Do house churches work? Could they be an alternative structure to traditional churches?
Things happened at houses in the early church:
- Pentecost started in a house. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1,2).
- The early church grew—in homes, with larger gatherings at the temple: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). “Day after day in the temple courts and from house to house they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news…” (Acts 5:42).
- The Spirit fell on Gentiles in a house gathering (Acts 10:25).
- The Philippian church was likely birthed in Lydia’s house (Acts 16:15; 16:40). Priscilla and Aquila had a church in their house (Ro.16:5; I Cor.16:19). Others had house churches: Nympha (Col.4:15), Archippus (Philemon 2).
- Paul met with people in homes. His strategy began in the synagogue and moved to homes when a critical mass believed. In his farewell to the Ephesians elders, he said that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
House churches have some advantages:
Low cost. Just pay the mortgage.
Fellowship. The sharing of lives in a home atmosphere.
Evangelism. More natural to invite someone to a home.
Discipleship. The structure of the house church makes application of truth a more lively potential, where the fellowship hopefully creates interdependence.
Leadership. There’s a shortage of seminary-trained pastors. House churches look for a mature leader, an elder in the faith. They can also answer to the clergy-laity gap.
New Testament model. Church buildings multiplied when Christianity became a state-recognized religion. Under persecution in the first two centuries, the house church model flourished.
History. The success of house churches in places like China and Africa is compelling. Revival and awakening have often been accompanied by a house church movement. Think Wesleyans, Moravians and Mennonites.
- We’ve only known the traditional model. House churches seem cultic to some. Are they legit?
- The transfer from program-based church to a relational-based will take us through withdrawal. Programs may need to be replaced by stronger family ties.
- House churches could be another fad, the latest answer to pressing needs.
- Conventional churches have an endurance factor that house churches do not have.
How might some transition if convinced this could be positive?
- Think about underlying values. Are they worth going after? What are they?
- Consider the questions involved: Must it be either-or? Could we take some values from the house church model and apply them to the traditional model? Would we do a house church alongside a traditional church? Could we try it as an evangelistic tool for our neighborhoods? How could oversight be given to house churches to guard against heresy?
The success of the house church movement has brought it into the limelight. It is gathering momentum, and the wind of the Spirit is blowing. We would do well at least to understand it. Could be quite a homecoming!