House church

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A house church or home church is a label used to describe a group of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes. The group may be part of a larger Christian body, such as a parish, but some have been independent groups that see the house church as the primary form of Christian community.

Sometimes these groups meet because the membership is small, and a home is the most appropriate place to assemble until such time as the group has sufficient funds to rent a regular place to meet (as in the beginning phase of the British New Church Movement). Sometimes this meeting style is advantageous because the group is a member of a Christian congregation which is otherwise banned from meeting as is the case in China and Iran.

Some recent Christian writers[who?] have supported the view that the Christian Church should meet in houses, and have based the operation of their communities around multiple small home meetings. Other Christian groups choose to meet in houses when they are in the early phases of church growth because a house is the most affordable option for the small group to meet until the number of people attending the group is sufficient to warrant moving to a commercial location such as a church building. House church organizations claim that this approach is preferable to public meetings in dedicated buildings because it is a more effective way of building community and personal relationships, and it helps the group to engage in outreach more naturally.[1] Some believe small churches were a deliberate apostolic pattern in the first century, and they were intended by Christ.[2]


In the early church, Christian fellowship, prayer, and service took place mainly in private homes, as described in the book of Acts of the Apostles.[3] The Latin term often used is domus ecclesiae.[4]

The Dura-Europos house church, ca. 232, with chapel area on right.

Several passages in the New Testament specifically mention churches meeting in houses. The first house church is recorded in Acts 1:13, where the disciples of Jesus met together in the "Upper Room" of a house, traditionally believed to be where the Cenacle is today. "The churches of Asia greet you, especially Aquila and Prisca greet you much in the Lord, along with the church that is in their house." I Corinthians 16:19.[5] The church meeting in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is again mentioned in Romans 16:3, 5. The church that meets in the house of Nymphas is also cited in the Bible: "Greet the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in her house." Colossians 4:15. There is another reference to the church meeting in Philemon's home ("To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker—also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:…." Philemon 1:2), but scholars recognize this as simply the meeting place of the Corinthian church—not a separately-meeting house church.

For the first 300 years of Early Christianity, until Constantine legalized Christianity and churches moved into larger buildings, Christians typically met in homes, if only because intermittent persecution (before the Edict of Milan in 313) did not allow the erection of public church buildings.[6] Clement of Alexandria, an early church father, wrote of worshipping in a house. The Dura-Europos church, a private house in Dura-Europos in Syria, was excavated in the 1930s and was found to have been used as a Christian meeting place in AD 232, with one small room serving as a baptistry[7][8] creating the current style church seen today.[9]


During the 20th and 21st centuries, the complexity of obtaining government authorizations, in some countries of the world which apply sharia or communism, government authorizations for worship are complex for Evangelical Christians.[10][11][12] Because of persecution of Christians, Evangelical house churches are the only option for many Christians to live their faith in community.[13] For example, there is the Evangelical house churches in China movement.[14] The meetings thus take place in private houses, in secret and in "illegality".[15]

In China[edit]

A house church in Shunyi, Beijing.

In the People's Republic of China (PRC), house churches or family churches (Chinese: 家庭教会; pinyin: jiātíng jiàohuì) are Protestant assemblies that operate independently from the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC), and came into existence due to the change in religious policy after the end of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1980s. The TSPM was set up after the Communist Party established the PRC in 1949, for Protestants to declare their patriotism and support of the new government. However, by the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), all public religious practice came to an end; the government of the People's Republic of China officially espouses state atheism, and has conducted antireligious campaigns to this end.[16][17][18][19] Many churches, temples and mosques were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, which also criminalized the possession of religious texts.[19] Due to the changes in religious policy after the end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1980, the TSPM was reinstated and the China Christian Council was formed. Protestant congregations that wished to worship publicly registered with the TSPM, but those that did not were eventually termed house churches.[20]


Recent developments in the house church movement in North America and the United Kingdom are often seen as a return to a New Testament church restorationist paradigm, a restoration of God's eternal purpose, and the natural expression of Christ on Earth, urging Christians to reject hierarchy and rank, and return to practices described and encouraged in Scripture. According to some proponents, many churchgoers are turning to house churches because traditional churches fail to meet their relational needs and are not representative of the structure exhibited throughout the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles of the New Testament.[21]

Some authors who are often associated with "house church" by others (examples are Jon Zens, Watchman Nee, T. Austin-Sparks, Milt Rodriguez, Wolfgang Simson, Frank Viola and others) consider the term "house church" to be a misnomer, asserting that the main issue for Christians who gather together is not the location of the meeting, but whether or not Jesus Christ is the functional head of the gathering and face-to-face community is occurring.[22] Other names which may be used to describe these kinds of churches simple church, "relational church," "primitive church," "body life," "organic church" or "biblical church."[23]. Some authors don't believe "house church" or "organic church" are "movements," and they distinguish between a house church/simple church and an organic expression of the church.

House churches can adopt an organic church philosophy, which is not necessarily a particular method, technique or movement, but rather a particular church expression that the group takes on when the organization is functioning according to the pattern of a living organism. The church represented in the New Testament is based on this principle, and both traditional & contemporary versions of "Westernized" Christianity has reversed this order.[24]

The origins of the modern house church movement in North America and the UK are varied. Some have viewed it as a development and logical extension of the Plymouth Brethren movement, both in doctrine and practice. Many individuals and assemblies have adopted new approaches to worship and governance, while others recognize a relationship to the Anabaptists, the Free Christians, the Quakers, the Amish, the Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Moravians, the Methodists, the much earlier conventicles movement, the Waldenses or the Priscillianists. Another perspective sees the house church movement as a re-emergence of the move of the Holy Spirit during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s in the USA or the worldwide Charismatic Renewal of the late 1960s and 1970s.[citation needed] Others believe that the House Church movement was pioneered by the Reverend Ernest Southcott in the 1950s, when he was Vicar of St Wilfred's Church in Halton, Leeds, in England. Southcott believed that if people would not come to church, the church must go to the people, and his book The Parish Comes Alive spread this idea widely among Anglicans.[25]

Limited financial resources can encourage church leaders to rethink the pattern of ministry and look for ways to forward the outreach of the church with unpaid members.[26]

Simple church[edit]

The simple church is an Evangelical Christian movement that reinterprets the nature and practice of church. A simple church may meet anywhere with or without trained leaders, formal liturgy, programs or structures.[27] To facilitate relationship, discipleship (spiritual formation), multiplication, mobility, and member ownership, a simple church is usually a small group of no more than 20-25 persons. Most Church "programs" privately meet during some days of the week and discuss troubles that they are having with their faith, and personal life. Church "programs" are virtually nonexistent and small group participation is essential. The process of moving from worship to small group, small group to mission work, and mission work to worship is a primary focus.[citation needed]

Authors Tony and Felicity Dale, founders of House2House Ministries, have promoted the term "simple church" in their book "Simply Church".[28][29] The term is often used interchangeably with other terms like organic church,[30] essential church, primitive church, bodylife, relational church, and micro-church.[31]

In the early twenty-first century a number of established Christian denominations and mission organizations have officially supported efforts to develop house church networks.[32]

Origins and influences[edit]

The simple church movement is part of the broader house church movement.[citation needed] Simple church has also been influenced by overseas missions and the growth of church planting movements.[33] Church planting movements are spontaneously growing church multiplication efforts.

The missional Movement[34] has also influenced simple church.[35]


As in any decentralized, spontaneous movement, a variety of values are expressed in simple church. Due to the influence of some key groups and Acts 2:42-47, three overarching values have emerged in many circles. Adherents Paul Kaak (who began ministry in one of the largest and most systematized mega-churches in America) and Neil Cole originally articulated these values using the letters DNA. According to him:

  • D – Divine Truth: Truth is the foundation for everything.[36]
  • N – Nurturing Relationships : Healthy relationships are what make up a family. Love for one another is to be a constant pursuit of the family of God.
  • A – Apostolic Mission : Apostolic means, simply, "sent".[37]

These values have since been promoted by House2House Ministries[38] and DAWN North America, and have been adopted by various groups such as New York's MetroSoul[39]


Adherents of George Barna and Frank Viola's book Pagan Christianity point out a number of reforms that organic churches often advocate.

  • The belief that modern clergy is a vestige of Roman pagan religion that was absent from the early church and is largely at odds with the true priesthood of all believers. The movement sees the institution of the clergy at odds with passages like Matthew 20, Matthew 23, 3rd John, and the message in Revelation regarding the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Greek-literally those who triumph over the people). 1 Corinthians 12-14 paints a picture of an every-member functioning church meeting entirely at odds with the modern religious service which is performed by professionals for an audience. However, some believe this view does not take into account the Jewish and synagogue based nature of the ekklesia, which explains the talk of elders and deacons found in the New Testament. In reply, many simple churches do recognize elders and deacons according to the biblical standards laid out in Timothy and Titus but believe these people emerge over time as their character becomes descriptive of these roles. In an environment where people are free to express their gifts, such people can emerge. Also, being an elder or deacon does not mean this person dominates the meeting. 3 John rebukes Diotrephes the elder who had to be first and was dominating. The simple church largely believes the idea that an elder or deacon is not a license for some to minister and others to be passive.
  • Valuing the Lord's Supper occurring as a regular, recurring full meal celebration rather than a short religious ritual. The early integration of the home based ritual into the public synagogue-like meeting functioned to reduce the symbolic nature of the act to a private moment, replacing its symbolism of fellowship and dedication to the Lord. This was complete by the time of Constantine, when home based agape feasts were banned. However, this history does not in itself devalue the need for the larger synagogue-like meeting for prayer, ministry of the word and singing. Simple church adherents also enjoy occasional and even monthly larger gatherings that do this very thing, though they emphasize the smaller meeting of the ekklesia as the environment for spiritual growth.
  • Organic churches tend to place less emphasis on the building or meeting place. To this end, Neil Cole, an adherent of simple church, states that "buildings, budgets, and big shots," tend to do more to contain Christianity than allow it to spread.[40] However, this statement against larger sized churches does nothing to substantiate its claim.[citation needed]

Media and popular attention[edit]

In the early twenty–first century the growth of the movement had increased news media coverage during the early 2000's. However, the house church movement saw a resurgence following the Covid-19 epidemic, after Christian believers were forced to meet in more intimate, home-like settings, and after the traditional Westernized church model seemed to fail to meet members' needs during and after the epidemic:[41][42][43]

Many books have been written on the simple church movement, especially by insiders (see House Church, Further Reading). In the early twenty-first century, books began to appear by those studying the movement from a more objective view, including George Barna's Revolution.[44] Barna says that "revolutionary" expressions such as simple church will soon account for one third of American spirituality.[45]

Visibility of the movement also increased due to national and regional gatherings of various kinds. Among which include the Church Without Walls International in Broken Arrow, OK, USA, and various other locations throughout the US.


How the simple church movement relates to constructing a theology and ecclesiology is the subject of much debate, especially with critics of the movement.

Several prominent voices have serious concerns about simple church. For example, J. Lee Grady (Charisma Online Editor) says such a movement wants to "reinvent the church without its biblical structure and New Testament order – and without the necessary people who are anointed and appointed by God to lead it. To follow this defective thesis to its logical conclusion would require us to fire all pastors, close all seminaries and Bible colleges, padlock our sanctuaries and send everybody home..."[46] Grady and other critics worry that the simple church movement could encourage people to leave more traditional forms of church, which could lead to further collapse or decline of Christendom.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David, Stephen. "Ten Reasons For Small Churches". NTRF. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  2. ^ Simson, Wolfgang (2005), Houses that Change the World, Authentic Media, pp. 79–101
  3. ^ Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church: Volume 1, The First Christian Century, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2011, p. 41-42
  4. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica online version. Western-architecture: Early-Christian: First period, to 313 CE. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  5. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: 1 Corinthians 16:19 – English Standard Version". Bible Gateway.
  6. ^ George Thomas Kurian, Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States, Volume 5, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, 2016, p. 1142.
  7. ^ Floyd V. Filson (June 1939). "The Significance of the Early House Churches". Journal of Biblical Literature. 58 (2): 105–112. doi:10.2307/3259855. JSTOR 3259855.
  8. ^ "Assist". Archived from the original on 20 February 2006.
  9. ^ Fenn, John (26 August 2016). "Patrick or Constantine". The Church Without Walls International.
  10. ^ Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 4, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, USA, 2005, p. 163
  11. ^ Yves Mamou, Yves Mamou: «Les persécutions de chrétiens ont lieu en majorité dans des pays musulmans», Le Figaro, France, 20 March 2019
  12. ^ Wesley Rahn, In Xi we trust – Is China cracking down on Christianity?, Deutsche Welle, Germany, 19 January 2018
  13. ^ Allan Heaton Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2013, p. 104
  14. ^ Brian Stiller, Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century, Thomas Nelson, USA, 2015, p. 328
  15. ^ Mark A. Lamport, Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South, Volume 2, Rowman & Littlefield, USA, 2018, p. 364
  16. ^ Dillon, Michael (2001). Religious Minorities and China. Minority Rights Group International. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-897693-24-7. The People's Republic of China (PRC), created by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, is officially an atheist state.
  17. ^ Buang, Sa'eda; Chew, Phyllis Ghim-Lian (9 May 2014). Muslim Education in the 21st Century: Asian Perspectives. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-317-81500-6. Subsequently, a new China was found on the basis of Communist ideology, i.e. atheism. Within the framework of this ideology, religion was treated as a 'contorted' world-view and people believed that religion would necessarily disappear at the end, along with the development of human society. A series of anti-religious campaigns was implemented by the Chinese Communist Party from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. As a result, in nearly 30 years between the beginning of the 1950s and the end of the 1970s, mosques (as well as churches and Chinese temples) were shut down and Imams involved in forced 're-education'.
  18. ^ Esposito, John L.; Fasching, Darrell J.; Lewis, Todd (2008). Religion and Globalization: World Religions in Historical Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 417. ISBN 978-0-19-517695-7. Until the end of China's Cultural Revolution (1976), all religious practices in the region were repressed and most Buddhist temples, monasteries, and shrines were destroyed.
  19. ^ a b Grim, Brian J.; Finke, Roger (2010). The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139492416. Seeking a complete annihilation of religion, places of worship were shut down; temples, churches, and mosques were destroyed; artifacts were smashed; sacred texts were burnt; and it was a criminal offence even to possess a religious artifact or sacred text. Atheism had long been the official doctrine of the Chinese Communist Party, but this new form of militant atheism made every effort to eradicate religion completely.
  20. ^ Bays, Daniel (2012). A New History of Christianity in China. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 182, 190–195.
  21. ^ Henning, Jeffrey. "The Growing House-Church Movement". Ministry Today. Archived from the original on 3 August 2021. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  22. ^ "House Church vs. Organic Expression – Beyond Evangelical | The Blog of Frank Viola".
  23. ^ Dale, Felicity. "Starting a simple church can be simple". Simply Church. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  24. ^ Viola, Frank. "Why Organic Church Is Not Exactly a Movement". Christianity Today.
  25. ^ The Parish Comes Alive by Ernie Southcott, London: Mowbray, 1961
  26. ^ Roberts, Mark D. "Leading a Church in Challenging Financial Times". Patheos.
  27. ^ House2House Magazine Website, "What Do We Mean By Simple Church Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Dale, T. and Dale, F. (2000) Simply Church. Karis Books, ISBN 0-9718040-1-X
  29. ^ What We Do: Planting Simple Churches Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Cole, N. (2005) Organic Church: Growing faith where life happens. John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 0-7879-8129-X
  31. ^ Larry Kreider, "House Churches & Micro Churches[permanent dead link]" (Accessed 29 September 2006)
  32. ^ Arnold, Lori (19 January 2000). "Displaced pastor finds grass is greener on the outside". Christian Times. Archived from the original on 22 October 2006. Retrieved 1 May 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  33. ^ See David Garrison, "Church Planting Movements" (International Missionary Board Southern Baptist Convention, 2004); and Rad Zdero, "The Global House Church Movement" (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004, ISBN 0-87808-342-1).
  34. ^ "Friend of Missional". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  35. ^ Thoman, Roger, House Church Basics Pt. 3: Missional Church, retrieved 29 September 2006
  36. ^ A recent variation refers to the "D" as "Divine Connection" and views the Word of God and prayer as two primary means of maintaining that connection with God. The DNA metaphor is thus extended to include four overarching values instead of only three.
  37. ^ Neil Cole and Paul Kaak, Organic Church Planters Greenhouse: The First Story CMA Resources. Long Beach, 2004) pg. 1-6. Also published in Organic Church by Neil Cole
  38. ^ What Do We Mean By Simple Church Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 29 September 2006)
  39. ^ MetroSoul Website, "What We Do: Planting Simple Churches Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 29 September 2006)
  40. ^ Cole, N. Organic Church
  41. ^ Chandler and Aryanpur, Michael Alison and Arianne (4 June 2006). "Going to Church by Staying at Home: Clergy-Less Living Room Services Seen as a Growing Trend". The Washington Post. Retrieved 30 September 2006.
  42. ^ Laidlaw, Stuart. "Religion, but no church required". Toronto Star. Retrieved 30 September 2006.
  43. ^ Van Biema and Healy, David and Rita. "There's No Pulpit Like Home". Time. Archived from the original on 12 June 2006. Retrieved 30 September 2006.
  44. ^ Barna, G. (2005). Revolution. Tyndale House. ISBN 1-4143-1016-1.
  45. ^ Barna, G. (2005). Revolution. Tyndale House. p. 49. ISBN 1-4143-1016-1.
  46. ^ J. Lee Grady, Barna's Dangerous Proposal Archived 2012-03-02 at the Wayback Machine" (Accessed 30 September 2006)

Further reading[edit]

  • Atkerson, Steve (2005). House Church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural. NTRF. ISBN 0-9729082-1-8.
  • Banks, Robert. Paul's Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Historical Setting (1994). Peabody: Hendricksen, ISBN 978-0853642510.
  • Banks, Robert and Julia, The Home Church: Regrouping the People of God for Community and Mission (1998). Peabody: Hendricksen ISBN 978-1565631793.
  • DeVries, David (2010). Six-Word Lessons to Discover Missional Living: 100 Six-Word Lessons to Align Every Believer with the Mission of Jesus. Bellevue: Leading on the Edge International. ISBN 978-1-933750-26-2.
  • Fenn, John (2010). Return of the First Church. Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 978-1608442201.
  • MacHaffie, Barbara J. (2006). Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. ISBN 0-8006-3826-3.
  • Osiek, C.; Margaret Y. MacDonald (2006). A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. ISBN 0-8006-3777-1.
  • Simson, Wolfgang (2001). Houses that Change the World: The Return of the House Churches. Authentic. ISBN 1-85078-356-X.
  • Viola, Frank, and George Barna (2008). Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Carol Stream: BarnaBooks. ISBN 978-1-4143-1485-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) A scholarly work based on the Bible and church history that reveals the origins of contemporary church practices such as the modern pastoral role, pulpits, church buildings, dressing up for church, tithing, seminaries, etc. Reveals that many of these practices are rooted in a mixture of the New Testament with Old Testament and Roman pagan practices.
  • Viola, Frank (2008). Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook. ISBN 978-1-4347-6875-9. A constructive follow up to Pagan Christianity; explains the purpose of Christian fellowship, spontaneous church meetings (1 Cor. 14:26), and the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). Extensive bibliography of organic church literature.
  • Viola, Frank (2009). Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook. ISBN 978-1434768667. A practical follow up to Reimagining Church; explains the biblical models for planting and nurturing organic church communities along with how to navigate them through the common problems they will inevitably face.
  • Zdero, Rad (2004). The Global House Church Movement. Pasadena: William Carey Library Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87808-374-9.
  • Zdero, Rad (2007). NEXUS: The World House Church Movement Reader. Pasadena: William Carey Library Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87808-342-8.
  • Bio, Ed Stetzer (25 May 2017). "Some Quick Thoughts on House Churches: The Good, the Bad, and Why You Should Be Open to Them". Christianity Today. The Exchange.

External links[edit]