The Oikos Principle

Refocusing our energies on a timeless discipleship principle


High Desert Church, Southern California

History teaches us that there are silver linings in every crisis. We cannot yet know every lesson or benefit that will eventually emerge from the COVID-19 threat. But the paradigm for ministry that it has forced on so many local churches is interesting. The bad news is, the crisis caught us flat-footed. The good news is, we’ve been forced to consider the most important implication of the Christian mission, that God’s kingdom is best shared virally, from person to person. Auditoriums and well-lit stages have simply never been where God’s best work is accomplished. Now that we can’t access those assets anyway, perhaps more of us will finally be open to that reality.

For decades, the 10/40 window has provided us a clinic on church growth. Evidently, professional clergy, high-tech stages and multiple programing options are not the keys to kingdom growth. When believers are forced out of that context, when they’re forced to stop going to church, they might be compelled to start being the church. Do the people we lead even know that they’re built to change the world? Which brings me to the oldest and most powerful church growth tool out there: the oikos principle.

Picture your life as taking place in a theater that’s filled with a lot of people. Some are sitting in the balcony. Others in the mezzanine. Still others are sitting down in the orchestra section. To some degree, they may all be able to see the way you behave or to listen to what you say, but it’s those eight to 15 people in the front row who have the best seats in the house to do both. The Greeks called that inner circle of “extended family,” our oikos.

Maybe it’s time to consider taking at least some of the spotlight off of our stages and focus our energies back to where 95% of world change actually takes place—on the front row. Ninety-five percent of Christian conversions are generated through a personal relationship that is shared between a believer and someone who is close to them. No seriously, that’s not a typo. Ninety-five is not my way of saying “an awful lot.” It’s my way of saying 95. Like, in almost everyone. If you don’t believe me, just ask your church family.

The next few months give us a great opportunity to test-drive that singular principle that Jesus gave us to grow his church. After all, when you think about it, what else are you going to do?

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Who’s in my oikos? It may be friends, relatives, neighbors, work associates, or school acquaintances.

1. Who’s on your front row now?
The cross may change the makeup of your oikos. “Always be suspicious that God is up to something” (Margaret Feinberg).

2. Pray for your oikos daily.
Pray that each one would sense God’s presence and encouragement.

3. Call, email and text each one regularly.
Ask how you can pray, resource or otherwise encourage them. God may use this crisis to move some of your neighbors into your oikos.

4. Invite them to join our online community this weekend.
The church communications team provides a digital invitation that is specific to each weekend service.

5. Take advantage of online resources provided for you and your entire family.
Check the website regularly for new resources and encouragement.

Read more COVID-19 Perspectives from pastors and church leaders.