In the year 2000 there were about 3,000 house churches in the United States, and though it is difficult to know for sure, it seems that there are now well over 30,000. According to NBC’s Nightline somewhere between six and nine million Americans attend a house church each week. We are seeing two extremes develop in the Christian community; one is the mega-church phenomenon and the other is the rise of small groups gathered around simple worship.
I’ve been fascinated by the house church movement and find myself drawn to that particular structure of worship. For many other people they find the house church concept as too restrictive and feel that evangelism suffers from it being too small a core of people to make a serious impact on the community.
The debate is ongoing and as more and more house churches are popping up the debate is getting a bit heated at times. So I thought for those of you who are thinking of starting a house church or are involved in the process we should take a look at what people are saying about the pro’s and con’s.
Intimacy is a big reason many people find the house church to their liking. In many large churches it is easy to get lost or just be a name on the church books, but in a house church people get to know each other. This is very important to the spiritual growth and life of a Christian because it is only as we truly know each other that we impact each other’s lives in meaningful ways. Our prayers become more focused and more intent when we know and love the people who we are praying for. A crisis in someone’s life becomes a rallying cry of support and care from a group who know that person intimately over just having a passing acquaintance with the person.
Accountability is a major part of a house church’s DNA. It is easy to slip through the cracks of a large church, and if the pastor is not on top of things it is easy to drift away in a small church as well. In a house church, where intimacy in worship and fellowship is cherished, people have a sense of belonging and know that they will be missed if they don’t attend. For people who are not interested in the intimacy of fellowship or accountability, the house church is not for them.
Many people find house churches an opportunity to use their creativity and talents in a way that they might not in a mega-church or large church setting. Many house churches have informal music, for example, where members can feel free to sing and play the style of music that they enjoy. The worship service doesn’t have to conform to denominational or ecclesiastical traditions, but can be vibrant and heartfelt because the service belongs to the people participating.
In the house churches I have been acquainted with or have studied they all have a strong desire to study the word of God and apply it to their lives. They seem to be people who want to know God personally and spend their time together discussing and sharing the Word of God. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not for a moment saying that learning and growing doesn’t happen in regular church services, because it does. However, it seems that within the house church there is much more opportunity to discuss and spend the necessary time unraveling the nuances of people’s questions. The input comes from the collective and that opens all sorts of doors into encouraging and uplifting discussion.
One of the biggest criticisms of the house church movement in North America is that it is self-centered. It is felt that the members become complacent and content within their circle and have no desire to bring new people into the church. I am sure that out of 30,000 house churches there are a number that fit that category. I am also certain there are a number of house churches that only started because they couldn’t get along in a traditional setting. There are probably half a dozen other possibilities of what could go wrong with a group of people who are not under church authority. Regardless of the critics, most house churches are very outreach conscious which is a major reason for their existence.
Most of us, when we look around our neighborhoods, see numerous people that do not attend church and in some cases are even hostile to the idea. A house church established within the neighborhood could make all the difference. As far as I know there are no statistics regarding the number of people who have come to Christ because of their association with a house church, but I am sure the number would be quite high. This is especially true for people who once attended church and dropped out for whatever reason. The house church is an easy transition back into the Christian community without the baggage that comes from their previous experience with a traditional church.
As a teacher I observed that students learn in different ways and not all people are going to understand and filter information exactly alike. It is the same with the church. We expect everyone to be content with the status quo, but in reality not everyone is content with the traditional way of doing things. There are numerous people, maybe up to nine million, who wish to worship in a smaller setting. This is one of the great strengths of the house church movement that it can minister to people who are uncomfortable, for whatever reason, within the traditional church. Each house church can be geared to meet the needs of the community it serves without clashing with the wishes and norms of the established church.
Mega-church, traditional church, high church, low church, charismatic church or house church; the direction of your path of worship is up to you. What is important is that you find a church that is Biblically based and you are comfortable within it’s structure.
For those of you who are in a house church, are interested in a house church or are opposed to them drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org One last thing, many of you send me really great emails but I would appreciate it if you would make them available in the comments section of the post. Many of your observations are really great and would encourage discussion and reflection that caries beyond the post.
I just found the following view of house churches on the Internet and thought I would pass it along. It should bring a smile.
House Church: What’s Cool?
Seating – comfortable
Bathroom Proximity – always close
Music – if it’s a multi-room party
No sermon – teaching is interactive
DIY Potential – anyone can do it
Size – small is intimate
Cuisine – bring on the love feast
Freedom of Movement – room-floating encouraged
Security – less likely a bomb target
Speed – it could happen tonight
House Church: What’s Lame?
Seating – no back pew to hide on
Bathroom Proximity – everyone notices
Music – if it’s an attempt at cum-by-ya
No sermon – if you’re are a preacher
DIY Potential – if you want to be a paid professional
Size – small is bad for babe-scouting
Cuisine – No more potlucks in the church hall
Freedom of Movement – expect to be interrupted by the dog
Security – who took my CDs?
Speed – it could happen tonight in your house