More Americans are choosing to worship in small, informal gatherings instead of attending traditional churches. Called “house churches,” “simple churches” or “organic churches,” they are a modern attempt to recapture the spirit of the first-century church, when small groups of Christians gathered in each other’s homes and each person – male or female – contributed to worship. Today’s house churches are generally regular gatherings of fewer than 20 people meeting in a member’s home, or sometimes a local theater or bar during off hours. They are peer-led and have at least one belief in common: Where two or more are gathered in his name, there is church.
While house churches have long been a part of the underground worship scene in countries without freedom of religion, their numbers appear to be growing in the United States. By how much, it’s not clear. A June 2006 Barna Report says that in a typical week, 9 percent of U.S. adults attend house churches – up from one percent in 1996 – and that 70 million U.S. adults have had some experience with a house church. Some say that’s too high, but worship attendance has always been difficult to count, and the informal nature of house churches makes it even harder.
House churches have plenty of critics. Some worry that without denominational oversight, they are fertile grounds for spiritual or sexual abuse. Others question their theology because they have no trained clergy. And some say that as house church networks develop, they are maturing into the same type of institutional religion that they say they are rejecting.
Why it matters
House churches are a part of the post-modern trend in Christian worship that is marked by the breaking down and re-imagining of traditional forms of worship. The house church movement – and the broader emerging church movement – has the potential to reshape the mainstream way of doing church.
Questions for reporters
Why is the house church movement growing? What attracts people to house churches? What is the response of leaders of traditional churches to house churches? What kind of internal structures do house church members construct to protect themselves? What does the future of the house church movement look like?
Jump to background
HOUSE/SIMPLE CHURCH ORGANIZATIONS ON THE WEB
• Church Multiplication Associates will host its first Organic Church Movement Conference in Long Beach, Calif., in January 2007.
• Dawn Ministries is a nonprofit group working to plant house churches around the world.
• The Early Church maintains a state-by-state list of house churches.
• House2House is a webzine about the house church/simple church movement.
• House Church Central is an online resource for those who run and worship in house churches. It maintains a worldwide directory of house churches that can be searched by city, state and county. Contact Herb Drake, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• House-Church.org is the Web site of the Chigwell Christian Fellowship, a network of house churches in Essex, England. Deleted: an English house church group that The network holds workshops on house churches in the United States.
• House Church Dot Org is the Web site of the Home Church Discussion List. Contact email@example.com.
• House Church Network Association is a Web site that supports the planting of house churches in North America. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The House Church Network is a resource for house churches operated by David and Carolynn Anderson in Bristol, Tenn. Contact 423- 538-7897, email@example.com.
• The New Testament Restoration Foundation seeks to restore first-century house church practices with the Bible as sole religious authority. It maintains a state-by-state list of house churches. Contact Stephen Atkerson, 404-351-6340, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Rebuilders is a resource ministry for planting first-century-style worship in home churches. It is run by Milt Rodriguez and is based in Cedaredge, Colo. Contact 970-856-6492, email@example.com.
• Relational Christianity is dedicated to the planting and support of house churches.
• George Barna is the author of Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary (Tyndale, 2005). He is also the founder of The Barna Group, a polling organization that focuses on American religion. It is based in Ventura, Calif. Contact 805-639-0000.
• Bill Tenny-Brittian writes for the House Church Network Association. He says people say they join house churches for reasons of intimacy, the ability to participate more fully and the level of discipleship opportunities. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Paul and Lori Byerly publish House2House, a webzine for home church planters and members. They also conduct seminars and workshops on home churches. They are based in Manchaca, Texas. Contact 512-282-2322.
• Neil Cole is a church starter and pastor, and founder and executive director of Church Multiplication Associates, which has helped start more than 700 churches in 32 states and 23 nations. He is the author of Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (Jossey-Bass, 2005). He describes how to plant churches in nontraditional places – bars, neighborhoods, etc. Contact email@example.com.
• Tony and Felicity Dale are the authors of Simply Church (Karis Publishing, 2002). Both the Dales helped launch House2House.com, a support network for house churches. Tony agrees with George Barna’s theory that the current move toward house churches is a “third reformation” of Christianity. The Dales live in Austin, Texas. Contact 512-828-8124, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Robert Fitts is a church planter and author of The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity (Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001). He lives in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Contact 808-334-9682, email@example.com.
• Dan Hubbell is a member of a house church in Winnsboro, Texas, near Dallas. He also runs a house church support Web site called Church Restoration and has helped plant house churches in the U.S. and four foreign countries, including China. He says China is currently experiencing the largest boom in house churches, with more than 100 million people meeting in house churches. Contact 903-342-5615, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Wayne Jacobsen is the founder of Lifestream Ministries, an organization dedicated to “relational Christianity,” including house churches. He contributes to Relational Christianity, a Web site that supports house churches. He is based in Moorpark, Calif. Contact 805-529-1728, email@example.com.
• Todd Johnson is director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. He wrote an article on house churches for the Encyclopedia of Protestantism (Routledge, 2003). Contact 978-468-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• D. Allan Karr is director of the Nehemiah Project in church planting, a joint venture of the North American Mission Board and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is an associate professor of church planting. He lives in Denver. He told Time magazine that he estimates that three out of 10 churches founded today are simple churches and that their odds of survival are better than for the other seven. Contact 303-779-6431, email@example.com.
• Dan Mayhew is the editor of Church@Home Newsletter and a member of Summit Fellowships, a support network of house churches in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash. He foresees a stream of house churches that will mimic the traditional approach to church by becoming centralized and market-driven, and he predicts a “new set of Christian celebrities” that will come out of house churches. He is based in Portland, Ore., and writes a blog. Contact 503-287-6905, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Brian McLaren is a well-known expert on post-modern Christianity. He has helped plant churches. In 2008, he will lead regional workshops called Deep Shift 2008 aimed at church planters and worship leaders. Contact through Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126, email@example.com.
• Frank Viola is the founder of Present Testimony Ministry and the author of several books on house churches. He lives in Gainesville, Fla. Contact Violabooks@aol.com.
• John White is the U.S. coordinator of Dawn Ministries, a group that supports house churches and house church networks. He and his wife attend a house church in Denver that has about 15 members and that considers itself evangelical. Contact DenverWH@aol.com.
• L. Michael White is a professor in classics and religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also director of the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins. He is an expert on house churches in the first century. Contact 512-232-1438, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• A Barna Report survey released Jan. 8, 2007 found that people say they find house churches more satisfying than traditional churches in four major areas: leadership, faith commitment, personal and community connectedness, and spiritual depth.
• House Church Dot Org maintains a list of New Testament Scripture in which the word “house” appears.
• Read a Feb. 27, 2006, Time magazine article about house churches.
• Read an Oct. 5, 2006, article in the South Bend Tribune about house churches. It’s posted by the webzine Relational Christianity.
• Voices in the Wilderness is a magazine that was published in the late 1980s and early 1990s by a group of people from Salem Community Church, Salem, Mass. It was intended to support home churches and intentional communities.
• Read the Barna Report that shows that 9 percent of Americans attend house churches.
• See an April 10, 2006, ReligionLink issue on the emergent church movement.
IN THE NORTHEAST
• Back to the Garden is a rotating house church in Saco, Maine. Contact email@example.com.
• The Fellowship of Church Planters, Rhode Island, is an organization of house church planters in New England. Contact via the Web site.
IN THE EAST
• Stephanie Bennett writes about the home church/simple church movement for the webzine Relational Christianity and for AOL Hometown. She lives in Brick, N.J. Contact Steffasong@aol.com.
• David and Kristin O’Connor have been involved in house churches for 15 years. They live in the Philadelphia area. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Tom Howland is a member of Churchin’ in Albany, a house church in Albany, N.Y. Contact 518-857-3519, email@example.com.
• The Finger Lakes Ekklesia Network is an organization of four house churches in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Felipe and Yanique Mesa have just started a house church in Taneytown, Md. Contact 443-536-1971, MDekklesia@aol.com.
• Jared Looney is a church planter involved in house churches in the Bronx, N.Y. He is part of MetroSoul, a cooperative organization of church organizations and church planters working to plant simple churches throughout the New York metropolitan area. He blogs at Urban Ekklesia. Contact 718-741-2881, email@example.com.
IN THE SOUTHEAST
• AtlantaSaints.com is a group of Christian men, women and children who meet for worship in their homes. Neil Carter is a teacher and Web site designer who is a member of this group who blogs. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Marshall Entrekin runs a house church in Kennesaw, Ga. Contact 404-431-4272.
• Mike Morrell and Philip Scriber are members of a network of house churches in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. Together, they maintain Sites Unseen, a Web site dedicated to emerging church. Contact Morrell at email@example.com and Scriber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN THE SOUTH
• Greg Ramos is the leader of Baruch Assembly, a house church in Kenner, La. They met regularly until Katrina and are currently restructuring. Contact 504-305-1088.
• Mike and Christie Indest run Fellowship of Believers, a house church organization in Folsom, La., and a weekly radio show on the subject. Contact 985-796-1602, email@example.com.
IN THE MIDWEST
• Nancy Austel is a house church planter in Indiana. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• David and Joscey Brecheisen are part of Church in Home, a Michigan-based church planting organization, and are church planters involved in house churches in Chicago. They publish a newsletter. Contact 773-722-0631, email@example.com.
• Kevin Rains operates Vineyard Central, a community of house churches in the Cincinnati area. He left a Vineyard Church for a series of house churches in the 1990s. He likens the growth of house churches, and their organization into local networks without any kind of larger oversight, to the growth of the World Wide Web. He lives in Norwood, Ohio. Contact 513-396-7202, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Matt and Tammy Mawdsley run a house church in Springfield, Mo. Contact 417-581-3206, email@example.com.
IN THE SOUTHWEST
• Joseph Cartwright is the founder of Awakening Church, a ministry dedicated to planting and supporting house churches. He is working to get house churches to give more generously to the poor and to missions. He is in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Jon Dale is an entrepreneur and father of three who left a 10,000-plus-member megachurch for house churches in 2001. He blogs at Simply Church and is located outside Colorado Springs, Colo. Contact 719-244-1342, email@example.com.
• Mike Dowgiewicz is part of Restoration Ministries International, a nonprofit that assists groups in forming and supporting house churches. He and his wife have traveled to Israel to research the first house churches. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. Contact 719-573-4911.
• Don and Te-ata Mueller are part of a house church in Cedaredge, Colo. Contact 970-856-7532.
• The Praise House is a house church in Broken Arrow, Okla. Contact 918-355-2647, firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN THE WEST/NORTHWEST
• Brian Anderson is a member of a house church in Sonora, Calif. He also runs a Web site, Great Commission House Churches. Contact 209-586-4143.
• Harold and Wendy Behr plant house churches in Southern Oregon. Harold blogs at Simple Church. Contact email@example.com.
• Ken Cluck left traditional pastoral ministry to plant house churches. He runs a house church in Orofino, Idaho. In January, he will be moving to Colorado to plant another house church. Contact 208-476-4994, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Rick Horton is the lead pastor and elder of Matthew’s House, a network of Southern California house churches based in Oceanside, Calif. Contact 760-295-5662.
• Gayle Erwin publishes Servant Quarters, a newsletter and Web site that supports home churches. He is based in Cathedral City, Calif. Contact 760-321-0077, email@example.com.
• Frank Smith is the founder of Crushed Grapes Ministry, a church planting ministry that helps people start home churches. He lives in Vista, Calif. Contact FSmithCGM@sbcglobal.net.
• Roger Thoman is a former nondenominational church pastor who has been involved in house churches for four years and now helps plant new ones. He says it used to be that people who attended house churches were “bitter” about their experience in traditional churches, but that now people are joining house churches for more positive reasons, such as wanting to deepen their faith. He lives in Nipomo, Calif. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.