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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, 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.
Some recent Christian writers 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. Some believe small churches were a deliberate apostolic pattern in the first century, and they were intended by Christ.
New Testament precedence
Christians who meet together in homes have often done so because of a desire to return to early Church style meetings as found in the New Testament. The New Testament shows that the Early Christian church exhibited a richness of fellowship and interactive practice that is typically not the case in conventional denominations. They believe that Christians walked closely with each other and shared their lives in Christ together. Others believe that the early church met in houses due to persecution, and home meetings were the most viable option to the early adopters of Christianity.
Several passages in the Bible specifically mention churches meeting in houses. "The churches of Asia greet you, especially Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, along with the church that is in their house." I Cor 16:19. 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." Col 4:15.
For the first 300 years of Early Christianity, people met in homes until Constantine legalized Christianity, and the assembly moved out of houses into larger buildings creating the current style church seen today.
Early house churches
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. For the first three centuries of the church, known as Early Christianity, 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. 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 be used as a Christian meeting place in AD 232, with one small room serving as a baptistry. At many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due to persecution by the state church or the civil government.
Modern revival in North America and the United Kingdom
In North America and the United Kingdom, the recent developments in the house church movement is often seen as a return to a New Testament church restorationist paradigm and a restoration of God's eternal purpose and the natural expression of Christ on the earth, urging Christians to return from hierarchy and rank to practices described and encouraged in Scripture. According to some proponents, many churchgoers are turning to house churches because many traditional churches fail to meet their relational needs.
Some that support the house church configuration (associated with Wolfgang Simson, Jon Zens, Milt Rodriguez, 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 meeting location (the house), but whether or not Jesus Christ is the functional head of the gathering and face-to-face community is occurring. Other titles which may be used to describe this movement are "simple church," "relational church," "primitive church," "body life," "organic church" or "biblical 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 traditional, contemporary Christianity has reversed this order.
The origins of the modern house church movement in North America and the UK are varied.
Some have viewed as a development and logical extension of the 'Brethren' or Plymouth Brethren movement both in doctrine and practice where many individuals and assemblies have adopted new approaches to worship and governance, while others recognize a relationship to the Anabaptists, Free Christians, Quakers, Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, Moravians, Methodists, and the much earlier conventicles movement, Waldenses and 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. Others believe the House Church movement was pioneered by people like the Revd 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 these ideas widely among Anglicans.
During a struggling economy, churches can face formidable financial challenges forcing them to make cuts in funding to missions and benevolence programs. A traditional church that is required to support the typical church infrastructure including a building or campus can face financial pressures if it faces a significant drop in membership. 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. House churches are already in a more favorable financial position due to the limited expenditures required to facilitate the functionality of the church.
House churches require less money to start up and operate which frees up funds for other ministries. There are no sanctuaries to buy and maintain, and frequently there are no pastoral salaries to sustain. "The constant pressure to fill the pews and provide the money to keep the building and programs going is draining to the traditional church. To some of us, churches have become like big monsters that eat up everything we can give them and then constantly ask for more and more."
It should also be noted that the church is mandated to regularly assemble, and it needs a suitable facility for the congregation to meet. While it is desirable to many to meet in free facilities such as private homes, the Bible makes no such mandate in this regard. Scripture is silent as to if the early, New Testament church met exclusively at locations that incurred no cost to the church. "Disciples may meet in free facilities; they may rent a place of assembly; they may purchase a building in which to worship. Depending upon the circumstances, any of these options could be viable."
House churches in China
In mainland China, house churches or family churches (Chinese: 家庭教会; pinyin: jiātíng jiàohuì) are Protestant assemblies in the People's Republic of China that operate independent 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. After the Communist Party established the People's Republic of China in 1949, there was a lot of uncertainty for all religions. During this period, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement would be established 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. Due to the changes in religious policy after the end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1980, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement would be reinstated and the China Christian Council would be formed. Protestant congregations that wished to worship publicly registered with the TSPM, but those that did not would eventually be termed house churches.
- Cafe church
- Church in a pub
- Church planting
- House church (China)
- Restorationism (Christian primitivism)
- Schuilkerk – A type of house church in 17th and 18th century Netherlands
- Two by Twos – also known as Cooneyites, Christian Conventions, Meetings, Workers and Friends, The Way or The Truth
- David, Stephen. "Ten Reasons For Small Churches". NTRF. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
- Simson, W: "Houses that Change the World", pages 79–101. Authentic Media, 2005
- Fenn, John. "House Churches in the New Testament". Simple Church.
- 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.
- Henning, Jeffrey. "The Growing House-Church Movement". Ministry Today.
- Dale, Felicity. "Starting a simple church can be simple". Simply Church. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- Viola, Frank. "Why Organic Church Is Not Exactly a Movement". Christianity Today.
- The parish comes alive by Ernie Southcott, London, Mowbrays, 1961
- Roberts, Mark D. "Leading a Church in Challenging Financial Times". Patheos.
- Mayberry, Mark. "What about Church Buildings?". Truth Magazine.
- Bays, Daniel (2012). A New History of Christianity in China. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 182, 190–195.
- Atkerson, Steve (2005). House Church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural. USA: 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 1-933750-26-X.
- Jacomb-Hood, Anthony (2014). Rediscovering the New Testament Church. Omaha: Ekklesia Press. ISBN 978-1-938480-10-2.
- MacHaffie, Barbara J. (2006). Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition (2nd Edition). 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. 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.