Interest in House Churches

A friend sent me the following article from the March 2006 Time Magazine. I only include bits and pieces of it here (to keep it short and web-friendly). This is an article on house church, which I believe is a close cousin to cell church. I believe it’s best if house churches meet together for worship, share the same training track, and pro-actively coach the cell leaders. But that’s why I’m a proponent of cell church! However, I do love the fact that the house church movement sees the house church as the church and not as simply an add-on to “real Sunday church.” I’m also excited about the return to New Testament Christianity that the house church movement provides. Tomorrow, I’ll post part 2 of team ministry.

Title of article: “There’s No Pulpit Like Home: Some Evangelicals are abandoning megachurches for minichurches–based in their own living rooms”

By RITA HEALY, DAVID VAN BIEMA

Mar. 6, 2006

Since the 1990s, the ascendant mode of conservative American faith has been the megachurch. It gathers thousands, or even tens of thousands, for entertaining if sometimes undemanding services amid family-friendly amenities [however, this is changing].

George Barna, Evangelicalism’s best-known and perhaps most enthusiastic pollster, named simple church as one of several “mini-movements” vacuuming up “millions of believers [who] have stopped going to [standard] church.” In two decades, he wrote, “only about one-third of the population” will rely on conventional congregations. Not everyone buys Barna’s numbers–previous estimates set house churchers at a minuscule 50,000–but some serious players are intrigued.

The Maclellan Foundation, a major Christian funder based in Chattanooga, Tenn., is backing a three-year project to track Colorado house churching. The Southern Baptist Convention, with more standard-church pew sitters than any other Protestant group, has commissioned its own poll and experimented in planting hundreds of its own house churches. Allan Karr, a professor at the Rocky Mountain campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary who is involved in the poll, guesses that three out of 10 churches founded today are simple and that their individual odds for survival are better than those of the other seven. House churches are not known for denominational loyalty. That doesn’t bother Karr, however. “I want the denomination to prevail,” he says, “but I have an agenda that supersedes that: the Kingdom of God at large.”

House churches claim the oldest organizational pedigree in Christianity: the book of Acts records that after Jesus’ death, his Apostles gathered not at the temple but in an “upper room.” House churching has always prospered where resources were scarce or Christianity officially discouraged. In the U.S. its last previous bloom was rooted in the bohemian ethos of the California-bred Jesus People movement of the 1970s. Many of those groups were eventually reabsorbed by larger congregations, and the remnants tend to take a hard line. Frank Viola, a 20-year veteran Florida house churcher and author of Rethinking the Wineskin and other manuals, talks fondly of pilgrims who doctrinairely abjure pastors, sermons or a physical plant; feel that the “modern institutional church does not reflect the early church”; and “don’t believe you are going to see the fullness of Jesus Christ expressed just sitting in a pew listening to one other member of the body of Christ talking for 45 minutes while everyone else is passive.”

Yet the flexibility of simple churches is a huge plus. They can accommodate the demands of a multi-job worker, convene around the bedside of an ailing member and undertake big initiatives with dispatch, as in the case of a group in the Northwest that reportedly yearned to do social outreach but found that every member had heavy credit-card debt. An austerity campaign yielded a balance with which to help the true poor.

Indeed, house churching in itself can be an economically beneficial proposition. Golden Gate Seminary’s Karr reckons that building and staff consume 75% of a standard church’s budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine “if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful.”

Evangelical boosters find revival everywhere. Barna says he sees house churching and practices like home schooling and workplace ministries as part of a “seminal transition that may be akin to a third spiritual awakening in the U.S.” Jeffrey Mahan, academic vice president of Denver’s liberal and institutionally oriented Iliff School of Theology, doesn’t go that far, but he does think the trend is significant. American participation in formal church has risen and fallen throughout history, he notes, and after a prolonged post–World War II upswell, big-building Christianity may be exhaling again in favor of informal arrangements.

If so, he suggests, “I don’t think the denominations need be anxious. They don’t have a franchise on religion. The challenge is for people to talk about what constitutes a full and adequate religious life, to be the church together, not in a denominational sense, but in the broadest sense.” Or as Jesus put it, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I.”

Joel

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