Why I never want to be a part of a “house church”

Growing up in the christian culture there was a common phrase that I heard:

Maybe this is a good book, I don't know
Maybe this is a good book, I don't know

“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!”

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4 thoughts

  1. Labels will continually plague Christian culture. As a human, we some how need labels to easily identify ourselves. “I’m a Baptist”, “I’m a vegetarian”, “I’m Emo”, “I’m Awesome”; our church is “Modern”, “Post Modern”, “Evangelical”, “Emergent.” Some how we find solace in the ease of identification.

    I think that as we begin to wrestle with self analysis, finding sections of our lives that can be easily assessed and categorized gives us peace. “Phew, glad I’ve got that part figured out, now let’s move on to …” View point also plays into it. If you’ve been burned by a ‘Mega church’ and want nothing to do with that label, you may instantly search for something to replace it.

    Bottom line is this: Christian culture, in my opinion, is constantly searching for identity. If a Pastor, Leader, whoever says, “We are no ‘doing’ House Church,” people will cling to that identity because it gives them an easy explanation as to who they are. That way they don’t have to take the time to look inward and figure it out for themselves.

  2. This was written by Stephen in an email response. I thought it was worth posting here:

    My point was that we must resist at all costs anything that would denominate us or divide the Church into more sects. Methodists are a sect, Lutherans are a sect, Vineyardites are a sect, anyone saying they are a “House Church” are a sect, etc. (Sect meaning separate faction.) Creating a sect means that others can relegate you, and it gives certain people an unhealthy level of control over the royal priesthood without being challenged or having to work out issues with other apostles in the church.

    Calling ourselves anything but the church or apostolic ministry thereof (i.e. Koine) is a grievous error. I don’t want a name other than Christ. I don’t want to be associated with any other mission other than His, and I want people to wrestle with my response to their question, “What is the name of your church….” Uhh… a church in . “What are you doing in Massachusetts?” I’m an apostle commissioned by Christ to preach the Gospel and call people to belief & obedience. (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans%201:5;&version=51😉

    May God be gracious to us and forgive us for the many years of dividing his Bride into pieces…

    From “The Normal Christian Church Life” by Watchman Nee:

    “What is a New Testament church? It is not a building, a gospel hall, a preaching center, a
    mission, a work, an organization, a system, a denomination, or a sect. People may apply
    the term “church” to any of the above; nevertheless they are not churches. A New
    Testament church is the meeting together for worship, prayer, fellowship, and mutual
    edification, of all the people of God in a given locality, on the ground that they are
    Christians in the same locality. The Church is the Body of Christ; a church is a miniature
    Body of Christ. All the believers in a locality form the church in that locality, and in a
    small way they ought to show forth what the Church should show forth. They are the
    Body of Christ in that locality, so they have to learn how to come under the headship of
    the Lord, and how to manifest oneness among all the members, guarding carefully
    against schism and division.”

  3. I agree that the house church label isn’t very helpful. It speaks only to venue and says virtually nothing about the mission of the church. Tim Chester wrote a great short post on this a few weeks ago. If you care to check it out click here.

  4. I agree that labels are problematic, to be sure, and it seems that the impression that the term “house church” has left you with is one that puts the emphasis all about having to meet in a house, or being intent on being seen as seperate from the rest of the church, or whatever.

    The reality is, there is something much deeper at the core of the shift within the Body that is sometimes labeled “house church”. (also, the terms “simple church”, “organic church”, and probably a few others are ascribed to it as well…) It does go way beyond meeting in a house, and in fact, the point is you can meet virtually anywhere, but typically people end up meeting in homes, because, well, most of us already have them, and it’s kind of common sense really.

    When it comes to the issue of meeting in larger building, whether they be sanctuaries or warehouses or what have you, the issue, like you said, is not a problem with too much square footage. One of the main concerns is the fact that most of the time, these places are not cheap. Even a smaller church building costs more to buy, and maintain, than a typical home (which we’re all paying for already anyway…) How much money are we spending on venues, that really only serve to give us a place to have a stage, with maybe a worship band, and listen to somebody preach?

    Preaching, by the way, is another issue that comes into question. Since when we examine the NT, we don’t see anything that resembles the modern day once-a-week sermon, (in fact that developed much later) many are concluding that it isn’t as indispensable as most of us think it is. A smaller group setting also is much more conducive to the kind of meeting where everyone can participate, everyone can bring something to share for the edification of everyone else. (kind of like how blogging works…) In a typical church service, how many times have you seen someone stand up in the middle of a sermon, ask a question, and start a conversation amongst the congregation? I’ve never experienced that once in a traditional church, and yet that’s exactly what the Bible describes the earliest church gatherings being like…

    There a lots of other questions and issues that tie into this, and I’ve only touched on a couple. I guess I just felt that maybe a different perspective on this discussion might be a good thing, as I too am really uncomfortable with how the term “house-church” comes across to most people. It really doesn’t come close to capturing the essence of what people who are engaged in this type of gathering are really striving for. Like it’s already been said, it’s simply about following Christ, and making it just about him, not our labels, not our sects, nor is it about our programs, our strategies, our man-made traditions and liturgies, but it is about Jesus, and that’s all we need…

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