Cutting the Cord: Are Megachurches Birthing the House Church Movement?

In recent months the conversation on Out of Ur has explored why increasing numbers of Christians are opting to pursue Christ apart from a local church. The discussion began with Kevin Miller's review of George Barna's new book, Revolution. And, similar themes were addressed by Dave Terpstra in his post on why the spiritually mature leave the church. Church leaders; however, are no longer the only ones interested in this issue. Time Magazine ran a story on March 6 titled "There's No Pulpit Like Home" discussing the changes occurring in American Christianity and the rise of house churches.

Interestingly, the authors suggest it may be the megachurch advocacy of small groups that has fueled the house church trend:

[The megachurch] is made possible by hundreds of smaller "cell groups" that meet off-nights and provide a humanly scaled framework for scriptural exploration, spiritual mentoring and emotional support. Now, however, some experts look at [small groups]–spreading in parts of Colorado, Southern California, Texas and probably elsewhere–and muse, What if the cell groups decided to lose the mother church?

The Time article also explore the ideas of George Barna's book, Revolution, including Barna's beliefe that in 20 years "only about one-third of the population" will rely on conventional congregations for the spiritual development. To balance this radical forecast Time spoke with Jeffery Mahan from the Iliff School of Theology who agrees that a significant shift is happening in the American church, although it may not be as dramatic as Barna suggests.

American participation in formal church has risen and fallen throughout history, he notes, and after a prolonged post–World War II upswell, big-building Christianity may be exhaling again in favor of informal arrangements.

The "big-building Christianity" that Mahan refers to was another intriguing aspect of the article. It seems the mega-facilities the modern church has used to attract "seekers" may no longer be a draw for spiritually hungry Americans. The grassroots activism of house churches combined with their minimal institutional overhead may prove enticing to a new generation of socially active Christians.

Golden Gate Seminary's Karr reckons that building and staff consume 75% of a standard church's budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine "if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful."
March 10, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 33 comments

Shirley Nunes-Thornton

March 18, 2006  5:38am

As a United Methodist pastor, I have long advocated that we return to our Weslean Roots. House churches are vital, if we are to do the work Christ has commanded. How many times have you read in scripture that Jesus asked his followers to start a capital building campaign, or that he , in a miraculous event built a great temple or cathedral? Do we need all these "princes of the church?" The people of God have created huge buildings , monsters that require constant feeding, and leave very little resources to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick. I for one am ready to follow "The Call", whether it be in a store front or little cottage, or from house to house among kindred souls. I am thrilled that others are envisioning this type of ministry. May we remain open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. No pastor can be all things to all people. House churches, I believe, will give us the means to reach those we are meant to serve.

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Ben Brockway

March 17, 2006  10:24am

Such FANTASTIC comments many of you are making. Let me add this – I wonder if it is the church ‘structure' that is the real issue, or if it is the church ‘people?' I think the problem lies with the people. We (21st century Christians) have become toxically selfish. Much of ‘the church' isn't about the community of believers anymore, it's about individuality. The individual has to have everything according to his own specifications for his own individual Christianity. Herein lies the problem. We serve our own individual gods. We want, want, and want more for ourselves. Many churches nowadays cater to the wants of the person and not the spiritual need. Where are the Biblical spiritual leaders? Where are the pastors, lay leaders, and leaders that stand firm on the word of God and not put up with the degenerate Christian? Sure many of us are god followers, but where are the God followers. Where are the world-changers? Where are the Christians that know that their life is not their own and that we are to die to ourselves daily? I'm telling you, the 21st century Christian does not know how to commit daily suicide. The closest we get to committing suicide anymore, is just thinking about how it is probably the right thing to do. When Jesus called some of his disciples, He said, "Come, follow me." The Church' needs a revival. It needs a reality check. Who are we to live for ourselves and not for God??? A.W. Tozer writes, "This concept of Christianity is in radical error, and because it touches the souls of men it is a dangerous, even deadly, error. At bottom it is little more than a weak humanism allied with weak Christianity to give it ecclesiastical respectability.... Invariably it begins with man and his needs and then looks around for God; true Christianity reveals God as searching for man to deliver him from his ambitions...." I believe A.W. Tozer also wrote, "It must be God first, God second, and God third. Everything else falls after that." I think the Christian today lives in this such way: Me first, me second, me third, my spouse (lover, sex partner, or whatever you want to put there), my career, my money, how I appear to other people, my hobbies, and then God. But that's all ok, right? After all God didn't create me for a friendship with Him. He created me for me…

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Paul Atwater

March 16, 2006  8:27pm

I seem to remember an old guy named Gamaliel saying something like "If it is of God, then you won't be able to stop it. If it is only of human origin, then it will fail" (my paraphrase). My simple observation is that if house churches are faithful to the example of the early church, then they will fulfill the purposes of Christ, resulting in growth and health. If they grow, they will have to develop biblical patterns of leadership. If they don't reach out and develop, they will not be healthy and the movement will die a death of natural causes. I started a church with a small group of ten nearly 17 years ago. Today we would be considered a larger church by Schaller's terms. Healthy cell groups or home groups cannot help become healthy churches, sooner or later. Either way, Gamaliel gets the last word.

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March 15, 2006  4:02pm

It seems rather odd that from the comments I read that nobody is asking the question: What in the "Church" world is God doing? It seems that a Sovereign Lord would be more likely the motive behind the move than the likes and dislikes of the people involved. Why might God be moving the Church in the U.S. to home church meetings? Is there something on the horizon that requires that the Church entrench itself in the most easily hidden, readily fluid, package as possible? I see a country that is in many ways becoming more and more violently opposed to the message of the Gospel. Could it be that God is preparing us for the future while at the same time helping a woefully ineffective Church find a new way of being relevant and infectous?

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March 15, 2006  9:28am

Leoskeo: And a very good rant it was. Thank you for the added balance and thoughtful insights. Just as with people in the church, there are "strong" and "weak" churches, some "mature" and some "immature." Perhaps Paul's exhortation in Romans 14 concerning how we relate to one another as members of the body can apply as well, at least in principle, to churches: "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions." It's not the size of the church that matters, but the fruit of its faith. A megachurch can be fruitless and weak in faith; a home church can be fruitful and faithful. Our vision for Christ's church (it's not ours) should never be to accentuate the strong and eliminate the weak out of a misguided belief that there is some "ideal" church that is attainable. Our vision should be to "grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ...(who) causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Eph. 4:7-16). Becoming the faithful, mature, love-marked body of Christ in the world is the goal, whether big or small, weak or strong.

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March 15, 2006  2:00am

Having read Barna for years I find him to be great at gathering information but short sighted at times in interpreting the information he gathered. He often speculates a bit too much. With that said I am concerned at the ease in which we will take to task, blame or criticize the large church while assuming that smaller churches are healthier and connected. Having pastored in both large and small churches I can tell you, the reason many small churches are small is unhealthiness. They reach few people for Christ, are run by very few workers, have closed systems of leadership to those whishing to join. Is it possible the unhealthiness of the small church is creating the home church revolution? Is it also possible the unhealthiness of the small church feeds the growth of mega churches? In our American version of Christianity we tend to think like republicans and democrats instead of Christians. We see the church often as the haves and have nots. Politics often vilifies the large corporation, the rich person and the successful person and elevates to hero status the small, less equipped or resourced. I see this attitude rampant throughout the Out of Ur blogging. Big churches are impersonal, spend their money foolishly, compromise, entertain, coddle and soften truth, while smaller churches do what. Stay small, reach very few people and if they were to disappear from the neighborhood they were in, would the community notice a "Light" went out? Home churches are great if they are started because of what they are for not what they are against. Of the dozens upon dozens I have come across they started because someone did not like the existing model of church. Most of the people I know in them did not come from a large church but a small one. In other words, Let's sell a home church on the basis of it's merits not the demerits of the large church. Let's see if we can have a move of God without the attacking of large churches, modern churches, post modern churches, small churches. Let's love all the churches, big small, emergent, modern, house or with other facilities. Just my rant.

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Marc Renta

March 15, 2006  1:48am

I was part of a church that was using 90% of the budget for the pastor's salary along with trips for the pastor and his wife. When I asked about how much actually goes towards ministry, I was shocked! It was disappointing, BUT, I still remember the words of Jesus when He said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The church, as I understand it, is not a building, but a people– called out ones, that are to do the work of the ministry. In all fairness, I've been involved in missions work and have been supported by mega churches–they do a lot of good work too. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. But thank you for bringing up this issue and causing us all to reflect on being 'good steward of His resources."

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Alex Tang

March 14, 2006  9:25pm

Following the discussion, I agree with some that the house church is a natural evolution of the megachurch. Both the megachurch and the house church structure serve certain function. The megachurches give a greater perspective of a sense of belonging to a larger group of people ( a forerunner to the universal Church) while the house churches provide a place of high touch, low tech where people can feel connected and other people know your name and your favourite colour. Saying this, I am also reminded by certain posts that we must not lose sight of the fact that the Word must be preached correctly and that whatever church structure (and there is room for both), the purpose of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Shalom Alex

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March 14, 2006  8:29pm

I am fascinated by the discussion. I am not a fan of home churches or mega churches. Since I am currently attending a mega church for the first time, I must say that it has been simultaneously interesting and disturbing. I believe that a healthy church is focused outwardly, and is growing numerically as well as spiritually. That is the mantra behind the mega churches. I am not sure that I buy into the idea that therefore, "We cannot be a small church." That statement seems to divorce the megachurch from any real responsibility to meet the needs of members who are already discipled Christians. Their needs are to be met in small groups. We have found the small groups to be amazingly so ingrown at this outward reaching megachurch, that after four weeks no one, but the leader, even knew or cared to know our first names. We quit going when they cancelled the meeting and didn't bother to tell us about it. I am on my third small group, and this group (for women only) actually cares about each individual member and encourages spiritual growth and relationship growth. As a family, however, we feel a terrible lack of community. We don't know the right answer. Do we want to be in a home church? I don't think so.

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March 14, 2006  5:05pm

As a regional minister overseeing more than 50 churches in the upper Midwest, I see a reason to applaud the home church idea. With small rural towns declining and even disappearing, churches shrinking until they cannot pay for heat, lights and upkeep less a pastor's salary and small towns full of empty church buildings, it is time to reinvent the church for rural ministries. The home church is a revisitation of how churches began when populations were sparse. They worked then and they are working now. Minstry was hands on and personal. The home churches were usually safe places. The bulk of pastors and missionaries produced during the first half of the 20th century came from very small churches, some of which met in homes and school houses. In addition, as Robert Logan, author of many church planting and organizational books says, the smaller, disconnected church is probably more resistant to persecution than the larger, connected group. I am interested in seeing how many we can win to Christ by unconventional means in rural areas. Conventional means certainly aren't working.

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