Barna’s “Thumbnail on The House Church”

My dad sent me a link to this one today (thanks, Dad) and I thought I’d pass it along for anyone else who’s interested. It’s from Leadership Journal, which is connected with the magazine Christianity Today. You can see the original article here.

While 20-somethings pull out of traditional churches, more people are leaving organized churches altogether, according to revolutionary pollster George Barna. Your new competitor is not the church down the street, but the house next door. Here is how Barna sizes up the House Church experience:

Average size of gathering: 20 people (including 7 children in gatherings with kids)

Gatherings including kids: 64%
Of those, kids meeting with adults for whole session: 41%

House churches meeting weekly: 80%

Average length of service: 2 hours

Include formal teaching: 76%

Eat as well as meet: 85%

Satisfaction with spiritual depth of the experience: 59%

Satisfaction with personal connectedness: 66%

Attenders who have met with their house church one year or less: 75%

I’m curious to hear what other people think about this…

1) Do you think that a House Church is a “real” church?

2) What are the pros/cons of something like this?

3) Can traditional churches, and house churches co-exist and work together in the future, or are they “competitors” like the author above states?

Feel free to share your thoughts if you have any… Looking forward to the discussion!!!

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22 thoughts on “Barna’s “Thumbnail on The House Church”

  1. I think my main problem with the whole house church thing is that it is so hard to find one. We would love to attend one but have no idea where to look for them. It is not like they are in the yellow pages! 🙂

  2. Heather-

    GOOD POINT. I wonder if there’s some kind of online registry of house churches… I bet there is, I’ll have to look into it.

    If I find something, I’ll put it up here for all of us!

  3. I read Barna’s book “Revolution” where he discusses this movement towards house churches.

    Our church has transitioned to the house church movement, which we call “Simple Church”. We’re seeing more non-church-attenders wanting to be connected with this format.

    We’re informally connected with a house church network in Tilton that is part of the Four Square denomination. The name Simple Church came from the FourSquare denomination’s website. They have a lot of info about house churches.
    http://reachmore.foursquare.org/landing_pages/65,3.html

    A good book about this is “Organic Church : Growing Faith where Life Happens” by Neil Cole

  4. The book:” The Church in Many Houses” by Pastor Steve Cordele, Pastor
    for the Crossroads United Methodist Church
    I suggest you Google both the author and his Methodist Church
    My wife and I are members of large, dying, Methodist Church so when I “discovered” a diary written by my
    grandmother describing her adventures in homesteading the family farm in Oklahoma; wherein she describes their establishment of a church, complete with two men with guns to keep order. The church started in homes within a 2 mile radius which became the defination of their first schools, also.
    John Wesley was a circut rider in the west but I doubt if he was involved in this homesteading event.
    Steves’ book also has many references for your review as you explore the explosion of “cell churches”.
    Have fun, I am.
    Chuck Odell

  5. Hiya Curtis,

    What a shame to see churches regard each other as “competitors.”

    Does it seem a little strange that these house churches are everywhere “next door?” Time Magazine reported their numbers, contra Barna, as merely in the ten’s of thousands – not ten’s of millions.

    True, they are real churches, imo.

    Blessings to you and your readers.

  6. As the person who passed the article on to Curtis, I suppose it is alright for me to comment as well. The big question in my mind whenever I read articles and especially surveys is, “So what did I learn from this?” I get the sense when we read this data or hear about house churches, we are merely seeing the growing dissatisfaction of numbers of believers with what “church” has become. Rather than feeling threatened by this movement, as a pastor I want to ask, “Why is the movement growing, and what is it that traditional local churches are doing or not doing that leaves people longing for something else?”

    There are probably a number of answers to those questions. There are also probably several more questions to ask, but one of them is not “What’s wrong with those house church people?”

  7. Shirley-
    Thanks for the link and the book recommendation! It’s really great that you guys have been able to adapt your church to whatever the current needs are. If only we can more churches to think like that!

    Chuck-
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’ve put that book on my Amazon wishlist, it sounds like a great read!

    Zane-
    Thanks for your comments! So, are you saying that there are a lot less House Churches than people actually think? I’ve checked out your site before, and it seems like you guys have a pretty good network going for house churches. How many are there that you’re aware of?

    Chet (aka: dad)-
    It’s ALWAYS alright for you to comment!!! It’s great to hear from a pastor at a traditional church that is not threatened by the House Church movement. Like Zane said above, it’s a shame that churches tend to see each other as competitors and not as c0-partners in the Kingdom of God…

  8. curtis, i liked your comment about how perhaps these two types of church can coexist… but as soon as i imagine this happening, i wonder what is the difference between a house church and your typical church sponsored bible study / small group?

    i think it would still be important for there to be strong connections with a larger body, for discipleship and accountability.

    what would you think of a church which met every other week as a large group, and every other week as a house church? does anyone do this?

    found this website:
    http://www.hccentral.com

    the nearest house church (to me) according to this website is amsterdam, NY.

  9. 1) Do you think that a House Church is a “real” church? Off course! Paul says hello to several of house churches in the Bible, and he uses the word ekklesia. I have made a list in Norwegian here:

    http://byggemennesker.blogspot.com/2006/11/husmenigheter-i-nt.html, but I guess you can not read Norwegian. You can check with your own English Bible this shorter list:

    Collossians 4.15
    Romans 16.3
    Corinthian 16.19

    It is important to understand that Paul uses the Greek word ekklesia. That is what we today translate to the word church and use in the Bible. If you are looking for real church, then we must ask Paul.

    My English is to simple to explain all my points, but I try:

    The word ekklesia is not a Christian word. The Athena democratic gathering, that could decide new laws, start a war and so on, was called ekklesia. The first Christians did not use a religious word like temple or church, they chose to use the word ekklesia. A better translation is in English is “gathering”. But the word gathering is still not perfect about the understanding.

    I found an modern English Bible on the Internet:

    “16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 16:4 who for my life, laid down their own necks; to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the assemblies of the Gentiles. 16:5 Greet the assembly that is in their house.”

    In this translation the word church is erased. In Greek uses Paul the word ekklesia, that is almost always translated to church in other Bibles.

    Here is an older English Bible:

    “Salute Prisca and Aquila my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, 16:4 who for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles: 16:5 and salute the church that is in their house.”

    I have checked all the greetings from Paul, and I discovered something important. Prisca was probably an elder, because: When Paul says hello to house churches, he does not use the word elder because he uses the persons name, like Prisca. If Prisca was not an elder, then Paul should at the same time send a greeting ”to all the elders” so that he did not forget any. But he does not do that. In other letters Paul is sending greetings to all the elders, in those same letters he does not send greetings to house churches. Why? Because he said hello to the house churches when he said hello to all the elders! It is stupid to say hello two times to the same persons. I explain this better in Norwegian…

    The early Christians did not have church buildings, song leaders, archbishops and so on. A better Q is: Is traditional churches real churches?

    2) What are the pros/cons of something like this? In house churches you go from one-way-communication to real communication. Easy to discover needs and to respond. Easier with teaching, house churches visit each others and you get teaching from more people (all christians belong to a big body). All the money that traditional church uses on the building and to pay the pastors, you can send to poor people. You do not need people to wash the church floor. They can wash the floor other places, may bee in the homes to sick people. (In small groups belonging to at traditional church, you still need to wash the church floor…) In house church you understand The Lords supper in a new (very old…) way.

    3) Can traditional churches, and house churches co-exist and work together in the future, or are they “competitors” like the author above states? I think they can co-exist and work together. It is an christian duty to think that all christians belong to the same body. The Bible use the word ekklesia like this:
    – One house church
    – All the (house) churches in the same city in a big gathering
    – All churches in the world

  10. Chet – thanks for sending on the article — and for posting a comment. Hope you do it more often.

    The Simple Church network that we’re a part of, has a celebration worship service once a month. All the house church units in the network come together. The house churches meet on week nights. The celebration gathering is on a Sunday morning.

    The format has been especially useful in our being missional. People who don’t come to church are more open to the weeknight service.

    The weeknight gatherings have all the same elements of the former Sunday morning worship gatherings. However, they don’t have the whole “big production” element. The focus is on basic Christianity, teaching the Bible, communion, prayer, muscial worship, and relationships.

    The lead pastors (husband and wife) of the network have been going to each house church gathering, as this is a new format for this congregation. They oversee the leaders of each house church.

    Unil a month ago, this congregation met every Sunday and was a contemporary traditional church. It’s been good to see them sucessfully make the transition. The house churches meet on week nights. The celebration gathering is on a Sunday morning.

  11. As a pastor and church planter, I’ve been pondering the question “what are we, the church, doing wrong in that people aren’t connecting?”

    I’ve come to some conclusions.
    1. We need to be committed to prayer. As Christians, we need individually and corporately repent. 2 Chronicals 7:14.
    Prayer and repentance are necessary for revival and renewal to happen in the US Church.

    2. We’re not being outward focused i.e. missional.
    3. We’re not being relational. Christianity is about relationships, vertically with God, and horizontally, with other people.
    4. Society / culture has changed. We’re on a mission field in the US – a foreign culture. We need to keep that concept in the forefront of all we do. We need to understand the people around us and meet them where they are at.
    5. In our churches we’ve gotten focused on doing big productions on Sunday mornings.

    People are spiritual. They want to connect with Jesus. They really don’t want a show.

    6. Christians, pastors, and the church have hurt a lot of people. Our reputation isn’t all that good.

    We need to live the gospel 24/7, not just do it on Sundays for 1 -2 hours.

    Today’s culture is seeking to have their spiritual needs met in a multitude of ways. Let’s demonstrate the power and truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by living it in truth. Let’s care enough about people to get involved in friendships / relationships with them. Let’s show them the love of God.

    People will see Jesus in our lives. Then they’ll want to be a part of it.

  12. 1) Do you think that a House Church is a “real” church?
    Definitely. In the past the idea of a house church/cohort would have really stretched me, but I’m seeing things differently now. To me, a house church is “church” in a different social and cultural context than many modern churches you see today. The cultures of the post-evangelicals (20-somethings or otherwise) and that of their “boomer” and “modern” counterparts are very different. It’s not surprising to me that some components are reached in one spiritual setting while others require something different to connect with God and one another.

    2) What are the pros/cons of something like this?
    Pros:
    -More tightly knit and “organically grown” community.
    -Discussion tends to be fostered more easily in smaller groups.
    -Ideally these groups strive to be more like Christ instead of focusing on fitting into typical Christian social norms.
    Cons:
    -A house church has the chance of growing into exactly what it left.
    -Same problems (gossip, shallowness, prejudice, etc.), smaller group of people.
    -Lack in tradition and connection to the larger body.

    I could be wrong about these, since I’m just starting to explore this idea. That’s stream of consciousness typing for ya.

    3) Can traditional churches, and house churches co-exist and work together in the future, or are they “competitors” like the author above states?
    My hope is that they can work together. For example: If I were to become a part of a house church, I’d love to get my current church tied in with volunteer activities around my city. Just because I don’t necessarily “fit” where I am currently doesn’t mean that I’d want to detatch myself from friends I’ve made. :o)

  13. hi. i’ve been gathering with believers in our home in clifton park ny for a few years now.

    the home church in amsterdam was a man named jr who is not currently meeting with others in his home (at least not formally).

    the believers i gather with center on following what jesus has taught, not traditions. still we are all different people and unlike a denomination we have no other position that binds us than that jesus is lord.

    of those i gather with i am the most outspoken about denominations. i meet with brothers and sisters not a “pick the denomination”. this doesn’t mean that i think other believers are not true. i just think the division is a work of the flesh. think about it…
    allen

  14. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone! Really good stuff.

    I’d love to hear more about some of the hurdles/problems with house churches, since I’m sure they have their share just like traditional churches… And especially how you’re working to overcome them.

    It’s great to hear from so many different people, in so many different situations!!!

  15. Good post and great questions!

    It’s rather late here, so I’ll just give you a short version of my answers to your questions:

    1) Do you think that a House Church is a “real” church?
    ABSOLUTELY! A careful look at the Epistles shows that they were all written to ‘house’ churches.

    2) What are the pros/cons of something like this?
    (I agree with much that has already been said in this area – and I’m tired, so … no comment.)

    3) Can traditional churches, and house churches co-exist and work together in the future, or are they “competitors” like the author above states?
    We are all one Body in Christ – whether we be a mega church or community church (both currently ‘traditional’) or an emerging/non-traditional/micro/house church. Each are valid expressions, and for the sake of the Kingdom and the world, we need to find ways to walk in love and unity.

    As the Body of Christ in any particular city or region, we will find ways to work together and not compete … that is if Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is going to come to pass.

  16. Good site~ I’m experiencing a church split, and wonder how two men of God, pastors that speak of the love of God, could scatter the sheep over the who’s in control issue, power struggles control, and no true rememberance of scripture that says clearly no other foundation is too be laid but Christ Jesus.

    Hang in and seek to help with possible healing and repentance, or remove myself ???

  17. Gary-

    Thanks for stopping by!

    So sorry to hear that… man, that just plain sucks. What makes it even harder is that I don’t think there’s a clear cut, across the board answer for that situation. Should you stay? that could be the right thing. Should you leave? That could be right too, it depends. I think there’s tremendous value, and pros and cons, to both outcomes…

    Hang in there!!!

  18. House churches can and should co-exist with “regular” churches. House churches can have some of the same problems. The thing I see the most is the “we are cooler than the others” syndrome. Too many people in house churches, both leaders and members come across as if they believe that they are part of the “what’s happening now” church and everyone else is “traditional” whatever that means.

    i also see that sometimes leaders go to house church mode because they can’t grow a congregation larger than 30-40 people, which usually cannot support a pastor and a building. Thats Ok, but not a good theological framework for house churches.

    A former friend of mine is now an “Apostle”who leads one house church. he left the fellowship and direction of a good but human denomination and has frankly gone off the deep end. House church can be problematic if they lack any true accountability.

  19. Michael-
    Thanks for your comments. It’s been great to see the various responses that people have had to this topic.

    “i also see that sometimes leaders go to house church mode because they can’t grow a congregation larger than 30-40 people, which usually cannot support a pastor and a building. Thats Ok, but not a good theological framework for house churches.”

    What would you suggest that a pastor in this situation do instead? It seems to me that if they are hovering around that number, maybe that is a natural size for whatever reason (social, geographic, etc) and it’s probably a good thing to embrace it and be more like a house church, than to constantly be disappointed at the “failure” to grow larger.

    That’s too bad about your friend, sorry to hear that. I wonder what his take on the situation would be though? It’s always interesting to hear both sides… What’s he doing that’s “off the deep end”?

    -Curtis

  20. Hi Curtis,

    I don’t have an issue with house churches per se. The problem I see is when small churches ‘transition” to house churches because they have not grown, and then declare that house church is “the way” to do things or the :new thing” that God is doing. I think we all agree that house churches are needed in certain situations, especially in some countries where there is persecution. I think we all also agree that some people just like smaller gathering and they certainly do allow for more individual participation.

    I also see and understand the idea that buildings and programs suck up huge amounts of resources which could be used better.

    As for my friend. He now declares that ALL large churches are unspiritual and unscriptural. His website has a posting of a “prophetic word” which declares that large churches are like the Roman arenas where the early believers where persecuted and killed. the ‘true church” is being persecuted and killed by the large churches. Sad indeed. he has also declared himself to be an “apostle” upon which a two house church movement has been built
    .

  21. Michael-

    Bummer about your friend, yeah, that does sound like he might be taking it too far… Sorry to hear that.

    “…I think we all agree that house churches are needed in certain situations…”

    Agreed. I think that this is key, going forward, to have established churches recognize house churches as a valid interpretation of The Church, and likewise, to have house churches recognizes the established churches as valid expressions of The Church as well, unlike what it sounds like your friend is doing.

    We’ve got to stop building walls and burning bridges, and start working together.

  22. A new churchplant in my community has turned to establishing within its congregation a “house church network.” The purpose of this is to “saturate lostness” by creating environments where people who are unchurched will be more likely to show up. I see plenty of pros, as I know how difficult it can be to get an unchurched person to come to the traditional sunday morning worship service. It does provide for a way to reach people, and a smaller context through which to disciple.
    I believe that the major con is that the thought on the house church is an”either/or” mindset. Either larger corporate gatherings OR house churches. I see too much in the scriptures about the establishing of leadership over the corporate body, and the power of the Holy Spirit that is released when the Body of Christ assembles all in one accord and in on place. In the house church, what does the leadership structure look like if it is not connected consistently with a larger corporate body?
    The identity of the church in this hour is to be an “ecclesia” or “governing authority in the earth.” I see house churching apart from a larger corporate body as being an attempt at quickly fixing the problems that the church faces by simply picking only the few people that you want to be around that align perfectly with what you envision. If we use it as a tool to help reach more lost people, it can never be a bad thing. But if we do not combine it with a larger corporate body, in unity, as an aspect of the greater church, then it will only create more division in the Body of Christ.

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