In my relatively short time practicing house church, I have learned that there are many different ideas about what house church is. (Incidentally, house church is also called simple church, organic church, and new church, among other names) I wanted to take the next few weeks to share a few thoughts about what house church is and is not (at least from what I can gather). I believe it is important to say that house church is NOT going to a house and doing what we already do in what I will call “big” church. I have heard of situations where a pulpit is actually built at the house, chairs are lined up in rows, and a weekly 45 minute sermon is delivered. House church is not, “Honey I shrunk the church.” It is not taking what we do in “big church”, and simply doing the same thing in a house with a smaller group. Delivering quality sermons and providing what church members are used to receiving is not sustainable for most people.
House church is also not a group of disgruntled and cantankerous people gathering together just because they are angry with somebody in the “big” church. A healthy ‘disillusionment’ which stirs our spirit to try something different to advance the gospel may energize us, but an unresolved conflict or bitterness will eat away at a small group house church in the long term. No group will last by simply emphasizing what they are against; they must eventually transition to being for something. House churches should also not disconnect from the “big” church. While house church is by nature a separate church (more on this later), the fellowship with the larger body is essential. House churches that are “too” independent do not last very long.
I can say from personal experience that practicing house church is very hard. The initial waves of excitement dissipate. House church exposes our selfishness. For house church to function properly, each member must show up ready to use his or her spiritual gifts and give. The house must be cleaned up, large meals must be prepared, needs of children must be addressed, songs must be chosen and led by people that don’t necessarily sing very well, and scripture must be studied and shared by each individual. Most of all, our tendency to come “to get something out of the service” must be overcome. In house church there is nowhere to hide - there is no large service where, if we choose to do so, we can become anonymous, and no programs where we can drop off our children. Of course many Christians go to ‘big” church with a tremendous attitude of giving, but in house church, it seems that our attitudes (good or bad) are magnified and the needs multiplied. Perhaps most challenging of all is the realization that we are not just talking about new behaviors in a few gatherings a week, but a daily lifestyle. Outside of the weekly church gatherings, our tendency to live individualistic lives must be crucified. True life in community is not for the faint of heart. Whether in big church or in house church, it is incredibly difficult to break the tendency to be Sunday/Wednesday Christians who have demonstrated their “commitment” by attending a few services.
Since I earlier described what house church is NOT, I would like to take the opportunity over the next several weeks to describe what it IS and why it might be important, considering the current spiritual and evangelistic challenges we share. As I mentioned earlier, this blog will be the first in a series on “What is House Church?” More than just being a way of gathering, a methodology, or a strategy, I believe house church should be a way of life in which a group of people have decided to be intentional about certain important aspects of Christianity. In the next several blog installments, I look forward to discussing various behaviors about which I believe we must become much more intentional if we are to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A recent house church gathering in our home