Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

Although the physical context for house church meetings is often unconventional, the basic structure is similar: Scripture reading, personal sharing, prayer, worship and—almost universally—eating together. And theologically, house churches tend to be overwhelmingly conservative—in faith and practice.

"There's a strong, traditional, classic, evangelical theology and biblical foundation," Tony Dale explains. "What's happening isn't so much that people's theology is changing, but their ecclesiology is changing. They're beginning to think of church as a living, vibrant organism."

In a recent interview with Ministry Today, Barna, who calls the new simple church advocates "revolutionaries," cites some of their spiritual habits: "Revolutionaries ...

  • donate almost twice as much money every year for religious purposes as do non-revolutionary born-again Christians."
  • are three times more likely to study the Bible every day."
  • are more than three times more likely to have family Bible studies every day as non-revolutionary born agains who are married and have kids."
  • are slightly less than twice as likely to believe in moral absolutes."
  • are almost twice as likely to believe Satan is real, not just a symbol of evil."

    Barna's prediction is not so much that this movement will supercede the traditional church, but that it will influence it—for better—and that it will challenge leaders in the traditional church to rethink paradigms for spiritual growth and discipleship.

    "Any good leader is looking to the future. What we're looking at is a future in which alternative forms of faith community will be prevalent—which says that, if I'm the pastor or leader in a conventional church, I need to think about making that transition," he argues. "I would begin working with youth and children to prepare them for a different type of church."

    But as Cole warns, the house church movement will always be challenged to resist the natural gravity of institutionalism. His solution? A "theology of death"—an idea that has applications outside the boundaries of the house church movement. Applied to the church, Cole argues that, if a church survives only a year—but gives birth to two other churches—it's healthier than a congregation that lasts 15 years and never reproduces.

    "We've come to realize that there are some words of Christ that relate to this: 'If you hold on to your life, you lose it; if you lose it for My sake, you'll save it,'" he explains. "We need to build into our structures the truth that we do not want to stay alive forever. We will never make plans to keep ourselves alive—this is the sin of self-preservation. We're no longer trying to keep church alive. Once you start talking about a career, you've already died."

    While Kreider reflects this same caution of institutionalism, he's also concerned that house churches face the same challenge of the charismatic/Pentecostal movement of 30 years ago—that of ridicule and persecution from traditional church leaders who may not see the Spirit's activity in this unconventional new model.

    "I'm concerned that those of us who are more traditional—who may come from a more conventional model—may persecute this next move of God," he says. "And that those of us involved in house churches would not get puffed up with pride. It's an important way, but not the only way. I find myself in a vulnerable place. I have a lot of history with megachurches and community churches—but I have a heart for this new generation."

    Matt Green is a former editor of Ministry Today who now works with Pioneers, a missions organization based in Orlando.
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