In our previous blogpost, I shared about my son’s autism diagnosis and how the special attention he received from our close friends and family had made a tremendous difference in his life. I went on to bring up the possibility that many of us are “spiritually autistic” and have a hard time relating to God’s love and sharing it with other people. Practitioners of house church believe that there is tremendous power in emphasizing a family-style gathering in a home, partaking together of a meal, and most importantly, sharing their lives. While this love can be demonstrated in a larger church, I believe that when we highlight and emphasize the smaller gathering, making it our primary focus, we will facilitate the conveying of God’s love.
The following statistics reveal even more why this type of gathering might be important in today’s culture. We sometimes fail to grasp the tremendous changes that have occurred in our society; we now live in a virtual world. The average male spends 72 hours a week in front of a screen. Instead of sitting on the front porch and greeting neighbors, we enter our air conditioned homes and rarely see our neighbors. We travel by car instead of by horse or walking, ensuring that we will not interact personally with anyone en route to our destinations. One hundred years ago you could assume that community was present. For example, the average American family had three sit down meals a day! Now, we can no longer assume that community is present. To form community in today’s "virtual" world we must be intentional about gathering in a fashion that creates family.
Furthermore, we live in a culture that has grown increasingly suspicious of institutional religion. Leading evangelical thinker Brian Mclaren states in his paper, “The Strategy We Pursue,” that in Europe, only 5% of people attend church. In England the number is but 10%. Astonishingly, in the USA while 40% consider themselves members of a church, only 15% attend church on any given Sunday ( according to demographer David Olsen of the Glenn Berry Database.) Sociologist, Josh Packard, says in his book "Church Refugees" that some 65 million people in the USA consider themselves "done" with traditional religion. Of significance is the fact that even though they have left the institutional church, most of them do not desire to leave Jesus. There is no doubt that the religious landscape in our society has changed dramatically in recent years. What is our plan to reach these people? While I certainly do not pretend to have all the answers, I believe our current climate demands that we do not simply carry on with a “business as usual” approach. Due to this current missional environment, it has become imperative for us to have vehicles in addition to the institutional church for the gospel to be presented. The simple, timeless, family-oriented methodology introduced by Jesus and the Apostles is exactly that.
Sometimes I am asked the question, "Does house church work?" In other words, “Are non-professionals capable of gathering in a home, remaining faithful to God and reaching out to the world?” I actually believe the more appropriate question is "Are we willing to do it?” It is not easy to worship with a smaller group, clean the house in preparation for the gathering, coordinate and cook a large meal every week, create an environment in which everyone is a giver, and sincerely love one another as Jesus loved. Nevertheless, 15 out of the 58 one another passages in the New Testament are "love one another.” Since that is the case, how could a group of committed disciples gathering together in a home and truly loving one another as Jesus loved not work? So,rather than being a methodology, or a strategy, for many, house church has become an effective way to demonstrate and experience the love of God! Jesus said in John 13:35 “By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another.” For the sake of the millions of people “done” with the institutional church, I pray that another way of “doing church,” small house churches, will help the love of God become more readily apparent and accessible.