For Kreider, a church without a leader is not fully a church—in much the same way that a family without a father is not fully a family.
"Local churches are much more than two believers at Starbucks," he explains. "They can be, if there's a sense of godly authority and leadership. But families need parents, and the church is a family. To assume that a bunch of kids without parents is a family is an incorrect assumption."
Kreider argues that the governmental aspect of leadership has "gotten a bad rap" because of abusive leaders—but that it's no excuse to embrace an anarchistic or isolationist view of church.
"Whether we like it or not, we have to have some form of leadership," he notes. "I have to govern my family, my checkbook."
REAL-WORLD ENTRY POINT
In a culture increasingly skeptical of top-down leadership, the house church movement's democratized view of authority is attractive to the jaded. But equally significant are house churches' ability to provide a "customized" model of worshipping God that avoids the enculturated stereotypes of institutional church.
"The world is interested in Jesus; it is His wife they don't want to spend time with," Neil Cole observes in his book, Organic Church. "We tell people they must take the bitter pill of 'church' if they want to even hear about Jesus. Most would rather die of the disease than consume the medicine."
Of course, this concept is nothing new. From Christian rock concerts and skateboard demonstrations to fishing trips and Halloween alternative parties, congregations have found new ways to lure church-wary unbelievers into "safe" environments where they can be evangelized.
But house church advocates do not see a need for these entry-level venues where the uninitiated can warm up to the idea of joining the institutional church. "Why not bring the church to the sinner?" they ask. With that philosophy in hand, micro-church planters have launched congregations in dorm rooms, parking lots, restaurants, health clubs and even bars.
While some who participate in these "congregations" may end up attending a traditional church at some point, house church advocates contend all of the elements of biblical ecclesiology can be present in a group of two or three people just as effectively as two or three thousand people. And the small-group dynamic provides a low-risk environment for both the seeker and the skeptic.
"My wife leads a house church, the majority of whose attendees are first-generation Christians. The majority would not have gone and do not go to a conventional church," Kreider explains, but he also recalls an instance in which some unsaved people were befriended by house-church members, invited to services—and then shocked to find out they were attending church. "We also have people who have grown up Roman Catholic and left it years ago—and congregations made up of pre-Christians."
It is this flexibility and openness that allows house churches to multiply in what some describe as a "viral" manner. Traditional church planting has often been carried out with an "addition" model. One congregation or denomination raises money that is in turn dumped into a single church plant in a geographical area deemed ripe for the picking. Problem is, this high-capital, high-risk model sometimes fails, resulting in disillusioned church planters who wonder why vast resources, savvy marketing and even a good dose of prayer didn't spell success.
"What we need is new wineskins," Kreider says. "There's a harvest coming, and we need to be prepared to bring it in. To do this, God will raise up saints to be ministers. The problem is that many times people are too busy in church programs that they don't have time to be Christians. We need church-planting movements worldwide that will reproduce."
Additionally helpful to the growth curve, many house churches carry the DNA of the fastest-growing segment of the global church: the charismatic/Pentecostal experience. While many house churches would not identify themselves as "charismatic" or "Pentecostal," spirit-filled expressions are often commonplace in home-based congregations.
And house-church advocates tend to be more open toward this type of activity—regardless of their denominational heritage. Barna's research reflects this openness toward the gifts of the Spirit. Among the house church participants he surveyed, 58 percent of their meetings have a prophecy or special word delivered.
"I was taught cessationist doctrine," Cole notes. "But our team of leaders began to question that and searched out what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit and made some pretty revolutionary decisions."