New Life Fellowship of Research Triangle is a new church start to develop a network of house churches in the Morrisville/Cary area of North Carolina. So, the question comes up, why house churches?
Much has been written on the house church movement lately. First, we must acknowledge that different structures of churches are appropriate in different settings. So, while we are strong advocates for home churches, they are not the answer everywhere. With that disclaimer out of the way, here is our rationale: 1) As evidenced throughout Acts, believers in the first century met in homes. On the day of Pentecost, three thousand came to Christ, and their numbers were increased day by day. (See Acts 2:41-47.) There was not time to build church buildings and train up pastors. Rather, the apostles led the training from the grass roots up and developed house leaders who multiplied themselves. Some of these new converts were Jewish, and that has to be taken into account when considering rapid growth and leadership, but houses were critical as meeting places. 2) House church multiplication has been the fastest growing movements of the Christian faith in Asia where neighbors reach neighbors within communities and villages reach neighbor villages. Those who know Rod Gilbert in New Delhi will know this from the growth of the network to more than a million people in short time. This is happening in Northern India even outside of Rod’s network. Previous attempts to reach that region have been through traditional churches (western style) and have not been all that successful. The Holy Spirit seems to have a stronger influence among an indigenous (native to an area) movement that is not hindered by man-made structures and rules. Not only has this been the case in Northern India, but has been the case in China and Korea, at least. 3) There is little capital that needs to be raised to build church buildings and hire staff. Funding can go more to outreach and training where it is needed. Attractional methods to get people to a church building are not as effective with people who don’t understand the gospel and who see the church as an institution eager to take their money. Personal pre-discipleship is necessary to get many people, even in the U.S. these days, to be interested in walking into a church. This has been more effective in homes among neighbors and friends. Many churches use a combined large central church for Sunday morning and cell groups meeting in homes or coffee shops for the more intimate group settings. That is fine, and may be the result of a house church network after enough small groups are established, but it still requires upfront funding for buildings and staff that can limit rapid growth. (Rapid growth isn’t the focus as much as that more people are reached for Christ when there are very few constraints and thus rapid growth inherently results.) 4) Small groups yield more dynamic and real change than larger groups that gather to just to hear teachers preach and teach. Jesus taught His disciples by personal mentoring. That is missing in many churches where people can hide from one another in terms of opening up and being real with one another. The example of how to live the Christian life is a matter of doctrines and application points rather than real life examples in the real world. Each person has different things going on in their lives. Pulpit teaching can make some inroads, but many forget it and it isn’t necessarily what a person needs to know at that time that will be the most effective with their spiritual growth. However, personal mentoring discipleship in small intimate groups that live life together can yield answers to questions that really matter to each person specifically, and the one mentoring can bring up discussion when things come up that they see the one being mentored does not understand. I think the reason many people leave the church is because it has not made a difference in their lives. The reason, I and many others believe, is because they were not connected to Spirit led mentoring and relationships.
Large churches are effective at creating programs and organizing activities due to their size and pool of people to draw from to carry them out. But, they tend to work more on the attractional model where members invite others to hear the professionals give the gospel and there is little mentoring from the members to those they invite. There is no reason a large church model could not be more effective, and many have been better at it than others, but growth saturates based on the facilities. Home churches are not limited because they just keep giving birth to new churches in other homes.
The downside of house churches are the following: 1) In America, it is difficult for people to think beyond the traditional church gathering concept. It takes a bit of teaching to change the minds of people, even those who are not in a church, to realize church can be held in a home. 2) People have to open up their homes. Many are too private with their homes and don’t like to have to clean it up or have a bunch of people there. That is understandable. It is a hassle. Yet, it is also selfish. People often open their homes up for their kid’s birthday parties and to watch sports. If we are to be servants of Christ, that means being servants of others, and it is our duty to open up our homes for the benefit of community. In the early church, they had all things in common. It is God who gives us our homes, and it is a matter of offering it, just like with our finances, back to God in service to His work. 3) Houses limit the number of people that can gather. Yet, that is not actually bad. It forces small groups and it forces new groups to be launched once leaders are trained. 4) Training by a central leadership (apostolic type) is needed to ensure the houses groups do not drift into and duplicate heresies. One of Rod Gilberts biggest challenges is training the multitude in his network. The key to training is by continually looking for leaders who will duplicate what they are taught. Those who will not duplicate what they are taught are a weak link in the chain. They must be humble and understand the importance of duplication to effective growth of the house network. Lastly) Small churches don’t have the type of programs of larger churches that can still be beneficial to its members. However, that can be overcome by having the churches networked to a common training group that can also facilitate mission trips, larger outreaches, youth activities, and special programs to assist those going through various difficulties. The house churches can also be networked with traditional churches for those programs and aid to one another.
All that said, why house churches for Morrisville, NC? House churches are what we would have been doing in India if we had gone with the International Mission Board (IMB). House churches are most effective at reaching those resistant to attending a traditional church. Those that we are trying to reach, are for the most part very resistant to the traditional church and to Christianity in general. And, from a pragmatic standpoint (although trusting in the Spirit is more important than being pragmatic), is that we don’t need as much support to build the network and that allows us to have more funding available for outreaches and discipleship around the world. It is not that house churches require no assistance, but that a dollar goes the furthest with that model – kind of like the few fish and bread that fed thousands on the hillsides when Jesus had the disciples feed the multitudes.
T4T is the training manual used by Southern Baptist Missionaries in planting small reproducing groups in a cultural context. See: http://t4tonline.org