Meeting in a home for church clearly has biblical precedence. Given the right circumstances, a private home can still be an 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 achievable. 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.
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 political administrations, church teachings against homosexuality will be viewed as hate speech. Christians will be painted by the media and government as backwards, close minded, right-wing bigots. 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 someone involved is qualified to be an elder (1Timothy 3) who is retired or does not mind being bi-vocational (Acts 20:17-35) and so has time freed up to devote to the church (teaching, guiding, counseling, disciple making, etc). NTRF first got involved with house churches in the late 1980s. We’ve learned a few things over the years. A great problem we have observed is that most house churches are not severed by have anyone gifted in leadership and so fizzle out due to lack of oversight and teaching.
How did first century house churches overcome this lack of leadership? 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. New Testament house churches were big. Enough believers could gather to manifest a large variety of spiritual gifts (read through 1 Corinthians 11-14), to have not just one but a plurality of elders, and to even financially support qualified 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). Will your home hold that many?
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), no one gifted to teach and no one with the time to consistently prepare a lesson. Consequently, lacking leadership and teaching, the church 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 discipleship is really taking place. The congregation is so small there is no way a pastor could be supported. Thus, it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking too small. The size should be just right; not to 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).
Though we thoroughly believe in the biblical basis for house church, it is simply not feasible in most Western situations today. We feel the real emphasis should be on the New Testament practice of smaller congregations, not simply meeting in homes. Not helping the situation is the fact that house churches are seen as cultic by many in society, not taken seriously by the typical Western believer and (worst of all) attract an unusually high percentage of “disciples” who are anti-authority, espouse aberrant theology, are dysfunctional socially or hold secondary issues so dearly it has already caused them to separate from other believers (they are factious).
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!
To summarize, 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 personal devotion to prayer, elder led congregation 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).