We live in a day and age where (especially in America) people work more than forty hours just to make ends meet. Then on top of that their kids play sports, or are part of various clubs and societies. Parents come home, turn the tv on and desperately try to zone out and escape reality. Then, on the weekends they get together with friends and family. The kids play together while the adults bemoan about having to go to church tomorrow. I’ve heard it for years while working in a “secular” job—“I don’t have time for church on Sunday, I just want to rest” (ignoring the fact that 3 out of 4 times Saturday was spent with friends and family doing something that was physically exhausting and thus not resting). So as someone who loves the church, I can’t help but lament at the weight the American church has added to the family. “Join a small group!” “Come out and serve!” “Invite your friends (who are really just as beat and weary as you and likely wont come either)!” And I know churches mean well, and that the program system once worked but, frankly, now it doesn’t.
I say all of that to say this: we need something different. Something natural, organic. Something that alleviates families from the burdensome weight of going to church and gives them the freedom found in the Gospel to be the church. Thus, I am highly favorable of the house church. Below are the pros and cons that I see in the house church model.
- Money is not an obstacle. It’s no secret that planting a church costs money. It is also no secret that ministry often times does not provide substantial amounts of money. But with a house church all the incoming money can go straight to missions—local and otherwise. The house church is able to actually help those in need, and not just direct them to another ministry for assistance.
- You meet where people are most comfortable (and open): I personally love having people over to hang out! Even as an introvert, it is some of the most fun that I have. People generally are more comfortable and open to going to someone’s house over and against going to a church building. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, it is really awkward to invite others to church. And most of the time it’s a failed attempt.
- Hospitality drives the movement: In order for the house church movement to thrive, the people must be hospitable. You aren’t just gathering together with other believers, but with unbelievers and skeptics who are taking a huge step by coming over to a stranger’s home with a bunch of Christians. If people aren’t hospitable, especially the host family, then the chances of being able to speak Gospel life into the lives of unbelievers become all but null and void.
- Teaching is more practical and life-giving: Ideally the teaching becomes less structured (i.e. the meeting is less formal and bound to a schedule) and more organic. As people share about their week and the struggles they’ve faced each person has the opportunity to share Biblical truths with others and that in turn leads into the teaching time. The Gospel becomes incredibly freeing when it is taught in a way that speaks directly to the daily life of a believer and not in a lecture-style sermon.
- Believers are encouraged to bear the burdens of others: Galatians 6:2 is a clear command to believers to come beside other believers and walk with them in times of trial. It’s not uncommon for people to join a larger church because they can get lost in the crowd. In a house church, because of its small size, it is imperative for everyone to bear the weight of the daily battle with sin.
- Neighborhoods are changed from the inside: It’s not uncommon to hear a pastor say “we have a heart for (insert city name)” and while that is a good goal, it’s a rather large goal. The house church says “we have a heart for our neighbors”, which is a more manageable goal. By changing our own neighborhood, we take steps to changing the city as a whole.
- It is elder-led and deacon-served, by nature: Servant leadership comes a lot more naturally in a house church. Elders are able to pastor the flock with more precision and diligence because the flock is a lot smaller. Deacons are also able to serve more easily. This is especially true if the house church is specifically focusing on their neighborhood alone. In that case, ministry by the deacons and elders are able to make visits to the sick and hurting in a quick manner because they are literally living among their sheep.
- Spiritual gifts can more be more freely expressed: Obviously Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about operating orderly when it comes to the gifts is still to be adhered to. However, unlike in a traditional church service where there is a time limit for the service, in a house church believers are free to use their gifts in a more natural manner rather than a in a set time frame. For instance, perhaps someone has a word of knowledge, it is not nearly as distracting to speak this word in a house church setting as it would be to stand up and interrupt the pastor in a traditional church setting.
- Evangelism becomes more personal: Instead of the pastor giving a blanket offering of salvation, everybody is encouraged to share the Gospel in one way or another with any unbeliever that is present. Further more, nonbelievers are exposed to the Gospel through real-life situations, and not necessarily through a time of teaching when the invitation to repent is a footnote.
- It’s not “traditional”: It’s not traditional, which means its not going to be highly looked upon as a legitimate church. If you do choose to pursue this model, I would warn you of the probable “but that’s just a Bible study, not a real church” comment.
- You won’t become super popular: House churches are by nature a small setting. So while you wont become popular, you will be able to pastor more specifically. Your church won’t grow to a large number, and unless the house churches in the house church network decide to come together periodically for a larger meeting, you won’t be standing in front of a large crowd of people, but rather sitting among the sheep you faithfully pastor.
- You won’t reach a lot of people (quickly): Every pastor wants to reach a lot of people and to do that you have to invite a lot of people in. But with the house church you simply can’t do that. And I argue that this is actually a good thing. Obviously you still want to reach people, but you do so by training up other elders to host a congregation in their own home and when they do you joyfully give them some of your flock so that there is more room for new people. So while in the first three years of ministry you might not see a growth from 50 people to 300, you might see 6 elders raised up and sent out and that is a much healthier approach to discipleship.
- You will likely be bi-vo: While it is possible to be a full-time house church pastor, it probably isn’t the most practical plan. But again, this is good! Being bi-vocational allows you to have genuine friendships with people you meet everyday at work. Instead of being able to disengage from the culture around you, you are forced to be a part of it and to utilize it for the glory of God!
A lot more could be said in favor of this, like discipleship, discipline and communion but for brevity sake I’ll save that for a later post! However, I am becoming a more strong proponent of the house church model every day. I really believe it is one of the healthiest models. I have included a list of practical resources I have personally benefitted from as I have studied this model.
Resources for further study
- The House Church Book (Wolfgang Simpson)
- Everyday Church (Steve Timmis & Tim Chester)
- Total Church (Steve Timmis & Tim Chester)