Several years ago, a leader in the underground house church movement in China (which has hundreds of thousands of house churches) was allowed out of the country to visit the U.S. He was escorted around the country to visit a number of well-known contemporary churches by several prominent Christian leaders. When he reached the end of his trip, he was asked by one of the leaders what his impressions were of the American church. He paused a moment then humbly said that he was amazed by what man could do to build the church in America but invited them to come to China to see what the Holy Spirit could do. It was a sobering reproof.
This brings us to a thoughtful consideration of the simple house church found in the New Testament and the only church believers knew for over three hundred years. In the early church, people didn't "go" to church - They were the church wherever they went. They weren't simply practicing religion but living a lifestyle. They gathered together in simple house meetings for prayer, for teaching, for fellowship and for eating a common meal together called the "Love Feast". (Acts 2:42 - see footnote). This was God's original blueprint for His church before an emphasis on buildings, budgets, pagan practices, ambitious agendas, human tampering and the separation of a professional caste of priests from the laity took over and eventually undermined the simplicity of the church and the potency of Christianity. This was Christianity at its genesis and its purest before the curse of organizational 'churchanity' became entrenched.
A believer’s house was the everyday setting where Christians met. It was familiar, non-threatening and relatable to everyone because it was where the common man dwelt. It was welcoming and safe and not the least bit intimidating because it provided a comfortable, family atmosphere. The church was not artificially segregated behind church walls. Someone’s home wasn’t odd or confusing to unbelievers like many churchgoers with their strange rituals, religious airs, Christianeze and aloofness from the world around them. It was where the church (Us) lived, worked and gathered in a familiar, intimate setting ‑ the house. This was God=s pattern for His church before it gradually became the manmade model of the traditional church. Here people met in a non-threatening environment and ate meals together (as it says in Acts, “they broke bread from house to house”). It wasn’t the least bit artificial, calculating or programmed. They shared, interacted, and related in a spontaneous way with each other as average human beings in a familiar, everyday setting. They were relationship driven and not program driven. They didn’t depend on church buildings which required large budgets, the constant upkeep & maintenance, an insatiable need for manpower, special events, clever gimmicks, costly outreach programs, polished speakers, constant entertainment, expensive church accessories, professional ministry, innovative growth strategies, evangelism gimmicks, or a persistent emphasis on attendance and giving. (They didn’t need too)
I’m convinced that if early believers (not to mention the Apostles or Jesus) were to walk into a contemporary church building and observe what was going on in one of our services they would be dumbfounded by this amazing spectacle and what the participants were calling church. The early house church was simple and incredibly effective. It didn’t constantly need to be Afixed@, re‑wired or re‑invented. Simply put, It worked. It was relatable. It met people where they lived. It impacted the world, overthrew an empire and did great exploits in the simple quietness of a living room without religious hype, pretentiousness or a smorgasbord of appealing programs and entertainment.
The simple house church presented a revolutionary way of nurturing relationships with the lost, with fellow believers and with Christ through a natural, engaging, everyday lifestyle. It offered the pathway to a more Biblically and experientially, New Testament pattern of authenticity, accountability, interaction, discipleship and accelerated Christian growth.
No, it does not have all the answers, but it’s a pretty good start! If fact, that’s exactly how the early church started. It’s a back to the basics, “back to the future” Act II. It’s where many are finding a return to simplicity, authenticity and spiritual renewal. The house church is not rocket science. It is simple and almost a no‑brainer. It is simply what church life was meant to be. It doesn’t require a lot of money to start or a complex plan for church growth. It is a simple, organic gathering of believers with Jesus in their midst and simplicity as their watchword.
While house churches are thriving in many countries due to persecution and poverty and the simple fact that it works so well, it remains to be seen whether it will ever thrive in America. With all the things the American church has going on, the house church may just seem too simplistic, too humble, too unrealistic to be true. But, could it be that "Bigger" is not better, that our clever strategies for church success don't work as well as we think, that the church that men built is not as amazing as we would imagine?
1. See Also: Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 10:22, 30; 12:12; 16:15, 32, 40; 18:7; 20:20; Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 1:11; 16:15; 16:19; Colossians 4:15; I Timothy 5:13,14; Philemon 1:2; II John 10