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Apoptosis or Necrosis?

Being the husband to a pathologist, I get to learn a lot of new interesting (and molecular) metaphors for discussing matters of church, culture, and faith, which led to a previous post about “ecclesio-carcinoma” or how rapidly multiplying churches in the Korean American community can behave like a cancer (not that they always do, but that they can). This post is, in some ways, a response to that first post.

In any case, my wife and I have been discussing the challenges of church planting and the often painful ways that churches are forced to close their doors. She piped up suddenly and said that it was really a case of apoptosis versus necrosis.

I stared at her blankly.

“They are both cases of a cell death. Necrosis is when a cell dies through injury or cancer or something like that. It causes a lot of inflammation, a huge release of calcium, and can harm the body. The body has to expend a great deal of energy cleaning up after it and in general, it causes a lot of damage.

“On the other hand, apoptosis is peaceful cell death. The cell voluntarily dies because it is old, unnecessary, or when it is not well. There is no inflammation, no damage to other cells — it’s a clean death that helps the body grow.”

Cell Death

Certainly an interesting metaphor, particularly if you attend a “cell”-based church (har, har).

Wouldn’t it be interesting if older, aging churches chose to divest and invest in new church plants, like in the case of Quest Seattle and Interbay? Especially in the case of Korean American churches, where there has been prolific growth in the immigrant generation, will there be more mergers that occur in the second generation? Or will it be necrotic, leading to more disenchantment, more division, and more inflammation within the body of Christ? Here’s an interesting case study in the Chicago area, as recounted by my friend, John E.H. Lee. We need to see more of this type of healthy church apoptosis, but it is a choice that communities and their leaders must be bold enough and aware enough of the circumstances around them. Apoptosis is a natural occurrence in every living person, where 50-70 billion cells die each day in the average human adult.

One final interesting note about apoptosis, especially as it may be analogous to the development of the body of Christ is this — apoptosis plays a crucial role in the proper development of the body, it differentiates tissues and defines them. For instance, apoptosis is how your fingers separate, how your lungs form, etc. As the Asian American church plants grow out, one key point to observe for the overall health of the body, is to identify how the first generation churches rise and fall — apoptosis or necrosis? It is crucial to our development and whether it is possible to grow up as healthy churches.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

7 responses to “Apoptosis or Necrosis?

  1. one, you all need to get our more 😉

    two, yes, a good metaphor as most denominations have not found a way to allow churches to die with dignity and grace. In the age of success, death = failure or at its worse, lack of faith.

  2. e cho

    c’mon man. everyone knows apoptosis and necrosis.

  3. Bruce, we definitely need to get out more. The “lack of faith” thing is a definite obstacle to apoptosis, but isn’t that the problem? Too narrow a view of the Kingdom of God? Perhaps we think too highly of ourselves?

  4. e cho

    what we haven’t been willing to say is that churches have a life cycle as well. arguably, the greatest churchplanter, is the apostle paul. how many of his churches still exist today? zero.

    life people, churches have cycles. quest will not live forever. if it’s not the return of jesus, i’m certain that it will come to ‘death’ at some point. so, how do we live in such ways that even in our death, we give life to others.

  5. You hit it right on the nose. The life of the church is a macrocosm of how we live our own lives and legacy. I think this perspective of our death as an organization should influence the way we live the life as a church now.

  6. johnehlee

    Dave, I can’t believe you linked to my Xanga page… no one’s gonna take me seriously based on that page! 😉 Okay okay okay, I gotta work on my wordpress page…

  7. johnehlee

    Okay, here’s my “professional website” – – and I’ll try and include updates to our church’s merger there

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