House Church or House Gathering?

In a 2006 study by Barna it was determined that 9% of today’s American adults attend a house church during the week (up 8% in just 10 years…meaning 1 out of every 5 adults attends a house church at least twice a month). This means more than 70 million adults have at least experimented with a house church, and in a typical week about 20 million adults attend a house church (43 million in a month).

So the question that continues to bounce around with this house church movement…is this really “church?” Or better yet, what determines whether you are a “church” or not? (i.e. local assembly of believers)

The theologians of old have established their criteria as the preaching of the word and the practicing of the sacrements (for various reasons due to specific reactions of their time), but what is yours?


~ by Dave Smith on July 20, 2008.

9 Responses to “House Church or House Gathering?”

  1. I’m confused about your approach to your questions. Are you trying to understand whether or not House Church is actually “church” or …?

  2. “but what is yours?”

    For you, what determines if something is a church or not?

  3. Ah, I see.
    I don’t think that “something” can be Church – simply because the New Testament is clear that Church consists of the people of God, not an institution or form. Church is not sunday morning. Church is when we meet together – and whether or not we are intentionally building each other up with the word of the Lord or not. However, it would be nice if we would get our act together and love one another and encourage/exhort/challenge etc each other in the daily happenings of life rather than not being intentional whatsoever.

    What is your criteria?

  4. Agreed Dan. When we search the scriptures over the subject of “church,” we find that church is something we can’t “go” to, because it is us. We “are” the church.

    I have a few students from my past college class who were a part of a house church. I asked them if since they were a “church” (meaning local assembly now), if they participated in communion and worship.

    They didn’t.

    Would that make them a church? (yes a part of “the church”…but functioning like a local assembly within the given scriptural perimeters?)

    So in many ways this questions leads us to not only ask the question, “What is the church?”…which you answer is right on…but then to ask, “How should the church function?”

  5. That is a good question…
    What I think of in response is that there may be circumstances and situations where followers of Christ may meet together but may not be able to practice traditional things. If we handle this with grace, however, then it is no problem. But if we try and suggest that a functional/healthy church looks like such and such, then we begin to set up a standard which I don’t think is necessary per se.

    The NT gives us a lot of how to function as a Church. Of course you have spiritual gifts, and all of the “one another” kind of commands that are scattered here and there. All of these principles of meeting together should be practiced when possible, of course.

    Let’s suppose that there are a few believers who would like to meet together secretly in a high-persecution risk country. Are they going to openly engage in practices that may give them away and thus be tortured or whatever? Or, will they stick to the basic of basics….loving the Lord and loving each other.

    If we function with those two principles – loving God/loving eachother, then we will be healthy as the body. If not, we leave ourselves vulnerable to religious tendencies which only choke and kill what the Lord has desired for us.

    What I find unfortunate is that many traditional church going folks are stuck to understand that Church is what we are trying to describe here. The grid they see through is that of tradition and may be strictly religious. And- it is a very difficult transition to understand the body as Christ intended us to, don’t you think?

    Oh- by the way- I randomly found this blog because I subscribed to a news feed on “house church”
    I like the discussion though-

  6. Well said Dan.

    I personally think the house church movement is fantastic. However, for those that have cautions…it always comes down to them not thinking they are “really” a church due a lack of “official” structure.

    In past missionological studies there have been those rare cases in which certain tribes were unable to fully follow the practices of communion and baptism (for some reason I said “communion and worship” above, but meant to say “communion and baptism”). Does that not make them the church? I don’t think so.

    Agreed that contextually our practices change, but the the principles of “love God, love people” must be the ultimate guide in conjuction with the Spirit. How that looks should vary…and if we held to simply those two alone, who knows how attractively wild and inconsistently sporadic tha church could become.

    At the same time, I think if the Spirit guides in the process of “loving God,” one path will ultimately move toward a desire to know Him. One path from there will then to be to study His scriptures to do so. From there you would assume some movements in the regular teaching or study of scripture…and from there applying some of the teachings command in scripture (i.e. communion, baptism, The Great Commission, meeting regularly, etc.)

    Not saying how they get there should look the same…but you would imagine over time they all end up essentially functioning in similar fashions.

  7. Dave, I like how you say that “How that looks should vary” in terms of loving God and people in conjunction with the Spirit. There is so much to say about simple group dynamics. House Church varies per group as different people come and go. It’s fantastic and beautiful- but we seem to have the tendency to want some form and for things to look a certain way. It’s quite difficult to break out of that mindset.

    And yes- we operate with ideals and hopes, don’t we? We know what the body ought to function like. Mature Christians together will mean a mature and very stimulating fellowship. But I regress with this kind of statement- because the Holy Spirit can do so much even with new Christians. But maturity in the body will mean that functionality will increase and become streamlined- a natural thing rather than little glimpses here and there.

    God is SO creative with us, if only we will let him and if only we will be sensitive to his Spirit. It’s just difficult, usually uncomfortable, but full of blessing and surprise!

    I would add to this discussion to that the Great Commission is to be a focus point for us as the people of God. I am still trying to understand how this works, it seems. This is because it’s just difficult! We have the love of Christ and we can share it with those around us- how do we enable and encourage each other to do this intentionally and more than once every 2 years? What is the breaking point where we get over ourselves and start to serve and love others so they can experience Christ and come to him?

    Because- if house church folks don’t intentionally bring the good news to the broken world around them, I’d say they’re not in any better shape than traditional church. We need to really challenge each other and to genuinely care about the people around us.

  8. Dan, I can only scratch the surface to your apparent knowledge in the housechurch movement. Your insight to this discussion has been priceless.

    So glad you joined in.

    I am assuming you have one or maybe affiliated with a few? If so, how long, where, and what has your experience been?


  9. Thanks Dave! I appreciate being able to have a bit of discussion about these things…!

    Yes I have been involved with house church for a bit – actually not too long though, just several months. I have been doing a lot of studying regarding this as I’m in Bible College and am doing an internship with a House Church.
    …will be planting my own soon! Pray! 🙂
    I’m located in Kitchener Ontario

    Feel free to connect with me on email…I don’t get any notification if you reply to this!

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