Read this definition from the Theological Word of the Day and tell me if you think that there are any modern day ecclesiola movements.


(Gk, little church”)

This refers to small churches within big churches which met together for spiritual nourishment. The purpose was to revive the spiritual life and commitment of the church through a committed nuclei. The implied idea often became that this was the true church of committed believers meeting within the larger church of nominal Christians. The strong being separated from the weak so that they could, in theory, further strengthen themselves and make the weak strong. The ecclesiola were first formally developed by the pietists and popularized by Philip Jacob Spener. Many Lutherans opposed these meetings believing that the allowance of such was divisive, evidenced separatism, and amounted to spiritual pride. They also feared that such meetings, without qualified clergy, could produce heretical misinterpretations of doctrine.

Read more about this to get a better understanding. Very interesting.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    5 replies to "Little Churches within the Church"

    • Wolf Paul

      There are plenty of contemporary examples of “ekklesiola”:

      the movimenti, renewal movements, in the Roman Catholic church; the associations of “confessing” Christians in the mainline Protestant denominations, the entire Charismatic Renewal within both Catholic and Protestant mainline denominations, the “Gemeinschaftsbewegung” – the pietist movement within the Lutheran/Reformed denominations of Germany and Austria, etc.

      I suspect that this phenomenon is more common in churches which baptize infants and effectively have a “cultural” definition of membership, and less common in churches which emphasize personal conversion and committment.

      I know one such movement here in Austria which styles itself “ecumenical” but is largely Catholic-dominated — because the Evangelicals get what they need in their churches, while the Catholics don’t get it in their parishes and need this movement to provide basic Christian fellowship.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Would this be akin to today’s small group movement?

    • John M.

      I had the same thought as Lisa.

      I remember reading that John Wesley believed that a Christian needed three groups to meet with each week. He believed that we all needed to meet once a week (1) with everyone in worship, (2) to meet each week with a small group of 10 or so to study the Word, and (3) a small group of 2-3 persons to hold each other accountable and to share and pray.

      It seems to me that we have seen an increase in the traditional Protestant churches for people to form small groups. I had wondered if this was a result of a current popular church strategy or a manifestation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I.e., is it man-driven or God-inspired. Maybe it doesn’t matter, or maybe it’s both.

      Perhaps John Wesley was acting in the role of a coach who establishes good training regimens for his/her athletes so that they can improve.

      I think Michael is acting in that role, and I think that God has used the talents that he developed as a personal trainer to help communicate and teach good habits to the rest of us through the study of theology. He is certainly contributing to our growth.

      Thanks Michael – once again, this is extremely edifying. You are a blessing to the community of faith.

    • djohn

      I see this in our church setting. We hold small group bible studies in both an open format all are welcome and we also have both women small groups and those for men. it Actually works great and is fun because those that are weaker are strenghtened and those that are stronger help encourage the others

    • Dr_Mike

      According to DML-J, there’s an element of intentionality present in the ecclesiola that is not necessarily present in small groups, home churches, life groups, or discipleship groups.

      The ecclesiola are purposely designed to prepare the Truly Christian element in the church to have an impact on the merely Christian hoi polloi in the pews. Distinctions are being made re who is Christian and who is not.

      The article presents the ecclesiola in a less-than-favorable light, but I am not sure it is as inherently dangerous or undesirable as it would appear. It also seems to me that it is possible to identify and separate disciples from nominal Christians, and then to develop programs – such as TTP – to feed the disciples.

      I like the fact that ecclesiola does not necessitate a split or separation. That, I think, is a commendable thing.

      Finally, in pointing out the flaws and dangers of the ecclesiola, DML-J is critiquing the church, too. Whatever liabilities the ecclesiola possesses, it is true of the church as well.

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