5 Things Every Christian Should Know about a House Church
- Britt Mooney Contributing Writer
- Updated Jun 03, 2022
By my early twenties, I had grown up in church and begun making my walk with Christ my own. At the time, the American South’s religious culture greatly emphasized doctrinal and denominational arguments. I believed in God and had a relationship with him, but the divisive reality of “church” discouraged me.
I was invited to “a local Bible study,” as a new friend called it. Even young, idealistic, and discouraged with religion, I still loved Jesus and the Bible. So, I would often show up to a teaching or Bible study. When I arrived in the living room in that house in Duluth, Georgia, the “leader” made this statement—“I don’t care where you come from, or your denomination, or what you believe. Tonight, we’re going to worship Jesus together.”
Something within me came alive and settled at the same time. That night we sang praises, shared scriptures and teaching, and over time I learned this wasn’t a Bible study. It was a house church, and it became my main source of fellowship and discipleship.
House churches have been around from the beginning of Christianity, were spoken of in Acts, and are still a major method of gathering the family of faith for many disciples of Christ worldwide, especially in places of intense persecution. Many large churches started in a home with a few people. Christian leaders like Francis Chan and John Eldredge have made the house church model more popular.
Also, consider the power the house church model could have had during COVID lockdowns and church buildings shutting their doors. Some mega-churches are beginning to reevaluate their evangelism and church planting strategy, putting more gatherings and churches in smaller places or homes that can’t get shut down.
I learned much through the house church model, organically discipled as a leader until I left as a missionary to Korea, later returned to start my own house church in Georgia, and am now a church planter and author.
Whether I speak in front of thousands at a large event, church building, or over lunch with a brother in Christ, the principles I learned in house church are a part of me. But there are still Christians without a proper understanding of what a house church is and their place in the larger family of God.
1. What Is a House Church?
Like any term, it depends on who you ask. Let’s begin with what a house church isn’t. It’s not a small group or a Bible study, however valuable those can be. A house church essentially has the primary function of a church but happens to meet in a home.
What is a church? Put simply, a church is a local assembly of believers that live life together as a spiritual family unit with God as the Father/King, and the community responsibility and participation in accountability and making disciples of Christ. That church can meet anywhere, like a house.
To be considered a house church, it must function with the heart and intent the Bible lays out for a local assembly. Otherwise, it can be a Christian gathering for study, fellowship, or other important reasons associated with God’s mission, but we shouldn’t necessarily call it a church. A house church simply meets in someone’s house.
We can see many doctrines, practices, and traditions used in evangelical churches. House churches might be even more diverse in the ways that they operate. Some are simply meetings in a home with a community built around that one group. Some house churches are connected through a city and meet corporately periodically throughout the year. Leadership can be a single type of pastor or a group of elders in each home church.
2. What’s the Benefit of Attending a House Church?
First of all, a house church helps to reveal how simple church really should and can be. Larger churches tend to build structures for a bigger group of people (complete with programs for different groups, etc.). Churches can often fight to manage structures instead of focusing on people. While the heart behind programs is to serve everyone, it can also fracture and divide the local assembly.
A house church can’t have too many people. Most living rooms make that uncomfortable, so people can’t hide in a house church. Therefore, it is easier to see how the church is a group of people, not a building, and individuals become the focus. Without the programs or different services for different styles, believers must be hospitable and show grace, including people of different ages and backgrounds, to work on unity out of love and preferring one another.
Second, meeting in a home severely cuts down on administrative expenses, unlike most neo-traditional assemblies with buildings. Those buildings require maintenance and utilities. Along with salaries for the pastoral staff, those expenses make up a large portion of the budget, leaving comparatively little for missions and community relief. House churches have little to no administrative expenses and usually don’t pay a pastor. As a result, they can give most or all of the received money to missions, relief, and community needs.
Third, larger churches are hard to adjust when changes must be made. A small group in a house church can more easily meet in a different location, whether in another house or a park. Times can be shortened or extended. Major changes can be discussed and implemented quickly through a group meeting.
Fourth, more of the congregation can be included in the assembly’s decisions. Who are we going to give money to as a church? Where can we serve in the community together? These create more community and ownership within the group—the ownership results in more growth and maturity.
3. What’s the Downside of Attending a House Church?
Because a house church is a smaller, simpler group, some people get frustrated that certain programs aren’t available. For instance, a house church won’t have the same bang-up kids program as a larger church, which has become an expectation of many parents, especially in the American culture. The solutions in house church are more community- and relationship-oriented.
It is also more difficult to see how connected the whole body of Christ is in the community, city, or nation when you are in such a small group.
When two or three families move away from a larger church because of jobs or life situations, the congregation feels the loss, but the loss is felt more acutely in a house church. Two families can be half the church.
Pastors and leaders aren’t usually paid and must be bi-vocational if they have more prominent leadership positions. House churches don’t have the funds or resources for salaries. Most are fine with this reality and have chosen it, but it can be a downside.
Because some leaders start house churches when they’ve been kicked out of other churches, be careful of strange doctrines outside of the essential Gospel focus on the person of Christ, salvation, etc. Without a wider community to provide oversight and accountability, leaders can stray into bad doctrine. Although to be fair, even larger churches and denominations have been guilty of major doctrinal errors.
4. What Should I Watch Out for at a House Church?
Relationships are more central in a house church. Therefore, a person’s faults can be magnified in a smaller group. A divisive person can wreak havoc on a small group in a way that they couldn’t in a church with more people, simply because of how many people they can have relationships with. People with control issues see smaller groups as a greater opportunity to manipulate and get their way. House churches desire more participation from all, which is a positive thing. However, it can also mean that people with charismatic personalities can dominate in unhealthy ways.
Another issue to watch out for within house churches is judging other Christians. Many people who choose house church have been hurt by church systems and organizations and speak out in meetings and the community against other pastors, churches, or denominations. People should have a safe place to share their hurts and be honest, but in a community of Christ, we are called to forgive and bless those who have wronged us, not put them down publicly and demonize other brothers and sisters in Christ. They are part of the larger family of God, too, and we are called to love, grace, and mercy.
Lastly, due to wounds from other churches, people in house churches may be wary of any leadership, however valid and biblical it might be. They may oppose anyone in leadership or any titles—even when things are done out of love, service, and following biblical principles. Leadership (and the community as a whole) should be loving toward those with wounds and validate their pain, but that can’t keep the whole group from moving forward to grow as a family. No one can walk this Christian life alone, and the Bible clarifies that the local gathering of saints is integral to our growth and relationship with God. All of us (leaders or otherwise) need the Spirit’s gifts in the local body to progress in our spiritual life.
5. How Can I Find a House Church Near Me?
As you can imagine, finding a house church is extremely difficult. They don’t have signs on the road or are listed on Google. House churches are very varied and diverse in doctrine and practice, as I said before, so finding one that lines up with convictions can be doubly problematic. As a result, many start their own house churches… which also have pros and cons. We must be careful when starting any work of God and do so with careful consideration and in full realization that an enemy is waiting to destroy us. Here’s the rule: don’t start a church (even a house church) out of anger, bitterness, rebellion, pride, and conflict with other churches or pastors. Other groups might have been wrong, but bitterness and anger are the wrong foundation for starting a church. Start a house church because you believe it is God’s calling for service, hospitality, and discipleship.
You can always Google a house church in your area. I would suggest anyone try one out just to have that experience. Many today have websites or ways to find them online, but they may go by a different name with “simple church” or other keywords. House churches can be listed on the following websites that help:
- Find a House Church
- Simply Church - How to Find a Church in Your Area
- The World Wide House Church Directory
Two groups on Facebook that I would recommend for discussion and possible connection with people in your area:
As with any church, be led by the Spirit, check a house church out if you find one, and be sure that the focus is on the Gospel and essential doctrines of the Apostle’s Creed. Whether a mega-building or in a house, all churches are temporary expressions of the eternal Kingdom. If God is leading you to seek out a more simple model, always do so with the eternal perspective in mind and love for all.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/freedom007
Britt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.
This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian practices and disciplines important to the Christian faith. From speaking in tongues to tithing & baptism, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.
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