There seems to be little doubt that the “home church,” or the informal church that meets in the houses of participants, is growing across America. The Barna Group estimates that between 6 and 12 million people now attend a home church in America. The reliable Pew Forum discovered that 9 percent of American Protestants attend home church exclusively. Any movement that attracts 10 percent of the total of Protestant worshipers is likely to have a growing and considerable impact on the church at-large. While I do not think traditional churches will just go away anytime soon I expect the home church movement will grow in the years ahead. Why?
1. The home church is simple. Ed Stetzer, the president of Lifeway Research and a specialist in missiology, notes that the appeal here is to a “simpler expression of the church.” He adds, “For many, church has become too much (like a) business while they just want to live like the Bible.”
2. People are genuinely tired of seeing the church become a business that seems totally removed from what they read about the ministry and fellowship enjoyed by people in New Testament churches.
3. Each home church is genuinely different. People are allowed to express differences in positive and relational ways and personal power is less an issue than in larger social settings such as traditional churches.
4. The demographic of the house church is that of the neighborhood in which the participants live. Children are not a problem to be solved but welcomed little people. Older adults often enjoy the mixing of all ages and like being a vital part of an extended family setting.
5. Serving others is central to the home church. Caring for the unemployed and the needy seems natural in a house church setting. If there is a need people who know each other can respond to it in very personal ways.
6. The central emphasis is not on the pastor or staff but on all the people sharing and leading the group with their various gifts. There is, in other words, genuine participation in the home church.
7. The home church is “more down to earth” as one participant put it to Linda Stewart Bell of Associated Press in a July 25 report titled: “Prayer at Home.” People are likely to attend who might never go into a large group or traditional church context. Clearly this varies, since some people prefer to attend anything in anonymity but many people, especially younger people, want to build trans-generational relationships.
8. Members of home churches are flexible, rotating the meeting place from house to house, thus facilitating simple gatherings that touch the lives of people through other people.
9. Home church groups are liturgically modest and simple. Most include the eucharist, prayer, singing and sharing. Some include preaching but this is generally downplayed in most groups since no one is set apart (in a lot of home churches) to teach the Word.
Home church proponents see their efforts as a kind of throwback to the early church. Everyone is expected to share and participate in their meetings. Such groups are more commonly seen in countries where the church is persecuted or a very small part of the larger culture. These groups are just taking off in the U.S. and seem to be growing rapidly. I expect further research will be done that reveals the growth, development and changes that shape will powerfully shape this movement.
Tomorrow I will ask some simple questions about the home church movement and share some of my personal and theological concerns. For those who love the catholic church, all of it, this movement should not be disdained or ignored. It expresses the deep hunger and desire people have for a church that is family, a group deeply connected through real friendship. This is, as I understand it, a huge positive. Before we turn to any negatives I think we should reflect on these matters if we love the body of Christ.