NTRF worked with house churches for quite literally for decades and though we are slow learners, even we have learned a few things during that time. We made a lot of mistakes. In hope of helping you get a head start on planting a house church, we’ve jotted down a few considerations. What you are about to read is intended to be a loose template, not a formula.
The Pearl of Great Price: Churches that follow the ways of the early church are in a good position to offer the things people are looking for, such as true fellowship, lasting and transparent relationships with folks who are genuine, less church politics, great teaching and growth in the Lord. Many people have testified they have experienced real fellowship during the church’s weekly love feast in a way never before experienced. Special appreciation has also been expressed for the participation during the time of worship, the opportunities for all men(isters) to share, the mutual encouragement and leadership that is not lording over people (healthy accountability). It is not always easy to practice church life the New Testament way but like the pearl of great price, it is worth the cost. It could be related to marriage: We know there will be difficulties but we don’t let that stop us from getting married. We grow together as we face challenges and become mature in love and truth.
Love One Another: A true New Testament church is relationship based. First and foremost is each member’s relationship with the Lord. Next is our relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in the same heavenly family. A church is to be like family. We believe a smaller church setting (such as a large home) is the best place to foster relationships. However, to simply gather a group of strangers together, copy the practices of the early church and expect to see the same results is somewhat like having a form of godliness but denying its power! There must be genuine commitment to Christ and to each other.
It is wonderful to read about the fellowship and commitment of early believers. Yet realize that even though they were in brand new churches, those involved had already known each other for years or even decades. This is because most early converts came out of a synagogue where they had already built relationships of trust. Understand that merely bringing a bunch of strangers together who want to follow the New Testament will not produce the same things seen in Acts. A foundation of fellowship and friendship in Christ must be present before the New Testament form of church will really work, and this does not happen overnight (trust takes time). People need time and a relaxed venue for getting to know each other and becoming friends. One way to facilitate this is, from the very beginning, to include lots of food and fellowship at every stage of the church planting process (such as before or after each evangelistic session or Bible discussion).
In a New Testament styled church meeting, the saints do not merely sit and receive. Instead, the “one another” commands of the New Testament are actually put into practice. Each believer has the chance to be a fully functioning member. Believers celebrate the Agapé love feast together, share the word together and sing spiritual songs. The teaching is open to input and questioning. Much fruit comes from brotherly love lived out weekly. One of the leaders’ responsibilities is to build the relationship of the believers with the Lord and with each other in the body of Christ. If there is no spirit of community then we are missing the essence of the true New Testament church. Sadly, in this age of individualism, developing such love is a great challenge for both church planters and elders.
Perspective: When you get right down to it, there are no commands in the Bible to start churches. Instead, the prime directive is to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded (Mt 28:18-20). In that sense, Jesus did not even command us to evangelize, but rather to make disciples. However, a necessary step in making disciples is evangelism. So too, one outworking of making disciples is the formation of churches. The over-arching, prime directive from our Lord is to make disciples. This goal must be kept foremost in our thinking. Everything a church planter does must be designed to make disciples, teaching people to observe what Jesus commanded.
Got Your Act Together? There are little Methodist churches in towns across the United States. Years ago, the Methodists sent out church planters in a big way. Probably not one accidentally started a Presbyterian church. His calling and vision was to start a Methodist church, and that is what he did. In so doing, he had to cast a vision of Methodist church distinctives and persuade others of its benefits. He would have been disobedient to his mission board if he did anything else. God has probably not called you to start a Methodist church. However, if God has called you to establish a church patterned along New Testament lines, it is your God-given ministry of church planting and you have control over it. You must cast the vision for a church patterned after early church practice and be able to persuade others of its benefits. It seems like everyone has his own ideas of what church should be like, few of which are based on the Scriptures. The person who starts a new church needs to first be firm in his own convictions or he’ll be tossed about in every direction. Having a clearly defined purpose is not being self-willed; it is showing conviction and leadership. The foundation must always, of course, be Christ and both you and the core group should be sincerely persuaded that following the New Testament example is the best way to honor the Lord.
Too often, those involved with house churches are the churchly equivalent of the French Revolution. They represent egalitarianism run amuck. They are anti-doctrine and anti-authority. Anyone with leadership inclinations is resented, resisted and accused of being a would-be pope. Their main attraction to house church is the illusion of having the freedom to be left alone to do whatever it is they want to do. They are spiritual cousins to those who chant, “Get your laws off my body.” Frankly, it is impossible to build a church that honors Christ with such “disciples.” Do not let spiritual anarchists discourage you from doing what God has called you to do. Leave the dead to bury the dead and follow Christ.
Parents have tight control over very young children. By the time the children are grown the parents’ role is one of wise counsel, not control. It is the same when starting a new church. When it is merely in the early stages of formation, but not yet a bona fide church, the church planter should have control over what is done. It is, after all, the church planter’s ministry and a ministry is not a church. However, once the church is established, it is like a child maturing into adulthood. The church planter has less and less control and moves into more of an advisory position. The church planter becomes like a father with grown children rather than one with young children. The end goal is government by elder-led congregational consensus.
Despite the fact that the church planter should have a fair degree of control during the early phases of church planting, at every stage of the process he must always be seeking to build consensus. Give and take is necessary. Be genuinely considerate of others. Yielding in non-essentials is a sign of wisdom, humility, maturity and true spirituality. If you are an insensitive blockhead, your ministry won’t be very effective. There is a vast difference between attempting to rule with an iron hand and leading with the love of Christ.
Don’t Try This At Home: One house church advocate essentially claims the only people who are authorized to start a house church are the small handful of men associated with his particular ministry. To everyone else he advises, “Don’t try this at home!” At the other extreme it is sometimes simplistically proclaimed that absolutely every believer should be out starting churches: “Go! There’s nothing stopping you!” So then, which is it? It is a biblical truth that some people are uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit in church planting. Such people deserve the church’s support. The scriptures also chronicle examples of “ordinary” Christians starting churches.
No matter who God uses to birth a church, unless there is someone within the fellowship gifted in leadership, the new plant likely will not last long. New house churches often have no one qualified as an elder (the church planter may have to serve in this function), but such a situation should be strictly temporary. One observer stated that the common denominator in the lasting, functional house churches he’d seen is at least one guy who is motivated, seminary educated*, an effective teacher and a good organizer. Someone involved in the mix simply must have a pastor’s heart for people (with a giving attitude and not one of always receiving), be in good standing with the Lord and be mature in the Faith (experientially and theologically). In short, an elder-quality man is a necessity (Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3). The alternative can too often result in the blind leading the blind into a spiritual malaise where people languish spiritually for lack of vision, teaching, equipping, coaching and encouragement.
*We are not saying you have to have a seminary degree. The idea is that any brother who is serious enough to have moved to a place where there is a seminary (or Bible college), has sacrificed his hard-earned money for tuition and then spent endless hours in study to get the degree is usually a brother who has enough commitment to start and lead a church. He is motivated and he is committed. He is usually also literate biblically, an essential qualification for a leader. A valid criticism of house churches is that many who oversee them are not sound in the Word.
In China the evangelists are not usually the ones who stay to organize and lead the church. Such is not their gifting. Instead, once there are new believers in an area, the evangelists send back to an established church for a church planter to come and organize the converts into a church. The evangelists move on to find new areas to evangelize. The established church also sends around teachers on a regular basis to disciple the new church. The point of all this is that whereas God may use you to start a new church, unless you are also gifted in leadership and teaching, you need to get outside help to see to the care and feeding of the new church! Don’t be like the dog that kept chasing cars until finally one day he caught one: Now what? Church planting and church leading involves team work with each person functioning according to his gifting.
In general, it is advantageous to align with and get assistance from an established church that can serve as a source of accountability, counsel and encouragement. Another option is to voluntarily get the counsel and oversight of someone who already has experience in church planting and oversight — someone who is the embodiment of the kind of advice you are reading about in this article.
So Little Time: An important consideration when starting or leading any church is whether or not you have the time to do so. If you are working a full time secular job and have a family with children still at home (and are perhaps enrolled in seminary too), you have embarked on mission impossible (1Co 7:32-24). Do not be so busy in ministry that you neglect your family. The church will have many elders, but your children will only have one daddy. Paul was bi-vocational but was also probably single. Furthermore, his tent making business was lucrative enough to allow him to support not only himself but also his traveling companions. Evangelism takes time. Making disciples takes time. Laboring hard in the Word takes time. Counseling takes time. Have you got the time?
Although most elders work secular jobs, it is quite scriptural for the church to support evangelists, church planters and certain qualified elders. The Levites had a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, their own brothers. The Lord Jesus taught that those who preach the Gospel should get their living from the Gospel. Paul asked, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest?” Elders who are especially gifted in leadership and teaching are worthy of double honor. There is a world of difference between paying a man to do a job and freeing a man to do a ministry.
Horror stories about full time pastors in traditional churches are easily found. It is tempting to observe these abuses and conclude the biggest problem with traditional churches is the full time pastor. It is feared that if one elder is supported then you will have a church full of spineless spectators, guaranteed. We must not let the abuse of something bar its use. While it is certainly not essential that a church have an elder who is qualified for support, having full time ministers is a tremendous blessing to the body of Christ. It is quite biblical to support certain appreciated ministers. As Paul asked, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest?” It is a myth that Paul was exclusively self-employed. Paul was perfectly willing to work at a secular job to meet his needs, but when various churches voluntarily gave him offerings, he promptly dropped his tent making tools and resumed full time ministry. A key consideration in the support of a elder who works hard at the ministry of the Word is that the elder be fully persuaded that there is to be no clergy/laity distinction, no hierarchy of elders, that he is a servant of the church (not its lord), that worship is to be participatory (not centered on him) and that one of his jobs is to build congregational consensus (not making fiat decision without involving everyone else).
In The Beginning: There is no one way to start a church: direct evangelism, neighborhood Bible study, mass mail-outs, phone banks, door to door canvassing, inviting folks over from your social circles, advertising in the local paper, a radio ministry, etc. How it is done is ultimately up to the Spirit’s leading and your obedience. Those who truly love the Lord and who have a genuine love for others are in the best situation to be used by the Lord in planting a new fellowship.
If the people you initially gather together are not saved, you will obviously want to begin with evangelism. (The most effective evangelism grows out of relationships, but this topic is larger than we can go into in this article). Of course, the church is for believers. A gathering of unbelievers is not a church, it is an evangelistic event! Many evangelists have led discussions based on the Gospel of John asking two big questions of each chapter: Who is Jesus? What does He want from me?
One brother formed a core group of seekers in his home. They stayed at just six people for nine months until he got out and started knocking on doors, sharing the gospel with people. After that they slowly, but steadily, grew. They shared a meal and then he would tell The Story of God (a biblical narrative) and start asking questions. It takes about ten weeks to tell the story from Genesis to Revelation. The Story of God was written by Soma Communities.
At the end of the series, those the Lord has saved during the study could be invited to participate in a study of the book of Acts. At the end of this second series, ask, “How’d you like to be a part of a church that functions like we read about in Acts?” You might then lead a series of studies on how the early church did things. To help with this, NTRF offers The Practice of the Early Church: A Theological Workbook (Leaders Guide). With God’s grace this believer’s Bible study could become a new church.
Disputable Matters: It has been well said that in the essentials of the Faith there must be unity; in the nonessentials there should be liberty (Ro 14 & 15); in all things, there must be love. The church planter must be able to create and cultivate an atmosphere of loving acceptance of others within the fellowship. We believe nonessential issues should be left up to each father to decide upon and lead his own family in them all the while respecting the views of those with whom he disagrees.
Everything in the Bible is important. None of its teachings should be neglected. It is good to have firm convictions. The problem is when people become divisive or contentious over topics Christians have commonly disagreed upon. If some of those who initially express an interest in starting a church with you hold certain secondary (disputable) and perhaps even frivolous issues so dearly that it has already caused them to separate from other brethren, then a your new church plant is probably not for them. It won’t be long until they fall out with you over something. They are too easily offended and intolerant of those who differ. Worse yet, they may run others off with their opinionated or judgmental views.
Examples we have seen of this divisiveness include leaving a church because it had a Christmas tree in the meeting area, over grape juice being used in the Lord’s Supper (the mark of the beast!), because the leadership did not believe the King James Version is inspired, because divorced people were allowed to attend, when the church failed to condemn Arminianism as devil worship, since the church did not condemn Calvinism as a false Gospel, if a particular view of end-times events was not taught, if the women did not cover their heads with garments, since a Saturday Sabbath was not observed, when it was learned church members individually had 401k plans and because it was made known that refusal to pay lawfully owed taxes is a sin. A lasting fellowship cannot be built with such people until they mature to the point of loving other people more than their own secondary pet doctrines/practices. People who separate and fight over minor doctrinal issues don’t follow the great command of our Lord that we love one another.
It is critical that the milieu of your church be welcoming, edifying and encouraging. If there is within your fellowship a problem person who is over-bearing or who jumps on people for every little thing he thinks they say or do wrong, or who is constantly pushing some pet doctrine, he must be dealt with. Failure to keep such persons on a short leash will result in the people he hurts leaving the church. Hopefully the divisive brother will mature and change his ways because of your help. If he leaves because you have clipped his wings, so be it. Count it as a blessed subtraction. It is better for him to leave than to allow him to drive off the weak by his badgering.
Buyer Beware: There are some really important culturally relevant matters to consider when starting a house church. The simple fact is that house churches are counter-cultural in the West. Traditional European Christianity is so associated with church buildings that the typical Christian will give about as much attention to the idea of house church as he would another piece of junk mail in the post. The result is that a high percentage of those who will take the time to listen are already out of the conventional way of doing church, but often for all the wrong reasons. Many will hold to aberrant theology, are social misfits, may be rebellious, are disgruntled, are malcontents or are mad at the world (or church). This is not a good mix for starting a new church. The sad reality is that far too many house churches seem to be composed of people who are theologically unsound and socially unfit.
The main passion to start churches after the pattern of the New Testament church should be to see God’s glory revealed in the way the body of Christ lives and functions. The core families must be solid theologically and socially well adjusted. Otherwise, you’ve got a ministry to misfits and not a true church (such a ministry is needed ~ just don’t confuse it with a properly functioning church).
Due to the large number of people with eccentric beliefs who are attracted to house churches, it is important to have some sort of filter in place before you begin. Make it well known that the new church will be aligned with historic Christian orthodoxy. One house church, for instance, identified with the First London Baptist Confession of 1644. It is a very orthodox document that immediately tells any wolf in sheep’s clothing that they are not easy theological pushovers and are not open to false teachings. This is also an example of why having qualified leadership is so critical. One of the functions of an elder is to help detect and deflect false doctrine. In fact, the very presence of elders is often enough to deter trouble-makers.
Many people are sold on the axiom, “Doctrine divides — Christ unites.” We feel this is a false dichotomy. Yes, it is true some people will wrongly divide over disputable matters. It is also true we are to come together around Christ and not the Bible. Yet Christ is inseparable from doctrine. Trying to divorce the two would be a bit like separating the trunk of a tree from its roots and branches. A “Just Jesus” reductionist theology is a recipe for disaster. He is not merely a person; He is a person who taught truth (doctrine). One brother in India wisely shared that doctrine without devotion is dead; devotion without doctrine is dangerous; but doctrine with devotion is delightful. If everyone you have gathered around you is opposed to creeds and confessions, it is probably better to give up and start all over again with different people.
A statement of faith can serve two purposes: To include as many people as possible or to exclude as many as possible. One approach is to have a minimalist statement to which you ask all members to sincerely hold. Such a statement could be similar to the great ecumenical creeds (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed) but with added emphasis on justification by grace through faith. Parallel to that you could make known a much more particular statement of faith that is held to by the church planter and/or elders. Members would not be expected to hold to the more exclusive statement, but they would need to realize that all teachings by the leadership would be consistent with it (truth in advertising!). You will save yourself and the church much needless wrangling and stress with a statement of faith. It will settle issues before they arise. It helps your own church members and others know what the church believes. NTRF’s favorite statement of faith is previously mentioned and delightfully refreshing First London Baptist Confession of 1644 (copies available from NTRF.org).
Many house churches have found it a blessing to everyone involved to have a general letter of introduction to the church that is e-mailed to any potential visitor. This falls within the realm of truth in advertising. A letter of introduction will lovingly, but frankly inform a prospective visitor of the church’s distinctive practices and doctrines. If you think about it, it borders on cruel and unusual punishment to invite a Christian from a conventional church to a New Testament styled church without telling him what to expect. What we do is so far different from what he is used to that he will likely feel very uncomfortable unless things have been explained to him in advance. Another benefit of the visitor’s letter is that it will often deter from coming those who hold to aberrant theology or practices. At the end of this article is an actual visitor’s letter to give you some ideas on drafting your own.
Intentionality: Some organic church enthusiasts are quick to pronounce even the most casual gathering of Christians to be a church (such as three brothers meeting for coffee or several Christian couples getting together at a ball game). This is like saying every girl a man dates is his wife. No wonder they claim such huge numbers of church plants. They glibly proclaim, “Don’t go to church; be the church!” Ah, if it were only that easy. We disagree with such a casual approach in declaring something to be a church. There needs to be intentionality. A genuine church typically has its own publically acknowledged elders, is authorized by Jesus to carry out the Matthew 18 church discipline process, has regular meetings, a known membership and celebrates the Lord’s Supper. A purposed dedication to meet together as a church and take part in each other’s lives must be cultivated. The key words here are commitment and intent. Just as there is a difference between a bath and a baptism, so too there is a difference between a church and a fellowship gathering.
The Emerging Church: The emerging church is really church without definition. It is anything but the traditional way of doing church. In contrast, the New Testament way of doing church is quite specific and defined. We agree that the man-made traditions of church history can be taken or cast aside. However, we insist that God’s desire is for all churches to hold to the inspired traditions of the twelve apostles as found on the pages of the New Testament. Most emerging church advocates would chafe at the traditions of the early church (as patterned by the Apostles). Worst yet, in casting off the fetters of historical tradition, some within the emerging church movement sometimes also question historic Christian orthodoxy. (An example of this is Brian McLaren’s “Emergent” church). This is not a train you want to be on.
The Main Thing Is To Keep The Main Thing the Main Thing: What many are doing is taking the mega-church culture and reducing it down to house church size. Nothing has changed except the location (from movie theater to home theater!). There is so much more to early church practice than merely meeting in homes. The most important practices of the early church (those that will bless God’s people the most) are celebrating the Lord’s supper weekly as an actual holy meal, a weekly time of edifying and Spirit-led participatory worship, government by elder-led congregational consensus, a healthy devotion to the teachings of the Apostles (via the regular exposition of the Word) and churches that are relatively small numerically. These are timeless apostolic traditions for church practice. If the church planter fails to keep these basics clearly in focus, or fails to cast the vision of New Testament practice to the whole church, drift and malaise will surely set in. You can read in much detail more about each of these basic topics here our web site.
Jesus said the Jewish Sabbath was made for man rather than man for the Sabbath. Thus sometimes it was acceptable to work on the Sabbath (when the ox was in the ditch). Similarly, traditions for church practice as seen in the New Testament were made for the church rather than the church for the traditions. Sometimes there are valid reasons for violating the example of the early church.* People are more important than patterns! Seek to follow the principles of New Testament church practice but don’t let the exceptions become the rule.
*For example, if a person lives in a culture where the homes are too small to accommodate the same number of people that first century Roman homes did, then locations other than homes will need to be found.
Children Are A Blessing: The Bible is quite clear that children are a blessing from the Lord. What should we do for (not with) the children during the church gathering? Everything said or done in a church gathering must be edifying (1Co 14:26). To be avoided is a situation where the church meeting is in essence a children’s play time around a meal. If the kids are running wildly and out of control, something must be done. It is time for some parent training!
In a worst case scenario, a ministry to children could be started wherein volunteers take the children apart from the church meeting so the remaining adults can enjoy a time of edifying worship. You may be in a situation where the people who come are from broken homes where there is alcohol and drug abuse, and the mom and dad aren’t even married. Kids from such families can’t sit through a meeting, so you have to provide something for them. Ideally, these kids will get to the place where they will worship together with their mom and dad, but you have to do something in the meantime. Long term, the parents can be equipped to train their children to sit still or play quietly by their sides so the whole family can remain together during participatory worship and Bible study. Family integrated meetings are the goal.
Ultimately, a church gathering is all about meeting needs. Kids have needs too, especially for fellowship with other kids their same age. You need to also be aware of the fact most parents will pick a church to be involved with that has children the same age as their children. It matters not how closely your church follows the New Testament example or how great the teaching is, they won’t be in your church long unless there are other kids for their kids to play with. You can kick, scream and rail against it, but this is a reality of life.
Wimpy Men, Bossy Wives: One of the most common reasons a house church fails is because the men won’t fulfill their God-given duties as leaders in the home. Even if a church has a full time minister it won’t make any difference unless the other men are being loving leaders in their own homes. Men won’t be men; it is a chronic problem. They are not leading at home and they don’t lead at church. They are not spiritually minded. They do not lead their families in reading the Scriptures or prayer. Men fail to disciple their own children. They are disconnected. Often, a man will not speak up during the participatory worship precisely because he does not have a spiritual life. It shows! Conversely, when a man is spiritually active at home, he will come to the church meeting and share from his personal over-flow. A large part of your ministry will be encouraging and challenging the men to be leaders at home, to love their wives as Christ loved the church and to pay attention to their children.
The role of the women in the meeting needs to be carefully considered. Since men are already tempted to abdicate the throne, if the wives will lead, the men will often let them. It has been observed that in churches that allow women to be elders, fewer and fewer men can be found in the congregation. Applied to a participatory church meeting, the more women speak up or lead out, the quieter the men will tend to be. Church meetings should model and reinforce biblical teachings on family: husbands love, wives submit, children obey. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 indicates that it is actually a form of submission for a woman to refrain from sharing in the assembly. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 further reveals that within the body of Christ, women are to learn quietly rather than serving as teachers. The women should cooperate in a dynamic silence that encourages the men to speak up. Scripturally, it is the men who are to lead in public worship, just as they are to lead in worship in their own families.
The Crowded House: Though house churches are at the opposite end of the spectrum from mega-churches, it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking too small. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, such a size is just right; not too small (us 4 and no more) and not too big (hundreds of people). Counting the various gifts dealt with in 1 Corinthians 14 clearly reveals the presence of a healthy number of believers. That qualified widows and elders could be supported by early house churches (1Ti 5) also requires more than just a handful of believers. The Matthew 18 process detailed by Jesus assumes more than two or three families in a church. Having a plurality of elders in a single house church is also unlikely in too small a setting (Acts 14:23). A study of the typical first century Roman villa and of houses known to be meeting places of the early church suggests New Testament churches were made up of as many as 65 to 70 people. The upper room held 120 people (Ac 1:13-15).
Church growth experts claim when a Western church reaches 70-80% of its seating capacity, it will stop growing. When starting a new church, the church planter will of course make the best of what he’s got to work with, but as the church grows thought should be given to meeting in larger and larger homes. It is evident the early church modified the homes it used, and so too walls can be taken out today to accommodate the congregation. Chinese house churches often rent apartments that are used for church meetings and nothing else (no one lives in them). Rather than have a dedicated building sit empty most of the week, it may be a better use of resources for the church to rent a suitable house and sub-let rooms to singles in the fellowship at a reduced rate with the understanding that the church will meet there each week. Another idea is for the church to meet in a home that has its basement modified to accommodate the church; this way the family living upstairs won’t have to host the church in their living space every week. To lessen the burden of hosting weekly, the church might pay for a cleaning service to tidy things up before/after the Lord’s Day gathering. Alternatively, various families could rotate cleaning the host’s home.
One blessing we have that early believers did not is automobiles. However, your neighbors may not be blessed by all the cars it takes to deliver people to your church. Creative options must be found, such as parking at a nearby school and walking the rest of way to church. Perhaps a house could be found that allows for ample off-street parking.
Be aware that allowing a house church to grow in size to that of New Testament Roman villa churches will likely necessitate eventually moving from the home into a larger venue (community center, dance studio, school, apartment clubhouse, your own church building, etc.).
Expectations: There have been those who got all excited at first, assuming there would soon be loads of people because it sounds so great everyone will want to come. When everyone didn’t come, they eventually became disillusioned and quit. The fact is that large numbers simply aren’t feasible for some locations, for whatever reason. Just be aware that in too small a house church a problem arises quickly if even a few people move away or give up. When it gets down to about three families, it’s really rough; the lower the number of people in a church, the more likely its sudden demise. Yet despite the problems, some people would be thrilled to be able to find two other families with whom to meet. When people are desperate to start something, its permanence is not the biggest factor for them. We don’t mean to burst their bubble! Our goal is simply to set realistic expectations of the challenges of being too small (three families or less) and what normal should look like (60, 80, 100, 120 people).
Teaching Them: There once was a young man who grew up attending a house church. During his college years he met an attractive young lady and began going to her very large Baptist church. He was amazed at and blessed by the thoughtful, in depth, Scriptural messages the pastor taught each week. Later, on his Facebook page, he contrasted this with his past house church experience where “a bunch of guys sit around, shooting from the hip and sharing what they think the Bible says about something.” Sadly, a person would never learn the Bible attending the typical house church.
It was no one less than our Lord who commanded His apostles to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all He commanded. House churches have fantastic fellowship. The participatory worship is a great time of exhortation, encouragement and testimony. However, a consistent and great weakness of Western house churches is a scandalous lack of teaching. This is a flagrant violation of Jesus’ directive. We recommend three phases to every Lord’s Day church gathering: The Lord’s supper, participatory worship and in depth teaching. Teaching is so important that we would recommend involvement with a traditional church with solid Bible teaching over a house church that essentially has no teaching. If you plant or lead a house church, are you prepared to see to it that His flock is fed? When you stand before the Lord, how will you have obeyed Matthew 28:19-20?
Conclusion: We hope you found these thoughts on church planting to be a source of both caution and encouragement. Church planters in the New Testament traveled and worked together in teams. Pray for God to send a like-minded brother for you to co-labor with in establishing a new church. You may be a leader or you may be a supportive co-worker. Ask God for wisdom, divine appointments, open doors of opportunity and the boldness to go through those doors. Trust God to give you the words to speak as you ought to speak them. If God can use the likes of us to start churches, He can probably use you, too!
Special thanks for input to the following folks, all of whom have been involved in church planting:
Stephen David, India
Parke Slater, Virginia
Jim Chipman, Georgia
Tim Andrews, Georgia
Mike Indest, Louisiana
Andy Craddock, Georgia
Miguel Villarreal, Illinois
Brian Anderson, California
Ed & Linda Caouette, Georgia
Murlee Kanagalingam, Sri Lanka
Steve & Sandra Atkerson, Georgia
Dan & Linda Trotter, South Carolina
Nathaniel & Eden Caouette, Connecticut
Sample Letter of Introduction
To A New Testament Styled Church
We have made a conscious effort to seek to follow the traditions of the original apostles in our church practice (see NTRF.org). We believe this is the best way we can honor the Lord as His Bride. Thus, even though our fellowship is quite “traditional” in the New Testament sense, what we do is rather unconventional by contemporary standards. This letter is to help you know what to expect. Our hope is you will feel comfortable and encouraged when meeting with us.
The Lord’s Day: Following the pattern of the New Testament, our church comes together regularly on the first day of each week. This is known in Scripture as the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave. We do not, however, see it as any type of Sabbath day. Every day is a holy day under the New Covenant (Heb 4, Col 2:16 – 17, Ga 4:8 – 11).
Location: We meet in the morning, in NE Geneva (the Mercer/Northlake area). Since the early church met mostly in private homes, the typical New Testament church had to have been smaller rather than larger. Excavated Roman homes known to host church meetings could hold 65-70 people. Everything in the New Testament was written to churches where everyone knew everyone else. We believe a church functions best in a smaller setting. Thus, we think the ideal design is for each congregation (wherever it meets) to contain scores of people, not hundreds and certainly not thousands. Although we do meet in homes, since the typical American home will not hold as many people as a Roman villa, we are open to creative alternatives. One thing the Romans did not have to worry about was where to park all the cars it takes to bring 70 people to church! Please try to park on the same side of the street on which the home is located. This will make it less likely our cars will choke up the neighborhood street. For location and directions, please call:
Joe & Sally 213-XXX-XXXX
Pete and Sue 213-XXX-XXXX
The Importance of Relationships: Our church family is relationship based. First and foremost is each member’s relationship with the Lord Jesus. Then comes our relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in the same heavenly family. This emphasis on relationships does not mean we believe doctrine to be unimportant. In the essentials of the Faith we believe there is to be unity. In the nonessentials we believe there is to be liberty (Ro 14 & 15). We leave it up to each father to decide about these nonessential issues and lead his own family in them. If you hold certain secondary (and disputable) issues so dearly that they had already caused you to separate from other brethren, then our church is probably not for you. A few examples of issues we consider to be secondary, and not worth separating over, are Bible translations, nonresistance, head coverings, Christmas, politics, Sabbath observance, end-time events, the future of Israel, various millennial views, home schooling and music styles. If you are under the discipline of another church, then we ask you to get things right with that assembly before you come to ours. (However, our leaders will be glad to meet with you to discuss your situation further.)
Starting Time: The doors of the host’s home open at 10 a.m. and our worship time starts promptly at 10:30. Thus, you can see there is a thirty minute window for folks to come in, get settled, visit, get coffee, etc.
Participatory Worship: We begin our time together with a time of open sharing and singing (per 1 Corinthians 14:25ff). Nothing is scheduled except the starting time of the first song (10:30 a.m.) and the ending time (11:15 a.m.) Sometimes we sing a lot, sometimes not much at all. On one Sunday several brothers may share, while on other weeks few will share. Sometimes we pray a long time, sometimes very little. We sing both hymns and praise songs. It all depends on how the Holy Spirit has prompted various brothers to prepare during the previous week. Any of the brothers may participate verbally, but everything said must be designed to edify the whole church (14:26). Only one person at a time is permitted to address the assembly, and everything is to be done in a fitting and orderly way. All teachings and prophecies are liable to public cross examination and judgment. Ladies do not speak out publicly in the 1 Corinthians 14 phase of the meeting (14:33-35). In contrast, they speak quite a bit during the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper.
Dress: Our dress code is casual and comfortable. Nobody wears a tie. Ladies wear anything from comfortable dresses to pants to capris. Modesty is always in fashion! Children usually end up playing outside after the meeting and therefore wear play clothes and shoes. Getting dirty is not uncommon for the kids.
Children: The children stay with us in the meeting, though if a child gets noisy one of his parents will take him out until he calms down. If you have young children you may wish to bring along something to keep them happy, such as a drawing pad and crayons or quiet toys. The kids usually sit on the floor next to their parents. We believe it is the job of the parents, not the church, to teach their children about Jesus. Thus, we purposely have no Sunday School nor Children’s Church.
Teaching: After a short break (11:15 – 11:30) we have a time of in depth teaching (11:30 – 12:15 p.m.), usually led by one of our elders. We are decidedly in alignment with historic Christian theology and ethics. Inquiring minds will want to know that most of us hold to the doctrines of grace (Augustinian soteriology), new covenant theology, biblical inerrancy, and the Danvers statement on biblical manhood and womanhood. You can find out more about New Testament church life at www.ntrf.org. Our elders’ favorite statement of faith is the First London Baptist Confession of 1644.
The Lord’s Supper: A Holy Meal. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is an integral part of our gathering. We eat it as a true meal per 1 Corinthians 11b. It is potluck with everyone bringing gracious portions to share with the rest. We believe it is to be an actual meal to typify the wedding banquet of the Lamb. It is a great time of fellowship and encouragement and very much like a wedding banquet rather than a funeral. However, it is not simply lunch. It is a sacred, covenant banquet. In the middle of all the food you will notice the one cup and the one loaf, representing the body and blood of our Lord, designed to remind Jesus of His promise to return and partake of the meal again with His people. All believers are free to partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine as they go through the food line. It begins at 12:30 p.m. There is no official ending time. Leave after you have dined and enjoyed sufficient fellowship!
In sum, our church is committed to meeting and living out as simple as possible a reading and understanding of what the New Testament church gave us for a pattern. We know we don’t have it all figured out yet. We are a work in progress! We tend to take issues one at a time and attempt to come to a biblically based consensus before moving on. Everybody counts and ideally nobody gets run over or discounted. This means we sometimes move pretty slow, but with a high degree of peace and unity. For that we have been blessed and are grateful.
See you on the Lord’s Day?