Relational church is something my wife and I have been involved in for the past eight years. I use the term “relational” church rather than “organic” or “house” church for a reason. The covenant people of God – those who have received forgiveness of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – they make up the universal church. The church is people, not buildings and not meetings. Reading through the New Testament, one realizes that the relational commands such as “love one another”, “forgive one another”, “bear one another’s burdens” etc. can only be carried out in the context of a small group of believers who are committed to the Lord and to one another. The NT letters were written to clusters of believers who were gathering in homes to celebrate the Risen Christ all across the Roman Empire. The letters were often circulated among these small clusters within a given city or region. So we have the letter to the believers at Rome, the letter to the believers in Corinth, etc.
These small clusters are also called “churches”, as when Paul writes of “the church that meets in Priscilla and Aquilla’s home.” Rather than emphasize the place of the meeting as in “house church” or the nature of the growth of the relationships, as in “organic church”, I would like to emphasize the nature of the group – it is relational. It is relational church. The best definition I’ve heard of the New Testament concept of this local expression of the church comes from Felicity Dale. She says that the church is “a set of relationships – people who are on a mission with God.” I like that. It rings true with Scripture and with my experience.
The place we meet is not so important, be it a home, an office, or a church building. What is important is that we all have a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and with one another. Being the church means we are committed to love one another and share life with one another Monday through Saturday as well as on Sunday. Being the church is not just focusing on one meeting a week where we sing hymns, pray and study the Bible. It is a lifestyle marked by love and a sharing with one another of the life of Christ within us. That life only comes from time spent listening to the Lord and trusting and obeying Him. Then we can share the overflow of that Divine life with those brothers and sisters in Christ whom the Lord has brought into our lives. Our meetings may include prayer, singing praises and Bible study, but they do not have to. The relationship with the Lord and with each other is what is paramount.
If the relationships are growing and based on truth and love, then whenever we come together as a group of 8, 10, or 20 believers, there will be a sense of the Lord’s Presence among us and His truth being shared among us. Focusing on meetings and not on relationships is the wrong focus. If we focus on a weekly meeting, be it in a home or in a church building, we will miss what the Lord is after and eventually our meetings will become boring and lifeless. However, if each individual in the local church focuses on knowing Jesus and also on building relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ, then the meetings of the entire group will be full of the transforming Presence of Jesus. In my experience, we can only carry out the "one-another" commands in the context of a small family of brothers and sisters in Christ. I call this the "relational church" and I think it is one of the keys to New Testament church life.