Meeting in a home for church clearly has biblical precedence. Given the right circumstances, we truly believe a private home is the ideal setting for church meetings. The smaller, homey feel fosters genuine friendships. The Lord’s Supper celebrated as an actual meal in this relaxed, unhurried, comfortable setting helps build unity and love. Participatory worship wherein each person contributes according to his spiritual gift is much more possible, intimate, and meaningful. Elder-led consensus is easier to achieve. Without the expense of church buildings, more resources are freed up to fund missions and benevolence. House churches can be simple, wonderful, down-to-earth (yet touching heaven) expressions of new covenant church life.
Furthermore, many forward thinkers suspect the church in the West is headed for a relation to civil government similar to that existing today in China where the church has largely been driven underground. For example, in progressive Western political administrations, church teachings against homosexuality are viewed as hate speech. Christians are painted by both the media and government as backward, close minded, extremists. The tax-exempt status of many churches and Christian schools could be revoked as government legislation promotes sexual freedom over religious liberty. Worst yet, the power to tax is the power to destroy. In times of persecution, meeting in private homes becomes an increasingly attractive option.
Yes, a house church can certainly be used of the Lord, especially if at least one brother involved is qualified to be an elder (1 Timothy 3) and is either retired or bi-vocational (Acts 20:17-35) so as to have time freed up to devote to the church (teaching, guiding, counseling, disciple making, etc.). NTRF first got involved with house churches in the late 1980’s, working with house churches on the east coast, literally from Maine to Florida. We’ve learned a few things over the years about the challenges of house churching that you might want to be aware of:
1) A Plague of Poor Leadership: A great problem we have observed is that most house churches are not served by anyone gifted in leadership—and so fizzle out due to lack of oversight and teaching. More people have the skill-set necessary to start a church than to successfully lead one. Without qualified leadership, sincere believers can still gather in a home and enjoy wonderful fellowship, heavenly worship, and impassioned sharing. However, our experience has been that without leadership, without in-depth teaching, without disciples being made, the house church either eventually dies from entropy, or satan sends in a trouble maker who scatters the people of a church like a bowling balls crashing into a set of pins. How did first-century house churches overcome this lack of leadership? Read on!
2) Thinking Too Small: New Testament house churches were bigger a typical Western house church. Scripture indicates early churches met in the homes of wealthier members. This was probably because of the larger size of the home and the ability of the host to provide much of the food for the love feast. There were large areas in Roman villas where the church could gather, such as the atrium. Enough believers could gather to manifest a large variety of spiritual gifts (read through 1 Corinthians 11-14), to have a plurality of qualified leaders, and to even financially support some elders (who were thus freed to provide in depth teaching and leadership). They also probably had more of an Asian mindset to crowding than we do in the West (there were 120 people meeting in someone’s home in Jerusalem, Acts 1:15, 2:1-2).
The typical modern Western home is simply too small to hold enough believers to have the strength of a Roman villa-sized house church. In today’s Western house churches, there typically is no one qualified to serve as elder (such men are rare everywhere anyway), no one able to teach (due either to lack of skill or preparation time), and no one with the time to consistently devote to shepherding. Consequently, lacking both good leadership and in-depth teaching, a house church often becomes more of a “bless me” club. The fellowship at the Agapé is fantastic, the worship is wonderful and the kids have a great time playing together, but no true discipleship is really taking place. The congregation is so small there is no way a widow or a missionary could be supported. Thus, we found that it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking too small. The size should be just right; not too small and not too big (neither micro mega nor mega). In all, accomplishing what the early church accomplished may necessitate not meeting in our modern homes (but rather some dynamic equivalent). So important is Bible teaching for long-term spiritual health, that if one had to choose between a house church with no in-depth teaching, and a traditional church that had good teaching, we would advise picking the traditional church.
Though we thoroughly believe in the biblical basis for house church, it is simply not feasible in many Western situations today. We feel the real emphasis should be on the New Testament practice of smaller congregations, not simply meeting in homes.
3) Counter-Cultural Consequences: Not helping the situation is the fact that house churches are seen as cultic by many in our society, not taken seriously by the typical Western believer (“how quaint”), and—worst yet—attract an unusually high percentage of counter-cultural “disciples” who are anti-authority, opinionated, judgmental, socially dysfunctional, under the church discipline of another church, who hold secondary issues so dearly it has already caused them to separate from other believers (factiousness), who espouse aberrant theology, or who are generally wounded and angry.
Summary: Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). We would not be serving you well if we did not alert you to both the pros and cons of a modern Western house church. For many people contemplating starting a house church, their best option is to remain where they are and serve the Lord in their present church. However, if circumstances are providential to starting a house church with all the necessary pieces in place (quality leadership, large meeting room, plenty of car parking*), go for it!
*We regularly had trouble with both neighbors and county code enforcement for having too many cars parked on the street each Sunday.
NTRF promotes the benefits of New Testament church practice. These practices include the fellowship that comes from celebrating the Lord’s Supper as an actual meal (and the main purpose of gathering each Lord’s Day), participatory worship, weekly in-depth teaching, a devotion to corporate prayer, elder-led congregational consensus in making decisions, and fellowships that are the same size as would fit into a first century Roman villa—smaller congregations that are neither too big (mega churches) nor too small (micro churches).