Growing up in the christian culture there was a common phrase that I heard:
“church is not a building, it’s the people!” While this phrase seems very biblical it just doesn’t seem very practical. After all, when I say I’m going to church, people know exactly what I mean……and who would really want to be around someone who always chimed in “church is not a building, it’s the people.” It would be like hanging out with someone who’s always saying “you mean, you and I, not you and me.
For the last 10 years I have gone through varying degrees of frustration with the church as “institution.” When you struggle with this side of the spectrum the understood idea of what is on the other side of the spectrum is the “house church.” As far as labels go, I hate the label or limitations of a”home church” and here are my four reasons why:
- By calling or making it a “house church” you are making church more about a building than ever. The church is a group of people and they can meet in a home but they can also meet in a chapel, or a school bus, or a bar. But it would be silly to call it a bar church or a school bus church, so why call it a home church? The whole point is that location is not the point.
- By calling or making it a “house church” it implies that the size of the building or the nature of the venue is the biggest problem. The biggest questions that I have had about institutional church are questions of mission not the number of people or square footage. If meeting in a warehouse is not the problem why would finding your identity in the smaller building(home) be any better?
- Calling or making it a “house church” contributes to further segregating and disjointing Christ’s body from one clear and unified mission and identity. If institutional churches are sacrificing the unity of Christ’s body and the furthering of the kingdom by dividing into Baptist, Pentecostal, Mega, whatever than home churches are exacerbating this problem of isolating themselves by creating more walls and labels. As silly as it would be to say “I am not going to minister to you because you are not a member here” it is no more silly to say “I am not responsible for you because you don’t meet in my home.”
- Calling or making it a “house church” is distracting. While labels are easier they are not always beneficial. The primary problem is that the church has been distracted from it’s mission to make disciples. The last thing that we need is more labels and distractions that we use to define who we are and what we do. By focusing on the location or building you are actually taking the emphasis away from discipleship and turning it towards legalism.
I want to be clear that I do not think the phrase “house church” is bad or what a lot of churches that meet in homes (or church buildings) are trying to accomplish is bad. I do think that those involved in that movement need to examine their motives and understand the possibilities of what that phrase communicates. After all, “house church is not a building, it’s the people!”