In my last blog post I discussed how we can inspire and exhort mainline churches to make evangelism as mandatory and natural as Sunday services, since the apostolic, biblical church evangelized in the streets, synagogues and temple courts probably even more than they met for internal meetings in the homes, based on how church life is described in the gospels and in the book of Acts. Today I want to talk about how we can inspire and exhort mainline churches to become house churches, i.e. to sell their expensive building and form organic, discipleship training communities that gather in houses as well as on the streets.
It’s no secret that the Biblical church was a house church movement, Luke says that they gathered in the homes as well as in public (Acts 2:46), Paul talks about the church that meets in Prisca’s and Aquila’s house (Rom 16:3-5). In fact, there are no evidence of any church buildings at all earlier than the late third century. While some things are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the early church, this is not one of them: the early church was a house church movement.
Now, Christians who belong to building churches* are often quite eager to explain why this does not by any means show that churches should organize themselves in homes rather than in expensive buildings. The most popular theory is that the early church was forced to meet in homes rather than in church buildings because of persecution. And there is defenitely some truth to that. But this argument does not in itself contradict the position that house churches are better than building churches; devotion to Christ and a commitment to follow Him even to death was probably stronger during persecution compared to when persecution ended, but that doesn’t make devotion and commitment less valuable – rather, the contrary is true.
Furthermore, the theological arguments for church buildings that are often heard – that they are like the Jewish temple, or that their splendor reflect God’s glory – is totally absent in the New Testament. We see no desire by either Jesus or the apostles to have buildings, they are quite content with their house-and-street structure, saying that the believers are the temple of God (1 Cor 6:19-20) and that the Father should be worshipped everywhere (John 4:21).
But the most convincing argument for me is that organic house churches are simply more efficient, practically, than building churches. Most church buildings, at least here in the West, cost hundreds of thousands of euros. If a building church sells their buildings and organize themselves in homes and on the streets instead, they would gain so much money that they could spend on missions, evangelism and helping the poor. And what would they lose? Some claim that church buildings are better for evangelism than house churches, since it is claimed that many feel more comfortable entering a “neutral” church building rather than entering someone’s home. But for others, the opposite is true – I know tons of people that never visit churches but they do visit other people’s homes – and many house church movements grow extremely fast, for example those in China or Iran.
Almost all organic house churches that pop up nowadays are church plants, and so it’s very unusual that a building church gets rid of their expensive building is when they want to buy a new building or when they die. But wouldn’s it be awesome if thousands of building churches transformed into house churches, to become Biblical and save tons of money? Then how should this be acheived?
- Build relationships – talk a lot about the need of simple, organic house churches with your pastors, or if it’s someone else’s church: plant the vision with members there who can talk to the pastors
- Many churches have home groups that meet once a week to pray, read the Bible and have some fellowship. Point to the Scripture and show your fellow church members that this is the biblical service, rather than meeting in buildings
- Ask the church leaders to take the usual Sunday service to the streets from time to time. Then the large gathering of people will be outdoors while the small gatherings, the home groups, will be indoor, like in the early church
- And most importantly, pray that God will send a renewal in the church, just like the charismatic renewal, that makes will inspire simplicity and organic discipleship
*A “building church” is a term invented by me (which admittedly sounds better in Swedish) to describe churches that own buildings. When we call these just churches while we call the biblical model “house churches”, it sounds like the latter is the weird exception when it’s rather the Biblical norm.