Tuesday, June 13, 2006

House churches

Oddly enough, I spotted this one on FARK:

Home Churches Growing Increasingly Popular as Worship Alternative
(AgapePress) - Church and culture analyst George Barna, founder of The Barna Group, says millions of Christians are leaving conventional churches to meet in homes. According to the researcher, about 50 million American adults meet in home churches at least once a month, and the numbers choosing this option are on the increase.

Barna says home churches are a growing trend among Christians who want to "be" the church, not just attend church. Many who join such groups do so, he explains, because they are seeking greater depth in relationships and more commitment to spirituality than they may have found in traditional church settings.

Home churches often do not have traditional settings and can vary, depending on what the members contribute from week to week or what they feel led to discuss and pray about at any given time. Barna himself started attending a home church a year ago, and he admits that this style of fellowship can have its weaknesses.

"There are some challenges, of course," the Christian researcher says. "You've got the possibilities of bad teaching and errant theology creeping into the process, but we already have that happening in churches today. So we're going to have a lot of the same challenges that we've always had -- it's just an issue of who's going to resolve them."

Barna predicts that the home-church movement will continue to grow. He also predicts this increasingly popular alternative to traditional churches will prompt many Christians to take their faith more seriously and to avoid depending on clergy for spiritual growth.

Leaders Who Left Traditional Churches: Why They Chose to Go 'Home'

South Carolina home-church leader Doug Shales vows he will never go back to traditional church, which he left more than a year ago to start meeting with about 20 other believers of a variety of ages and church backgrounds. Every Sunday evening, they meet in his home to eat, worship, pray, and teach one another from the Bible. There is no preacher and no structured format for the group's services.

Shales says he left the traditional church because he felt its structure was contrary to the model he found in scripture. "To me, I just could not reconcile it at all with anything biblical to just have three or four people ministering to three or four hundred, and having the spiritual life of those three or four hundred pretty much hanging on what those three or four people give them," he says.

"It's just not the way that I understand the Holy Spirit wants to work in our lives," the home-church leader says. So, instead, he and the other members of his small congregation seek understanding, mutual accountability, and spiritual growth together.

Shale says most problems faced by the home church are logistical. For instance, he notes, members have to consider issues such as how to give and how to grow new churches. But in many ways, he notes, the size of these congregations can contribute to a more intimate style of problem-solving that involves everyone.

Author and former pastor, Rev. Chip Brogden, a home-church leader in North Carolina, considers home churches a necessary part of the Christian community. He believes this style of Christian fellowship is filling some of the gaps left by traditional churches.

Brogden says home churches can be a place for those who have been hurt by the traditional church or for those who do not want to be distracted from Christ by a complex church structure. But he cautions Christians not to differentiate themselves from one another based on what kind of structure they choose for their worship and association with fellow believers.

"Whether they're in the church building or outside of the church building, we're all still brothers and sisters," the North Carolina minister says. "We're just going about the life of Christ and how we see the life of the body of Christ differently from the more traditional way of going about it."

Home churches allow Christians to see the body of Christ as more than just a local fellowship, Brogden says. Also, he adds, such churches give members the chance to gather with believers of different denominational backgrounds from their own.

Obviously, home churches serve a function that their members consider desirable and perhaps vital to their spiritual nourishment and well being. And if many believers who have chosen to leave traditional churches for what this alternative has to offer are any indication, the home-church trend has already begun to change the face of contemporary Christianity.

The FARK headline was mocking, of course, implying that kooky Christian home-schoolers were retreating from society even further and "home-churching." When I read that, I had the impression they meant that there was a movement among families to have private family worship instead of attending regular weekly services at a church building somewhere. This wouldn't surprise me, necessarily, but I thought it was odd that it would show up on FARK.com... but then when I read it, I realized the article was just describing the house-church movement that has been spreading like wildfire through the rest of the world -- and it looks like it has finally begun taking root in the USA.

'Bout time. This is a movement whose time has come -- literally. It provides an autonomy that the traditional church has long left behind, a much truer picture of what the very first church must've been like.

It will be interesting to see what God has in store for us; it's entirely possible that we will be directly involved in this movement.

In many parts of the world, Christians have no choice but to meet in this manner... and must do so in the face of severe governmental and societal persecution. The courage of the Chinese Christians and the Saudi Christians and the Indian Christians puts us soft-bodied Americans to shame.

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