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How House Churches Could Reverse the Decline

How House Churches Could Reverse the Decline

Part 2 of 5

If the ABCs of Church Revitalization and the Hallmarks of a Healthy Church revolve around the decentralization that accompanies adopting the biblical definition of “church” and holding those “called out ones” to the Great Commission standard, then it’s worth following the decentralized church to its logical conclusion.  House churches were the predominant format for church gatherings in the New Testament and are common today, particularly in countries where economics or persecution preclude expensive or conspicuous church buildings.  There is evidence that house churches are gaining momentum in America as a rising number of churchgoers have grown frustrated with the prevailing, contemporary version of church that concerns itself with attracting and retaining members.

Movements spawning many of these house churches recognize the tremendous opportunities house churches have over brick-and-mortar.  However, simply replicating waist-deep discipleship and externally-oblivious models for conducting church, only in a smaller context, will fail to realize that potential.

Potential Advantages of House Churches

Let’s look first at the opportunities that decentralizing Church into homes across America provides to generate greater Kingdom impact than gathering Christians into larger buildings.  Again, being afforded these opportunities does not mean that all house churches are availing themselves of them.

  • Footprint – Imagine a church in every apartment building.  What about a church on every street in your city?  Today, Christians leave their homes to convene in what I call “skyscrapers”, churches that do not take up much ground.  In contrast, house churches are a way for the ekklesia (assembly of “called out ones”) to set up shop on every street, condo and apartment complex in the country.  A church building cannot be erected on my street – the Home Owners Association would never approve of it.  Management of an apartment complex would not likely allow a church to sign a lease.  A condo association would not permit a church to buy a unit.  But HOAs, apartment owners and condo associations cannot prevent people from meeting in a person’s residence to worship.
  • Infiltration – Cults and religions hostile to Christianity are known to form cell groups to infiltrate communities and quietly increase their presence and following.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if the reverse were true – for example, Christians planting house churches in Muslim-dominated neighborhoods?  It would not be surprising if house churches in those communities met with resistance, testing the resolve and faith of churchgoers in ways rarely experienced in America but a daily occurrence in China and for the early church.
  • Relationships – Every pastor knows smaller settings create opportunities for closer relationships.  Small Groups are the primary path churches take today in their effort to foster those smaller settings.  However, only a small percentage of members participate in Small Groups and most Small Groups only run for several months per year, cycling new members in and out.  In contrast, house church members don’t just meet one day per week for a few months, but often do life together as a united community of believers for years.
  • Depth – Weekly worship services and occasional small group meetings aren’t making many disciples.  A 30 minute lecture and fellowship meetings run by untrained individuals are insufficient for those Jesus intends to be His hands and feet between Sundays.  Life transformation is intensive and relational, better fostered in a house church environment.
  • Commitment – It’s interesting that where house churches dominate the worship landscape, like in China and the early church, the Church sees rapid growth.  There aren’t many lukewarm Christians at those house churches – fence-sitters and non-believers don’t feel it’s worth the risk to attend.  Consider what a house church service would look like if a few non-believers were present.  What if half the house church was filled with skeptics?  If worship did still take place, it could become awkward or uncomfortable.  The service would possibly morph instead into an evangelistic intervention.
  • Evangelism – Rather than invite non-believers to church, it may seem more appropriate to a house church member to invite them out for a coffee.  As we discussed in our 4-part blog series last month, worship services were not intended to make non-believers feel comfortable.  Instead, churchgoers were to live out Acts 1:8 and to “go and make disciples” through personal relationships, and then bring those new believers into worship services.
  • Neighboring – Closer proximity to neighbors would presumably make house churches more aware of their needs and more intentional about serving them.  Fewer members means each has a sense of greater accountability for doing their part to live out a Prayer, Care, Share lifestyle.  It’s more difficult to hide from that responsibility when there are so few to carry the load on behalf of the house church.
  • Costs – The easiest way to multiply churches is to plant house churches.  The costs to start up and build brick-and-mortar churches are prohibitive for most.  Small churches are struggling mightily to maintain financial viability in light of recent economic downturns, decreasing giving per congregant, and losing ground to Walmart churches that provide better music, facilities and programs.  Maybe the Lord never meant for churches to be so expensive to operate that such a large number could be experiencing extreme financial hardship due to high fixed costs.  Instead of seeing the Church’s footprint expand (through proliferation of cost-effective house churches), we see its footprint shrinking and at risk of further decline.
  • Hierarchy – Other religions put in place stringent governance structures and hierarchies to exert authority over followers.  Jesus strongly resisted and called out religious leaders who tried to control the actions and behaviors of those they considered less righteous.  House churches flatten the hierarchy, still allowing for leadership prescribed in the Books of Timothy and Titus, but shifting from a one-to-many church model to a decentralized many-to-many model.  Less emphasis on a single individual necessarily means more onus on each member to BE the church personified all week long.

Potential Issues with House Churches

There is a solid biblical foundation for house churches given their prominence in the landscape of the early church.  However, there is significant resistance to house churches among many seminaries, pastors and other church leaders.  Two of the most common concerns they express relate to:

  • Qualifications – Some pastors believe a house church operating without a leader who has graduated from a seminary is not legitimate.  They doubt the doctrinal foundation of churches where anyone but a biblical scholar preaches or where the group shares the exegetical workload.  One counterargument is that many house churches are “networked” and itinerant or local leaders act as sounding boards and elders over multiple house churches (i.e. “appoint elders in every city”).  It’s worth noting that seminaries build their curriculum to prepare pastors to work within a brick-and-mortar framework.  Also, it’s concerning that the institutions training today’s pastors are teaching and perpetuating a church growth model that is precipitating its decline in growth, impact, influence and perception.  Much like the most brilliant minds on Wall Street who graduated from Harvard and Princeton didn’t foresee the last decade’s financial collapse, the biblical scholars of our day continue to subscribe to a definition of “church” that defies the Great Commission and possess an understanding of Jesus’ approach to evangelism that defies the second half of the Great Commandment.  In other words, maybe mature Christians who haven’t been indoctrinated in the principles for making a living running a church are better qualified to lead one.  Today, seminaries are producing more aspiring pastors than the shrinking number of church buildings can support, yet churches aren’t producing enough disciples to launch a home church in every apartment complex and street in America.  Instead, ambitious churches aim to plant more churches under their brand and control.
  • Heresy – Pastors of brick-and-mortar churches contend that group-think and under-educated leadership often lead house churches into wayward theology.  Studies showing that smaller churches tend to veer off the biblical highway more often than megachurches would seem to support their claim.  However, even small churches that meet in a building are still dependent on a single pastor to unveil his version and interpretation of biblical truth.  For the reasons mentioned in the previous section of this blog post, a house church format inherently distributes greater responsibility for teaching and accountability for personal growth than a brick-and-mortar church and therefore may be less likely to run off the Matthew 5:19 rails.

It’s Your Turn

Have you observed a house church or been part of one that took advantage of those opportunities and avoided those pitfalls?

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14 Responses

    1. This 5-part series relates to decentralization of churches – each week we’ll explore a different approach for churches to “take more ground”. This week’s post discussed house churches. We’ll cover other contexts over the next few weeks, although house churches will come up again in those posts.

    2. I love my house church. We meet e/o Saturday. Plus we attend a local church.. My house ch. Family is great. Its a safe environment to practice your gifts, worship n prayer are always a blessing. And the friendships are wonderful. Unfortunately people are busy with their careers and lives therefore we dont do much outside of our meetings. We are working on having day trips out as well as planning a outreach. I totally encourage house church in all communities. We need to get into our communities if we want to see transformation in our familes and beyond.

  1. I started the ministry in my home in 2005, this was something the Lord led me to do and I was called to follow the Ephesians 4: 11-14 model as well as the great commission In Matthew 28:18. I still had to structure the ministry in a way that would solidify our mission and vision and this where the bylaws came into place, because without a roadmap how would we know if the vision and mission is being fulfilled. I did venture out of the home to a brick and mortar location, but events beyond my control didn’t support it. I am back in the home but have the ministry going forth online and through teachings that equip the believer. In my experience the making of a disciple comes from the person having a willing heart to be transformed in to likeness of God, their can be great teaching, training, and discipleship ministry but until the heart of the person is ready to surrender then change will not come, and thus is why their is a low turn out of disciples. Making a living running a home church should never be the motivation, the call should be the compelling reason why one starts the church to begin with. I have been on both sides not the mega church to be exact, but a small church that stepped out on faith and all I can say is that the call is the reason why I have not stopped, I am continuing to answer the call back in my apartment with the same vision and mission. I want to answer the point about veering off from biblical theology, we only veer off when we are not connected to the Holy Spirit, we veer off when we look at other ministry’s and try to implement what they are doing, instead of staying with the vision that the Lord has given to us. We have to discern God’s timing and what he has given us or that church to do and stay connect to the vine and not go off of what we believe are good ideas in growing and teaching the church, Romans 12: 2-3 not conform to the ways of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove the perfect will of God. The church has to be so careful that they are not allowing conformity to creep into the church. Conforming to the culture of this world, but being transformed by renewing the mind and then the scripture states that we will be able to (discern, test, prove) the perfect will of God. This is how one veers off by not renewing their mind, not testing to see if it is God’s will. Whatever the structure be brick or mortar or home church we all have to give an account of how we stewarded it.

  2. There seems no ability to be a part of something bigger than yourself. No way to affect the world. No way to impact your community.

    The main objection is stated, that these house churches 9as has been my experience) leave biblical thinking for strange doctrines. A pastor is truly needed.

    What this is a good model of are small groups emanating from a healthy church. In the book of Acts, MOST of the ministry happened outside of “church”.

  3. I am a recent partner with a church planting movement, with primary emphasis on immigrants moving to Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The impetus of this was begun by a denominational church. All the funds that enable me to be here come from the church planting arm of the denomination whose theological bent I share, but not to the exclusion of those solid brothers who hold to different perspectives. The stated and honest expectation of the fund donor is for denominational churches being planted with educated leaders who have been examined and ordained by the denomination. However, since we are focused on immigrants, as well as Americans, who are often not theologically educated and who have no knowledge of the denomination, the donors acknowledge church planting may have to take a different form, viz. many small group (house) churches, led by non-educated, non-ordained, but well coached and trained, mission minded leaders who are networked with enough organizational structure to sustain their growth, but not so much that it constrict them from operating effectively in their context (neighborhood, apartment complex, etc). The expectation is – some if not all of these small church plants will end up NOT joining the denomination. Your approach is something I have embraced and that sells, and I am confident the denominational church I am attending (and who pays me a bit for my work) will embrace this as well. Thanks

    1. Jeffrey – Wonderful work you’re doing. Interesting how Americans have grown accustomed to conventional church models, but immigrants from many other countries are used to church in house church formats and would be confused (or put off) by all our structure and denominational distinctions. I have friends working in other countries where house church is the norm.

      1. hijust want to say that the video is a lovely touch to allready fab photos. and was wondering what program did you use to create the video as its my wifes 40th coming up soon and would love to do something like that for her. hope you dont mind me as.eegkknip up the good workpaul

  4. People in Need Ministries India
    Inviting Short Term volunteer groups and individuals to our ministry

    We are inviting Short Term volunteer groups and individuals to our ministry. The following is information about our ministry:

    Who we are:
    We are People In Need Ministries (formerly GGM) Registered, non-governmental, non-profit, genuine and trustworthy organization, located in Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India. Established in 20-September-2005. Registered charity No: 275/2005.

    What we do:
    We are dedicated to serve the poor, outcast, illiterates, oppressed and downtrodden people, regardless of caste, religion, sex, or creed. We work with transparency, Responsibility and we have great infrastructure. We are involved in social works among the poor villages. Our major work related Gospel and to support the Christian communities around our state.

    Our projects among the villages: 1) Raising orphan children in our orphanage, helping Street children, 2) Supporting Aged women/widows, 3) Rural & Tribal Villages development and upliftment, 4) Literacy, 5) Self sufficiency, 6) House gardening through Micro-loans for village women Empowerment and upliftment, Transforming lives, 7) Sewing Free Training for Teenage girls and women in the villages, 8) Safe Drinking water through Bore well pumps, 9) Agricultural development, 10) Vocational training, 11) Youth retreats, 12) Disaster relief, 13) Medical aid, 14) Church plantation, 15) Street evangelism, Pastors seminars, Gospel crusades, 16) HIV & Aids, 17) Tsunami rehabilitations, and 18) Save environment.

    Our intention:
    We are now opening our doors for Short Term volunteer Trips for any Christian groups to our ministry from abroad. You can do any of the following, or if you have any skills, please correspond with us before you express.

    a) Stories teaching or songs singing and teaching to the children
    b) New games teaching
    c) Conducting Youth meetings, (we can call and gather all the surrounding villages church’s youth)
    d) Conducting a Gospel crusade and to preach (we can call the Christian public through advertisement)
    e) Conducting a women meeting and giving them training for living life skills, this will be part of our micro-loan system for women empowerment and transformation.
    f) Or any good things of teachings to the children, youth, women and men

    Food and Accommodation facilities:
    In our new orphan house in Guduru village (7km from Machilipatnam town), we have beautiful campus. We have guest rooms, Toilet facilities, good kitchen, a hall with dining facilities, Fridge, Mineral water supply. We have good security system for our campus.

    Some type of Western Food and Chicken, mutton, Prawns, Fish, Pulkas, Roti, Chepathi. Vegetable and curried leaves are growing in our campus. They can ask for any Indian spices like Biriyani or Fried Rice.

    The Bay of Bengal is just 10km away from our home town. We can arrange a day for relaxation.
    In our local, we have money exchange and other reservation facilities.

    Information about our Machilipatnam town and District Krishna:
    There are lots of historical places in our town Machilipatnam and in other places in our Krishna District.
    Our town was ruled by French government, there are lots Old Churches, French Tombs, Hindu Temples.
    There are special markets for Indian Spicy and Cloth, trading centers, Fishery villages, with your interest, we can visit Fish, crab and prawn culture ponds. There is Kalamkari and other handicrafts, gold covering/plating.
    Paddy and other food grains agriculture growing villages.
    We can arrange you to visit any Government schools and participate in any social works to help the children for good cause. The group can do their research among the villages.

    In our orphanage we have 35 orphan children. Your group can conduct any special event or a VBS with them. The neighbor children also will participate.

    Medical Groups to conduct any medical camps in the following villages:
    We are living in major Panchayat headquarters, there are Village: 1) Akulamannadu, 2) Akumarru, 3) Chittiguduru, 4) Gandram, 5)Guduru, 6) Gurjepalle, 7) Idugullapalle, 8) Jakkamcherla, 9) Kankatava, 10) Kalapatam, 11) Kanchakoduru, 12) Kappaladoddi, 13) Kokanarayanapalem, 14) Maddipatla, 15) Mallavolu, 16) Lellagaruvu, 17) Mukkollu, 18) Narikedalapalem, 19) Pinagudurulanka, 20) Polaaram, 21) Ramannapeta, 22) Ramarajupalem, 23) Rayavaram, 24) Ramanuja varthalapalle, 25) Tarakaturu and within these villages, for each village there are 2 to 3 hamlets.
    In advance to our event, we can give announcement to all these villages about your event and will make it success.

    Our nearest airports:
    Vijayawada (airport code: VGA) is about 60km from our home town
    Hyderabad (airport code: HYD) is about 400km from our home town

    We can provide transportation from airport/our campus/airport and to see their daily tours.

    Our Management will accompany the groups and provide good security and will help them to translate their language to chat with our local communities and people.

    Cost of living:
    For accommodation and for laundry, we don’t demand for any charges. With your group/visitors willingness and satisfaction, they can wish/offer any donation; we will use it for good cause, for orphan children purpose, and for our project works to develop our activities.

    For the food, transportations rentals, fuels, and any additional, we will provide expenditure report along with clear descriptions.

    Recommendation, Be a blessing to the ministry:
    In case, if you happen to know any groups or individual wish to travel to abroad, please recommend them us. We promise our smooth service to our Guests and will do our best to fulfill their desire for good cause.

    If you wish to know more information about our organization, please ask us. God bless you!

    Yours Sincerely,
    Yathirajam Gideon
    President
    Our postal address:
    Evangelist Yathirajam Gideon
    People in Need Ministries
    Door No: 20/585-34 Phone: 0091-9848-212-509
    Lakshmanarao Purum E-mail: gideon709@yahoo.com
    Machilipatnam – 521 002
    Andhra Pradesh, India.

  5. We yearn to see you, that we may impart & share some spiritual gift to strengthen an establish you. We practice home based meetings as depicted in the book of Acts & apostolic foundation is original Christianity. God revolves around friends, neighbors, family and co-workers meeting regularly for Holy Spirit growth. We are learning that God has much more for us and his people than what we have been taught in traditional church. We are in pursuit of more…& We want to share it with anyone who wants more! There is MORE! Let’s pursue the more that God has for us together. We encourage one another as Ephesians 4 says, He gave some as apostle, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry…

  6. So many institutional model using House Churches, or Cell Groups is another name, is making it hard to find an actual independent group that doesn’t have ties to all the associated expenses of a communal facility with profesio0nal staffing. We walked away from that model, and are seeking something unattached to real estate and religious services…something that doesn’t consume so much of our giving for all those luxuries so that we can give to actual needs that we don’t personally benefit. THAT is true giving.

    The day is coming when the institutional models will have to either give up their communal property in America, or bend their knee to government sanctioned teachings of the coming new world order. Those within the institutions with communal property will then not be prepared to go out and walk in that wilderness many of us have already walked; having cast aside the crutches of the institutional handicaps.

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