The Road Ahead
So, you are now part of a functioning house church. You and your friends enjoy the routine of regular meetings. You have successfully passed several crisis points—like that big argument over doctrine, or the question about which house should host the meetings, or the tension when that new family with those radical ideas joined. Thanks to God and some agape-fuelled “one-anothering,” the group has survived to reach a state of peace and spiritual prosperity. What lies ahead?
One problem that can confront successful house churches, and is a good problem to have, is growth. A good house church tends to attract people, but since the meetings are held in someone’s home, there are physical limits. When a house church reaches 15 or 20 members, and is still growing, it may be pragmatic to consider splitting, i.e., some members will leave to start another house church in another home. This can be a somewhat traumatic event. Friendships have been formed. Nobody may want to leave. But experience shows that house churches thrive best when the group is kept under 15 or 20. When large house churches divide, more people can have the opportunity to come to Christ and grow in the faith. This is because the churches begin having a greater presence geographically, and individuals have an opportunity to learn new roles. Volunteering to move to the new house church can be viewed as a mission opportunity. However, before deciding to split, there should be prayerful discussion and consensus among the members.
Typically, connections between house churches will form, and this should be encouraged. In the first century, networks of house churches were normal. For example, Paul asks the Colossians to read the letter from Laodicea, and vice versa (Col 4:16). Peter addresses his first letter to, “…those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” (1 Pet. 1:1). There was awareness among churches of being in a network—that they were related to each other and all part of the universal church of Jesus Christ. There was power in numbers. For example, Paul was able to take up a collection among the Gentile churches for the saints in Jerusalem who were undergoing hardship, in part from a famine in the region (1 Cor. 16:1-4).
In the first century the apostles kept these networks alive—visiting churches regularly and sending letters. Although we do not have apostles in the sense of the “twelve” today, some networks have developed a “circuit rider” concept, where mature brothers or sisters will offer to visit other house churches to assist where they can, exchange ideas, or just maintain contact within the network. This has proven to be a good way to help each other keep our house churches spiritually strong and working together.
The early house churches also met as a larger group. Although the apostles visited homes regularly they were also found at the temple preaching and teaching, along with the disciples (Acts 2:46). In Acts 5:12, “…they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico.” Solomon’s portico, or porch, was a large covered area on the east side of the temple—perfect for meeting as a larger group. Similarly today, house church networks can rent or borrow a larger space to hold meetings of their network, perhaps monthly or bimonthly. Because of the larger size of these meetings, a more formal structure is usually more effective. For example, those with the gift of teaching can present practical information to the larger group or lead group bible studies. Group worship in song, group prayer, testimonies, discussions, and of course meals, are often part of these larger gatherings today.
One question often arises, however. If house churches are going to meet regularly as a larger group, why not purchase or lease a property?
Some groups have successfully moved to a permanent building and managed to hold onto the small-group intimacy of house church life. However, this is a significant undertaking, and includes complex decisions and processes around acquiring and maintaining property, legal considerations and so on, as well as significant resources— both money and time. In addition, because of the complexity, more overhead must go into administration. Informal house church networks can be maintained for minimal cost and effort, freeing Christians to use more of their resources to help more people. On the other hand, having a permanent home for the larger group certainly has many advantages, as attested by those who are members of such churches. House church networks that are considering obtaining a building should approach this decision seriously and prayerfully, and seek counsel from those with experience in these matters.
Mission and outreach are very important to vibrant house church life. It is critical that the kingdom of God is modeled for the greater community to observe (Matt. 5:14- 15). Otherwise, house churches can become inward looking and develop an “us four and no more” attitude. If we look at early Christians, they spent time nurturing each other, but also did good to all men as they had opportunity (Gal.6:10). Bringing the gospel to others and helping others to value a relationship with God is the chief outreach of the Church. The internal message for the Saints is to fully mature into the image of Christ so that they can partake in the teaching and uplifting of the world in the kingdom age. Whatever else we do in uplifting the world in the present time is secondary to these goals. But where Providence gives us opportunity to do good, let us be swift to do it.
As our house church networks grow and expand into our communities, they can provide a spiritual haven for the poor and lonely of spirit. By modeling simple, lifechanging Christianity in action, the opportunity exists to attract more unbelievers to Christ. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus receive all the honor, praise and glory!
This brings us to the end of our seven part series on the house church. The purpose was to help our brothers and sisters who need fellowship but cannot find it locally. Our hope is that these articles have provided some ideas on how to start and maintain your own house church and house church networks. May God bless your efforts!
The following are references and suggestions for further reading:
Authentic Relationships, Wayne Jacobsen & Clay Jacobsen
Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch
Houses That Change the World, Wolfgang Simson
Nexus – The World House Church Movement Reader, Rad Zdero
Paul’s Idea of Community, Robert Banks
The Body of Christ: A Reality, Watchman Nee
The Church Comes Home, Robert and Julia Banks
The Global House Church Movement, Rad Zdero