Church in a House

I wrote the following during the planting period of the house churches in Lansing to explain to people what doing church in a house was and why we should be doing it. It's a blast from the past. My views might have changed somewhat, so feel free to pick apart. Heck, you might even cause me to change my mind. It has happened on this blog before. I always love hearing everyone's input. So feel free, as always, to critique away.



When I was asked to consider planting a church in Lansing that would reach out to those who are not currently being reached by any other church, I was at first struck with a wave of excitement. Ideas went through my head about what we could do in the Sunday morning service that would be fun and exciting. Over time, that initial wave of excitement wore off. I knew in my heart that something had been missing in my experience with churches in the past, and that dressing up the Sunday worship service and all the other institutions of the church in modern garb was not the solution. The result would be a fun and dynamic service – something that I and other people my age would enjoy going to, but it would not meet our deeper needs. At that point I was discouraged and decided in my head that I would not plant the church.

Then I went to a conference on church planting. At one of the workshops this issue was addressed. The speaker had arrived at the same mental roadblock that I had arrived at, only years earlier. He woke my sleeping soul up in the session that day:

“The problem with church is not in the worship services or any of the other programs we so often see; the problem with church is that we have become confused with what it by nature should be. It’s time for us to rediscover church.”

During that session, God tugged my heart back into the direction of Lansing and being involved there in planting a new church. I was left with the consuming conviction that house churches could help meet the needs that all of us have but are not currently being met. Following are the reasons why and what the concept has become through study and prayer. If you feel an excitement and joy deep inside you screaming out during this journey through the idea of house churches, don’t think that you are feeling it alone. Most of us have had that feeling. Embrace it and take another step into a life that God has intended for us to live.

I must write a disclaimer at this point. I don’t want people to think that I’m anti-church. I am thankful for the church and all it has done in my life and the lives of millions of others. All I am doing is pointing out some problems that the church in America is presently facing. I truly believe that house churches are an effective way to answer these problems. However, I do believe churches can and have answered these problems in other ways. House churches are not the only solution. They are the solution that has been laid upon my heart and others involved in this body of believers.

The Need For A Change

· Failure in really knowing one another

· Failure to meet each other’s real needs

· Failure at plugging people into the church

· Failure of showing the significance of being in the church

In pointing out the faults of the church, I am not so presumptuous to assume that we will not have faults of our own. I am just examining what is going on in the hopes of somehow being shown a better way. I read somewhere that the unexamined life is not worth living. I think this applies even to the church. The unexamined church is not worth being. God wants us to strive for perfection and the only way to do that is to be honest about the situation we are in.

Somewhere along the road to being the Church God intended us to be, most people in the Church seem to have stopped trying to really know one another. We became content at saying “Hi” on Sunday mornings at the designated time and placed our spiritual lives a safe distance from everyone else. We have created an environment of individualism that ignores and, at times, condemns close community. This is an area where the values of American culture have infiltrated the church and almost wounded it fatally. The Bible does not address this issue directly because it would seem totally absurd to the early church to have a community of believers who did not know each other.

Another problem that the church faces today is that it has almost completely stopped meeting each other’s needs. James wrote, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” Imagine if the church was a place where people had their needs met and what the world’s impression of us would be as a result of that. However, they see us acting just as they do. Meeting their own needs and trying to avoid making eye contact with those in need.

Those in the world who make their way into a church find themselves not being given the opportunity to use their gifts, both spiritual and natural, for the glory of God. Those of us already in the church need to utilize the gifts of those who are new to our group. We are failing both God and them if we do not allow them to use their gifts to glorify him. Peter wrote, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” No one’s talents should go undiscovered and underutilized in the church.

We feel that house churches are a solution to these problems. It is impossible for people to hide in a house church. Individuals cannot just go to a house church and feel like they have done their weekly duty to God. All members of a house church will get to know each other in a deep and meaningful way, and members gifts are needed. Through house church people will join together and become the family of God, a fully functional family in contrast to the dysfunctional ones that surround us.

What Is Different

· Community

· Relationships

· Effective Ministry

· Spiritual Growth

· Bible study

· Gift Utilization

· Easier To Let The Spirit Lead

The great thing about house churches is that in them we can strive to be the close knit community God designed us for in which we realize we are all in this life together. We are all in a journey and that journey leads to the foot of the throne of God. We need to help everyone get there. When someone is down, we can be there to help them get back up. When someone needs something, we can provide them with it if we have the resources. We can be a family focused on God and living out his will here on earth.

But it is only through relationships that this genuine community can spring forth. I do not hold the opinion that everyone in a house church is going to be best friends. Maybe our best friends will not even be in our house church. But there is a bond that is different from anything we’ve ever experienced that will develop through a house church.

It is through this community of sacrificial followers of Christ that true ministry will happen. Not only will people in the group meet each other’s needs, but they will begin to meet the needs of those around them in their communities. God does not intend for our faith to be an inward experience only. He does not bless us so that we can be filled with joy and sit around. He blesses us so that we will become what he originally intended the nation of Israel to be. This is seen through his promise to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God blesses people because he wants people to be a blessing to others. Through house churches, God’s blessings can be shown in a way I long to see.

And the ministries of a house church will be so much more effective if we use everyone’s gifts. We all have something we excel at and there is no better place to use our gifts than in a house church. If we aren’t using our God given gifts to glorify God through helping others, then we are missing out on an opportunity to be a vessel for the enactment of his will. God has given us our gifts for a reason and that is to glorify him through helping one another grow closer. “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (I John 3:18)

Teaching will also take on a new dynamic in the house church. Interaction is one of the most helpful tools in learning and comes much more naturally among a small group that is growing closer to God together. If we have a question about what is being taught, we are free to ask. If we have a situation that needs to be addressed that wasn’t on the agenda for the night, then the others will gladly address it and set aside the prepared lesson for another night. The key to effective teaching is letting God lead rather than humans. We do this through his word and through his Spirit. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” (I Cor 2:12-13) “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

What Does A House Church Do

· Songs of Worship

· Lord’s Supper

· Fellowship meal

· Prayer

· Bible study/discussion

· Service

In doing house church we have to be careful not to reduce it to a formula. We need to allow God to move within the group to do what he wills, but at the same time we need to be prepared to do what God has already laid out for us. The following paragraphs contain the things we believe God has designed for the church to do. We will strive to do them and whatever else God lays upon our hearts as long as it is not contrary to his written Word.

The house church is really the church. It isn’t an imitation; it is the real thing. It is where our membership is. We decided to go this route because we wanted church to be a place where people’s needs are met, a place where God is always glorified, and a place where we receive strength to go out into the world and do the Lord’s work.

A house church is in a way autonomous. Solomon’s Porch will not dictate to a house church what to do or how to do it. Those issues are decided by each house church. As a starting point we hope that they will participate in these basic elements of communal worship. We want to follow the examples of the first followers of Christ and “devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

In the house church all the elements of a traditional Sunday Morning service will be done in an authentic way. Some house churches might not have the gifting to do each element as well as others, but that is not the point. For instance, in singing songs to glorify God a church might not have talented musicians. They might even be so unmusical that they need to worship to cds rather than live instruments or to not use music at all. God is glorified just the same. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44) The underlying principle here is giving your all. It applies to all aspects of our life, even to our singing songs in worship God is not impressed by how much talent we have when we worship; he’s the one who gave it to us. He just wants us to give our whole being in whatever we do.

Much debate has centered around the way the Lord’s Supper should be done. The great thing about a house church is that it can be done in whatever way people feel is appropriate. There is no set pattern we have to do week in and week out unless we want it. We do see a value in doing the Lord’s Supper in the house church whenever they meet. This principle comes from the example set by the early church in Acts. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” (Acts 2:46-47)

Even if you don’t include the Lord’s Supper as part of your meal, there is nothing like eating a meal with fellow believers. One of the key elements of a house church is the time spent sharing the meal together. We view the time a house church meets together should not be rushed and should last around 3 to 4 hours. This gives plenty of time for a meal. The meal can be arranged however the group wants. The hosting house can provide the whole thing or people from the group can get together to make the meal.

One of the most important elements in a Christian’s spiritual life is prayer. It’s through prayer that we have a link to God. When our concerns become one and we lift them up to God as a unified body more power seems to be manifested. We see this displayed throughout Acts, especially in Acts 12 with Peter’s release from prison, and Jesus spoke on it: “Again truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

As John stated in 1 John 4, we must be equipped as Christians to test the spirits if we want to be a spirit-filled community. If we don’t, then we become susceptible to all sorts of evil and ill guidance. And the most effective way to tell any counterfeit is to know the original. We believe that God will not contradict what he has told us in Scripture; therefore, it is a churches responsibility to insure that all believers are growing in the knowledge of God’s written word. His word is a guide to understanding what is going on around us today. It helps us to pick out what God is doing in the present. Without knowing the Scriptures we are opening ourselves up to many kinds of teaching that are not in agreement with what God has already taught the generations before us.

In a house church we can study the word together and glean insights from one another. However we have to be careful to not read only through our emotions and subjective experiences but look for the meaning the author wants to get across and apply those meanings to our lives.

And in applying the Bible to our lives we will begin to live our lives for others. This is where serving together becomes important. We don’t want house churches to become self-centered, and we feel the best way to avoid this is to be involved in service projects. We want each house church to be involved in a ministry or create its own and participate with all the members involved at least once a month. It is through this time of service that we live out what we have learned as a group. So often churches just teach people how to live but never do it together. We want what we learn as a group to not only be applied in our personal life but to be applied in our church as well.

If house churches do these things and develop their own communal touches on their gathering, they will begin to form into a real community. And on our way there we will find ourselves beginning to love one another followed by a desire to help each other out. We will become the family of God that we were intended to be.

How Do We Do It

· The Tasks

· The Leader

· The Relationship To Solomon’s Porch

On the less glamorous side of things, certain tasks have to be done in order to have a functioning house church, whether a church does this on a weekly basis or on a long-term basis is their own choice. A place of worship needs to be decided upon. A meal needs to be prepared. A teacher needs to be assigned. Worship leaders need to be chosen. A service project needs to be planned. There is a lot of work that goes into a house church which in the end makes it all the more rewarding. We believe to help facilitate this that each house church should have a pastor, an individual who takes responsibility for the development of the flock and takes caring for them under his wing. We do not want to mandate a leadership style onto the house church pastor. The way he leads should be the way he feels God wants him to lead.

Through this individual the group will have a more formal relationship with Solomon’s Porch. This person will be in a small group with other house church pastors where they will learn about leadership, loving people in practical ways, and guiding people spiritually. They will pray together and share their concerns. It is important for the house churches to be held accountable in some form and this meeting together will be one of the areas that providess that. Eventually, the eldership of Solomon’s Porch will come out of the various house church pastors. Not every house church pastor will be an elder, but every elder will be a house church pastor.

It is important for each house church to realize that they are part of a larger group of house churches that will meet together for a weekly gathering. It is in this larger gathering that the house churches will get to know one another and the offering will take place. The reason offering takes place in the larger setting is for several reasons. First, accountability. This is a two-edged sword but we believe the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. We understand that giving their finances to the larger gathering is a slight loss of freedom. However, the benefit is that groups will have to think through their ideas before implementing them. It will prevent us from wasting God’s resources. Second, it provides the opportunity for groups who are doing a ministry that doesn’t cost much to have their resources go to a group that is doing a ministry that comes attached with a big dollar sign. Third, it allows the central gathering and the house pastor training sessions to exist. Fourth, it allows us to pool our resources together and provide better support to missionaries and church plants.

What Happens When They Grow

· Sources Of Growth

· Optimal Size

· Church Planting

We are convinced that house churches are the answer to many of the problems that face all people who want to grow closer to God. Because of this, they will grow. House church growth will come mainly as a result of our larger gathering funneling people into them and house church members bringing others. This is a blessing and a problem at the same time. We are happy to see communities focused on growing closer to God flourish, but at the same time we are sad to lose the close fellowship that exists. The natural size of a house church seems to be around twenty. This number is not engraved in stone. Some house churches might be too large at twelve because of their meeting place. Others might be able to continue having intimate fellowship at thirty. There is no set rule.

A point will come in a healthy house church where they will realize that it would be more beneficial to downsize and plant another house church. This would best be done by sending out three or four people, one designated the pastor, to start their own house church. The house church sending them would have a final church service all together and lay hands on the people they are sending out.

Church planting will become a natural offshoot of house churches. I foresee a day where we send house churches across the state, nation, and seas. When people feel called to go somewhere and start a church, we should open up the opportunity for involvement to the whole congregation to see if they are being called in that direction. For instance, if an individual feels called to move to Chicago and start up a house church community, we will let the larger community know about the idea to see if anyone else is being called to join them. The group heading to Chicago will have a few months to become a family before being sent off. The church planting opportunities are endless as our house churches grow.

What Makes House Churches Unique

(The following section is influenced by Robert & Julia Banks’ The Church Comes Home.)

If you’re wondering after all of this what is the difference between house churches and other forms of small groups that dominate the church landscape, then I hope this section shows the difference that exists. First we’ll start with the surface differences and move on to the deeper differences. House churches will meet for three to four hours rather than an hour or an hour and a half. They not only take on the name church but act as a church. They worship God through songs, teaching, action, a meal, and more. People become members of the house church rather than the larger gathering.

“The primary goal of a home church is to develop a quality of common life under God, one in which the attitudes, values, priorities, and commitments of the kingdom of God become comunally visible.” (108) Intimate relationships focused on God is the goal of a house church, not numerical expansion. We will never force anyone to leave their house church if they want to stay. They are a sort of amalgam that exhibits all aspects of the different small groups that currently exist in churches. Like members of interest groups, actions groups, and support groups, “members of a home church come together to pursue interests, tasks, and needs. Like the accountability groups and cell churches, home churches meet to encourage accountability and outreach.” (107)

Our Calling

I want to leave us with two passages of Scriptures because we are young people setting out this task God has called us to and because I am in awe of the early Christians whose hard work and sensitivity to the Spirit have led through a long chain of people to each one of us coming to the Lord.

“These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (I Timothy 4:11-16)

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

The early church impacted the world because they were an active community, not just individuals. My hope is that through house churches we will be able to do the same. May God’s grace be with us and guide us through this endeavor.