of anything from 20 to 50 or more people who are united, through Christian community, around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. With a strong value on life together,  the group has the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus, through this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church. The result will often be that the group will grow and ultimately multiply into further Missional Communities. Missional Communities are most often networked within a larger church community (often with many other Missional Communities). These mid-sized communities, led by laity, are “lightweight and low maintenance” and most often meet 3-4 times a month in their missional context.

When I read this, I thought, “this is Storyline!”

The only difference is the group size of Storyline house churches – which have ranged from 5-25 – when compared with missional communities. And that difference alone has proven to be significant, for at least two reasons:

1. The fragility of smallness.

  • We had to wrap up one group this fall because about 10 of the 15 the participants moved away. Groups have life cycles, certainly. But this group’s substantial mission to a specific apartment community abruptly ceased. I didn’t sense that God was done with it, but after the transition the group lacked the social momentum to sustain the mission.
  • We started another group with four people that struggled for a year before beginning to grow, I suspect largely because it lacked the critical social mass to move off center.

2. The social energy required to multiply.

  • We learned from mentors in house church ministry that cell division was not the best approach to multiplication. Instead we sent small teams to start new house churches so as not to tear the fabric of community too much. Yet one of our house churches has sent teams to start new groups three times, and you can tell that it’s weary from it – both from saying goodbye to close spiritual friends, and also from the resulting vacuum of social energy left behind when a group sends its best people to start something new.

As a result, we’ve sensed God leading us to shift our approach from developing a network of small group-sized churches (5-20 people) to developing a network of mid-sized group churches (20-50+ people).

Here’s what it means practically for Storyline:

  • Over the past six months, we’ve been in the process of consolidating from four groups of 5-15 to two groups of approximately 20 people each, both of which are poised to grow as mid-sized group churches
  • Formation Groups (gender-specific groups of 2-4) will take on a much more prominent role as our small group structure
  • Groups in our network will have to be creative as they grow in order to find affordable, friendly space for groups upwards of 50 people; groups will likely meet in public spaces within neighborhoods or locations that are popular among the target network of relationships
  • Because we’ll soon no longer be meeting primarily in homes, we’ll increasingly begin to call our groups “churches” rather than “house churches”
  • Groups will develop a “missional vision” that specifically targets either a neighborhood or network of relationships
  • When a group reaches 40-50 people, it will look to send some of its leaders with a team of 10-15 people to start a new church in the Storyline network
  • The network as a whole will continue to meet together monthly for storytelling, fellowship, vision casting, and encouragement
  • We will shift from an individualized coaching structure (i.e., coach + house church leader) to a group coaching / discipleship “huddle,” akin to the kind practiced by 3DM (i.e., coach + all the church leaders; church leaders + their ministry teams)
  • We will begin to set our sights on all the different neighborhoods and networks we’re connected to in Dallas for future mid-sized group church planting; I can count at least five off the top of my head.

Please pray for us as we live into this new approach to structure and mission.

And stay tuned for the final segment of the three-part series about How Storyline is Changing. I’ll discuss how Storyline will become even more of a training ground for future church planters.

Storylines: Chapter One

Charles Kiser —  December 2, 2009 — 3 Comments

We’ve begun a new series of videos we’re calling Storylines – personal stories of Storyline people who are discovering their place in God’s story.

The makings of the first Storylines video began with five people praying together about a year ago.

We – the Kisers – had just been sent out by the Riviera (now Tribeca) church with a small team to start the Trianon church.

I still remember our first gatherings with our teammates, Patrick and Lauren Cone. We concluded the end of our meetings, as we do to this day, with the “empty chair prayer” – a prayer that points to the symbolic empty chair in the room as a way of reminding us of our mission to connect with those who are disconnected from God and/or Christian community.

In those days, there were more empty chairs than filled chairs.

One night after the empty chair prayer, Patrick scanned our empty living room and said, “You know, not too long from now, this room is going to be full of people. They’ll be overflowing to the dining room table and hanging out in the kitchen. I can see it now.”

Over the course of the next several weeks we began to pray during our empty chair prayer for one of Patrick’s co-workers. Patrick mentioned having good conversations with her and that she was a bit hesitant about church.

Then he started inviting her to join us for a house church gathering. And after a while, Deborah came.

I remember having emotional conversations with Deborah when she first started participating. She was in the midst of some pretty big life transitions and was putting the pieces together again.

In the months that followed, I saw Deborah grow and blossom in ways only God was capable of facilitating.

Before we knew it she was coordinating justice initiatives for our house church. This summer she organized the Neighbors’ Cookout that Storyline hosted in partnership with SoupMobile that fed hundreds of our homeless friends.

I remember nights when Deborah came to house church gatherings tired and drained from a long work week. She would say, “I’m so tired, but I wouldn’t miss this for anything. This charges me up. This is my family.”

Last month, in a living room full of people, the Trianon Church sent Deborah with a team of people led by Patrick and Lauren Cone to start the fourth Storyline house church.

Deborah is hosting the new church’s gatherings at her huge antique house in old east Dallas.

Just a couple weeks ago, four people sat around the living room in that big house and prayed for God to fill the empty chair again with those who are disconnected from God.

This story shows Storyline’s values for dependence on God, mission, life change and genuine relationships in action.

I pray God repeats this story hundreds and thousands of times in the Storyline Community in the years to come.

Because the Storyline Community – the Church – exists for people like Deborah.

You can also view this video and others at the Storyline website.

The last month has been a flurry of transition. We have many changes – good ones – sitting on the horizon of our life.

The most fun is that in the next couple days we’ll welcome little baby Chloe into the world.

We’ve painted the nursery (= a wall of the master bedroom), put up the crib and changing table, and been showered with many pink gifts.

Chloe was the name of a house church leader in Corinth, Greece back in Paul’s day (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11). She had such clout that some from her household communicated with Paul about problems in the Corinth house church network and he responded by writing what is now known as 1 Corinthians.

We hope that our Chloe will carry on the legacy of kingdom leadership embedded in her name.

I’ll blog again when I have pictures and updates. Your prayers are appreciated.


Our family expansion has called for us to transition to a more suitable nest – one that will have room for Chloe (other than a closet) and poise Ryan for good education.

We are, therefore, in the process of closing on a handsome little house in east Dallas/Lakewood, about 10 minutes from the city center.

We’re looking forward to the way this new location will help us to connect more with the young families in Dallas and experiment with more organic structures for children’s spiritual formation. It’s an exciting part of Storyline’s future growth and development.

My wife has endured almost eight years and eight moves chasing our dreams in the kingdom of God. God bless the woman. I know she’s looking forward to this transition into a more permanent dwelling space.

We’ll probably not move in until January after we’re able to do some minor renovations.

Please pray for us as we transition to a new place.


As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Ryan and I decided to pursue part-time jobs to replace part of our salaries from Storyline. For two reasons: 1) it allows us to model what it looks like for ‘normal, working people’ to lead house churches and live on mission; 2) it relieves some of Storyline’s financial burden in our transition to financial sustainability.

At the end of August I took on a part-time sales job with a friend’s start-up company.

The job is very flexible. I can work my 10-15 hours/week from just about anywhere.

And, I don’t have to sell anything to my peers here in Uptown – which is the only way I could see myself doing sales. I was wary of the kind of relational dynamics it might create if I was sales rep / church planter to some of my disconnected friends.

So far, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge. I’m wired to talk to people and to persuade, so in some ways it’s a natural fit.

The job does have its share of ups and down. I’ve had to develop patience and deal with disappointment when things don’t go the way I hope they will. I’m learning to push through rejection and cranky responses. In those ways I suppose it’s similar to other work I’m currently doing.

My main concern initially was that the sales job would drain energies I would otherwise use for the work of church planting.

Not so. Turns out I am indeed extroverted. Talking to people energizes me, no matter what it’s about.

Perhaps the greatest thing about this job is that the sales cycle ends in December. If I do great, that’s great. If I’m terrible and don’t end up liking it, the sales cycle ends in December. I can move on to other things.

Please pray for my co-worker, Ryan, as he begins to look for part-time job opportunities as well.


I’m currently going through a coaching certification track with Mission Alive and CoachNet.

Turns out it’s perfect timing.

We’re working toward starting the fourth house church in the Storyline Community later this month. The first Storyline house church (Tribeca) has a new leadership team of which neither the Porches or the Kisers are part. Our church planter in residence, Micah Lewis, is working with us until next August. A seminary student at Dallas Theological Seminary is joining us as an intern over the next several months. We hope to start a couple more house churches beyond the fourth by February 2009.

In the midst of all this development in the community, I’ve sensed God calling me into more of a coaching role. Rather than spend a lot of my time as an on-the-ground house church leader, I’ll come alongside and support other on-the-ground house church leaders.

I’m thrilled about it.

I just finished reading a fantastic book, Coaching 101, by Bob Logan and Sherilyn Carlton.

I’ll post a review of the book soon, as well as what I learn in my Coaching Lab on October 9-10.

Pray for me as I develop as a coach – that God will have mercy on the poor souls that I coach, and that I’ll grow as a listener and encourager.

Finally, praise God this long post made it to the blog! I wrote this exact post a week ago and it was deleted somehow as I posted it. I hadn’t saved it. It took me a week to work up the resolve to write it again.

New Life

Charles Kiser —  February 24, 2009 — 17 Comments


This week has been full of new life on a couple fronts.

Front #1: on Sunday afternoon, Storyline house churches gathered for the baptism ceremony of Lowell Rhodes. We met Lowell at our first neighbor’s lunch last fall and he has been part of Storyline ever since.

While we stood around the pool, Lowell shared with us that he had been baptized at a very early age but didn’t understand its significance. He wanted now to be baptized because Jesus was baptized — and Jesus is the one who he wants to follow in every way.

Lowell also brought an internationally recognized, one-volume encyclopedia of chemicals, drugs, and biologicals: the Merck Index.

He explained that he bought it many years ago because he wanted to learn how to make drugs that he could sell to other people at high prices and become rich. In fact, in his old life Lowell was a drug dealer for quite some time.

Lowell declared in a public way that he had left that life behind forever.



After Lowell was baptized, he threw the Merck Index in the trash as a symbol of the old life he was leaving behind and the new life of which he was taking hold.



Rejoice with us for Lowell’s act of faith!

Front #2: Last night, ten of us gathered at 1001 Ross in Downtown for the first meeting off the 1001 Ross House Church. More people participated in house church gatherings last weekend than any other weekend since Storyline started.


God is sending us a new wave of growth that we are attempting to ride with faith and obedience. It’s an exciting, stretching time for us.

Please pray that God will continue to nurture the new life that is sprouting up in the Storyline Community.

Worship Gathering

What we’ve been working toward for the last couple months is coming to fruition this weekend with the first monthly worship gathering of the Storyline Community.

Thanks to all of you who prayed that we’d find a venue to meet in — we did, and the doors opened for it in providential ways. Why did I doubt?

This is a new beginning for Storyline, though perhaps not in the same way the first worship gathering is for many new churches.

For many church plants, the launch of the worship gathering is a sort of grand opening — the birthday of the church.

When asked when they launched the new church, most church planters respond by mentioning the date of the grand opening worship gathering.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

But Storyline’s worship gathering plays a different role. In the Storyline Community, the worship gathering demonstrates that we’ve succeeded in developing a network of house churches that now need a gathering in which they can come together for mutual support and celebration.

The launch of our worship gathering is not the launch of Storyline as much as it is an outgrowth of our house church network.

In fact, Storyline actually launched on May 4 when we started the first house church gathering. We launched again in the middle of October with the start of the second house church gathering.

And hopefully we’ll launch many more times in the future…one day sending teams of people who will go elsewhere to begin similar networks.

Rejoice with us as this community of house churches comes to life further through the advent of the first worship gathering. It is in a small way God’s own advent in Uptown (though he’s been here all along, of course).

On February 8th, we plan to host an “Open House” worship gathering where we’ll invite all our friends, partners in mission and the Uptown community to get a glimpse of what God is doing in the Storyline Community. The venue for the occasion will be one of Uptown’s coolest…we’ll keep you in suspense.

Everyone is invited.

We hope in that gathering to say thanks to our friends and supporters and also to pledge to our community friends that we are here to serve the cause of justice and mercy in our city. If Uptown Dallas is not a better place for Storyline having been here, then we are failing in God’s purposes for us.

Please pray for us as we continue to arrange the details for the weekend. We want more than anything for it to inspire people to trust God more deeply in their lives.

You can read more about our gathering at