This is a continuation of a discussion. Jump back to the start by clicking here.
The title “House Church” encompasses so much stuff that even simply defining the model is hard. Some describe every church that meets in a house as a “house church”, but this definition isn’t helpful because it brings a massive amount of variety under one umbrella. I’ve known of house churches, for example, that are worship obsessed. They sing. They dance. They do crazy worship stuff that makes me uncomfortable (like Holy laughter…I’m not down with the Holy Laughter). I’ve known of other house churches that are super institutionalized. Even though their are only fifteen adults in the room, they have a paid pastor and deacons. They take up an offering; and they belong to a large denomination. I’ve known other house churches that are all about freedom. There is no planning for each gathering beyond time and place. “What ever the Spirit leads us to do we are going to do,” a leader once told me. The point is, there are so many different types, so many different expressions, that the term “house church” really isn’t helpful…but it is out there so we have to use it.
I’ve seen a lot of people moving into these smaller venues of worship in hopes of recapturing vitality in their faith. “Maybe if we get away from the crowd” they think “our faith will be better.” Often there is someone in the back ground holding a piece of scripture describing how __________ church met in a house telling everyone that if they would just go small everything else will fix itself.
Just as a side note – the Thingy (the church who gather on Monday nights that Wendy and I are a part of) is not a house church. We don’t even meet the simplest criteria because we don’t always meet in houses. We’ve met in restaurants, parks, coffee houses, and back yards. Really we will gather wherever we can find space for our kids. I once got in an argument with a Baptist reporter about this. She was doing an article for the state Baptist paper on all the different church plants going on in Baltimore so she asked me for the name of our group. I replied, “Well, we intentionally don’t have a name; but we refer to ourselves the as Thingy because we have to call ourselves something.” She condescendingly said, “Well, I’ll call you in the article ‘the Hamilton House Church.'” That she thought she could name us really made me angry. It was on like Donkey Kong. In the end she ignored me and did what she wanted to.
Back on topic now…
In my experience, house churches are usually comprised of people trying to escape the institutional church setting. They’ve been burned by church, or they hate the money involved in the institution, or they are put off by obsession with growing the organization, or one of a thousand other bad tastes have formed in their mouths. They go to the house church model because they find the intimacy of the small group setting refreshing. It’s different than where they have been so on the outset it has an exciting momentum about it.
Sadly though, in my limited experience, house church people rarely address the underlying issues that brought about the institutional model of church that frustrated them. They attack the symptoms not the problems. For example, they leave the large gathering because they are angry about the consumerism it encourages, but they never take the time to figure out what caused that consumerism in that large group setting, so they end up duplicating it in the house church. After a time they find themselves in a room with 15 adults who want to be fed rather than sitting in a room with 150 adults who want to be fed.
So while I would like to say that moving your faith into a smaller venue will help you move from an activities centric understanding of church to a lifestyle centric understanding of church, the truth is it won’t. The activity you define church as will simply have less people and you will get to sit on a couch instead of in a row of chairs.
A friend of mine gave me a great illustration today that I’m going to blantantly steal.
When the foundation of a building is cracked you can repaint the walls all day long, but you won’t fix the building that way. If you hope to fix the building you are going to have to address the foundational problems.
Moving to a lifestyle centric understanding of church doesn’t happen automatically because there are less people in the room…although it is easier to change the hearts and minds of a small group of devoted friends than a mass of attendees.