House Church Clarification

When I talk about house church it is rare that I get an excited response but this past Saturday a friend introduced me to another couple as running a house church and the couple was actually excited and interested in the concept.

But I wanted to be clear then, as I do now that I am not talking a traditional church that is too small to rent or buy a building so it meets in a home with the hope of “growing up” someday to being a real traditional church. I am talking about what something more like a cell based church, for those not familiar with that, a cell based church may have one central campus where they keep their offices but the focus of ministry is done in smaller cells. Additionally while there may be a weekly meeting for all cells to meet up, if you had to miss once meeting each week you would be told to miss the large group meeting and attend your smaller group meeting because that is where they understand the most important facets of ministry to occur.

The fellow ship I am a part of is normally 6-10 of us who meet together, share our lives, share a meal and all contribute to the process. Frank Viola who has been planting house churches for a number of years talks in his article “Participatory House Church meetings” about some vocabulary changes that need to take place with people who are more familiar with traditional church environments:

First, ‘services’ belong to institutions. They are ritualistic, performance-based ceremonies. The early Christians never had ‘services’ in which an active few performed for a passive audience. Instead, they had ‘meetings’ that were spontaneous, interactive, participatory and Spirit-led. ‘Meeting is the word that is employed throughout the New Testament when the early Christians came together to display Christ.[1] Second, we are no longer ‘going to church’. The church or ekklesia is the Body of Christ which assembles together. It is not a place to go. It is not an edifice. We are going to a meeting but we are part of the church.

Although it may just seem like semantics I believe controlling the vocabulary really changes the way you think about something, most believers would say that they are the body of Christ and that they are the church but it isn’t they way they normally define themselves.

This particular article is about the house church concept of all members of the body being involved in some way, which I freely admit scared me more than a little, but that is part pride, and part control freak. I also admit that is seems more backed by scripture than not. 1 Cor 14:26-28 says this:

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

I checked the Bible Knowledge Commentary to verify that this was not merely a descriptive passage, it confirms that is was the custom that anyone was able to participate in an orderly fashion in the first century church. How we moved into a more performance based model with a passive congregation is up for debate although it seems to have happened around the time of the Edict of Milan which changed Christianity from an organic fringe religion to the official religion of the Roman Empire, putting the government in charge of the Church, including ordination and licensing of the priesthood[2]

The organic church movement is about changing the way things have been done for the past 1700 years and getting back on what is believed to be a more biblical track.


[1] Also called “Assembling” or “coming together” (Acts 4:31; 1 Cor 14:23,26; Heb 10:25)


[2] Simson, Wolfgang. Houses That Change the World. Neuhausen, Switzerland, 1998. 48.

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15 responses to “House Church Clarification”

  1. As you already know, I couldn’t agree with this more. This fellowship has blessed me as I have watched spiritually beneficial relationships develop that were not there in most traditional church settings. A spiritual family has been birthed… and we are here, kicking and screaming like a new born, ready to adventure with Christ.

  2. This is an interesting premise. Having “grown-up” in the “church” we always looked at these home churches as hold-overs from the 60’s pot smoking christians. With that said, I am having a hard time looking at the modern “mega-church” as nothing more then a social club. Yeah, they serve a purpose but more often then not its because of the work of the few. If 12 men lead by Jesus can change the world, then what could a group of 20 dedicated families do to a community.

  3. I like that you point out the different between a ‘service’ and a meeting. In the work place we have meetings all the time – most of the time these are expected to be completely interactive.

    Stephanie and I were at church a few weeks ago and someone from the platform hit a sour note during Praise and Worship. My wife elbowed me and made a sour face – without thinking I responded – “This isn’t a talent show – it’s worship service!”

    We often get caught up in the entertainment of service that we stop interacting with the meeting. Many times a preacher is judged to be ‘good’ or not based on how entertaining his/she is.

    Still – I think the church building still has value in the kingdom today – maybe not the ‘mega-church’ as much – but a place that the community can view as a center for help and an agent for change.

  4. But why would they look at the ‘building’ for that when they are really looking to the people, who can help more when they don’t have to pay for a building, and staff and utilities.

    I think it would be better if the building was a community center that hosted a church service instead of a more temple like building that is empty the rest of the week.

  5. I’m looking for a marriage of the best of both worlds. Big church quality and spiritual authority, along with small group relationships and accountability. Truth be told, I think that most folks in the small group movement are looking for the same thing, and several local bodies are proving to be quite successful at both.

    My most nagging concerns regarding the current modern-American rendition of “house churches” is the spirit and attitude out of which they are often being birthed (disgruntled or jaded believers) and the lack of spiritual authority that so often accompanies these renegade groups. In China, out of necessity, the church has had to exist in the house church model, and yet it does so under the spiritual authority of a 5-fold ministry gift as outlined in Scripture.

    And while it’s not the be-all, end-all of the Church’s existence, let us not discount the spiritual, economic and social ramifications of taking a parcel of land and building property to the glory of God and for His purposes. There is a lot to be said for creating these physical “beachheads” in the middle of a Godless society. And many modern local bodies are being a lot smarter about what they build and why – creating more multi-purpose spaces for class rooms, or training, or worship gatherings. It is awesome to witness. Why does it always seem like post-modernist, in an effort to seem seeker-relevant and cool, are so quick to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater?

  6. Scott,
    Your post is full of straw men, beginning with your concerns for the spirit and attitude these churches are starting from. While I am sure there are some that were formed that way, when you begin to look into the main people in the movement today they simply believe it is the better and more biblical way to do it.
    No one has talked about being “seeker-relevant and cool,” that isn’t the goal

  7. Ok, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. I agree with Scott…. sort of…. (Ugh I can’t believe I’m saying this… 🙂 )

    You have to admit Jason that we’ve all seen the here today gone tomorrow store front churchs. Geez, half the pastors of those churches probably did a semester with us in College. The thing is they are so sigmatized with inconsistency and ineffectivness from all the other guys who aren’t doing it right.

    This is were I agree with Scott. The medium ground where you have a small (100 – 300) person church that is a lighthouse in a community of consistency and stability for people to turn to. If have found that Smaller churches seem to be more effective in the community because they don’t have that mega church feel but still have the worker poll to get things done in the community.

    Now I’ll but my own spin. What about growth? Everything that is alive must being growing. Eventually a house church will get too big for the house and need a store front. Eventual the storefront will get to big and ….. You get the point. If you aren’t growing how can you see your meeting the needs of the lost?

    I’m not slamming on anybody just a thought to add to the mix.

  8. Steve,
    I have already addressed the growth issue in a previous post, you begin a new house church. The idea of the house church movement isn’t to grow into a larger church but to create a network of house churches that work within the community. Think of it more like cell groups without the overhead.

  9. Ok.

    Then I’ll move from Devil’s advocate to just plain curious. Where is the spiritual authority? The apostle or the pastor?

  10. Refer back to the dictionary definition of “Straw Man.” My statement is not full of straw men, but contains my direct observations and opinions, and I don’t pretend that they are anything other than that. And certainly my concerns must have some validity. Even Frank Viola, who you quote in another post, references them:

    “The Disgruntled Malcontent Society. Comprised of ex-church derelicts and recycled Christians, these groups happily assemble to lick their wounds and slam the “spiritually abusive” institutional church. – Frank Viola”

    And if I personally know individuals who are involved in the house church concept to be “seeker-relevant and cool” (not you or your group), and I do, then the validity of my concern stands even if it’s just for those particular believers.

    In balance, I love the concept of home meetings for believers. I guess we just have differing opinions on what that balance should look like.

  11. Late to join the conversation but several points to make:

    As for “big church quality” — quality of what? Numerous studies have shown that bigger churches have higher quality only when it comes to “services”. Willow Creek has gone into “quality programs” and ministries, and recently admitted “we were wrong”. The elements that lead to quality discipleship, the central item we are to be about, can be done in smaller more easily.

    Years ago, a student of kingdom growth (as opposed to church growth) showed that there was really 8 elements leading to ‘quality’ growth. 7 of 8 were done better in smaller settings (‘worship quality’ — performance).

    More studies show the smaller the church, the more likely the numerical growth. In other words, 2 churches of 500 will have more growth combined than one of 1000, 5 churches of 100 more than one church of 500, 2 churches of 50 more than a church of 100, etc. The fastest growing areas for the kingdom in the world are currently South America, Africa, and Asia. The dominant church form in these areas are house churches.

    House churches provide more growth opportunity, more connection to God (no clergy in the way), and faster leadership growth. (when they aren’t trying to be small versions of traditional churches, anyway).

  12. Agreed that spiritual authority needs to be defined before the answer. Answering it only leads to misunderstanding.

    Spiritual authority is badly misunderstood in the modern church. Authority is mistaken for “being in charge” and being responsible for behavior, etc. Or it means “expert”, or who is endowed with the “power” in a church. That trivializes what the bible means.

    The word authority comes from the word author. The Greek word authority is tied in the bible tightly to the word author, more so than today. The authority is not to be a ruler (that is the role of Jesus and the Holy Spirit), but rather a kind of “father” to others under his authority. The authority is about creating in his charges, much like an author creates his text.

  13. Hi, our names are Frank and Sarah and we live in Grove City Ohio. We are intereseted in making connections in our area with others involved in the HC movement. I found you on House2House and was trying to figure out a way to get in touch so I decided to start here. We have been out of IC for 2 years now and have been on a pretty interesting spiritual journey during that time. We completed Pagan Christianity about 6 months back and it was really and eye opener for us. Let us know if you ever have time to chat about what’s going on in our area. Grace and Peace, Frank and Sarah

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