‘House Churches’: Helpful or Harmful to the Body of Christ?
‘According to David, there is a strong Biblical case for meeting in homes. We asked a few pertinent questions.
Q: WHY ARE YOU INVLOVED IN HOUSE CHURCH?
In Jerusalem they met in homes and Paul started most, if not all, of his churches in the homes of members. There are also practical reasons including a greater intimacy, a family atmosphere, stronger discipleship and the low cost of starting a new church.
There is nothing special about the house as a meeting place. We actually do not talk about house churches much – we call them simple churches because they are simple to start and replicate. We have seen churches start in homes, in businesses, public parks, under trees, in schools and even on busses. Church can meet wherever a group of people want to worship and obey Christ.
Q: ARE’NT MOST WESTERNISED HOUSE CHURCHES JUST MADE UP OF HURTING OR OFFENDED PEOPLE WHO HAVE LEFT THEIR LOCAL CHURCHES?
There are many reactionary house churches out there. Some people, angry with their pastors, have formed groups that meet in homes. But not every church that meets in a house is the same, as not every church that meets in a church building is the same. It’s all about foundations. If a church is established on criticism and bitterness, it will not last long.
Paul is clear that church planters have a responsibility to build on the foundation of Christ (1Cor 3:11). I have no interest in being reactionary. Many of my friends are pastors of congregational churches and sincere followers of Christ. I love them and serve them wherever I can.
Some of them are beginning to partner with us to plant ’Simple Churches’ amongst people who would never attend their congregational churches. Simple church is able to reach those people because it goes to them instead of waiting for them to come to us.
Q: DON’T SIMPLE CHURCHES BECOME LITTLE GROUPS CUT OFF FROM THE REST OF THE BODY OF CHRIST?
Every natural family is part of an extended family. The same is true for spiritual families. Networking is very important for a simple church. Isolated churches of any kind are unhealthy. We build networks of leaders who meet regularly.
We also have a variety of ways to cross-pollinate with one another, including celebrations, teaching meetings, gatherings for men or women, birthday parties, special outings, etc.
Q: YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT CHURCH PPLANTING. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
We train every member in our churches to make disciples of those who do not know Christ. This results in new followers of Christ, which often results in new churches. When new churches are started, people are free to leave or remain with their original groups. In the last six months we saw over 75 new churches start in South Africa with an attendance of between 10-40 people. Some grow larger.
These are only the churches that we are tracking – there are others in other movements. The new churches started mostly with unchurched people. We also do not control or dictate the size of the churches. When planting new churches is the goal, they never grow too large because they are continually sending out members.
Q: HOW DO YOU PREVENT HERETICAL TEACHING?
This is not a simple church problem, but a wider one affecting the whole Body of Christ. The best defence against false doctrine is for every believer to be firmly grounded in the Word of God. In our churches, we read the Word every week, discuss it and encourage obedience to it. Our leadership is empowering, not controlling. This atmosphere makes it very difficult for anyone to impose false teachings on the groups.
Q: WHO IS THE ‘PASTOR’ OF A TYPICAL SIMPLE CHURCH?
Simple churches do not have pastors in the sense of the congregational church model. Rather, networks of churches develop shared leadership teams of elders and deacons as well as the gifts found in Ephesians 4:11-16.
This leadership serves the churches by encouraging and mentoring. Think of a sports coach. He does not play the game, but coaches the team to play the game. Simple churches are teams of players, not spectators. Everyone is involved in minstry.
Q: HOW IS IT CONTROLLED? HOW DO YOU HOLD LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE?
History has taught us that we cannot control people. When we try, they simply get frustrated, leave and start a new church down the road! True leadership is through example and inspiration.
Leaders are servants. When people deviate from the truth, leaders also need to rebuke and discipline. In a relational setting, this correction is much more successful and easily received. True accountability can only be achieved inside strong, healthy relationships.
Q: WHAT DO YOU TEACH?
The Bible. I know this sounds overly simplistic, but we literally follow the Word of God as closely as possible. Every discipleship group and every church reads the Bible every week and encourages obedience to the Word. Obedience is more important than knowledge. Obedience to the Word is taught, modelled and practised.
People hold one another accountable for growing in obedience to the Word and to Christ. When we fail, which we often do, we pray for and encourage one another. There is a lot of Grace, a lot of acceptance and a lot of laughter.
Q: DOES EACH CHURCH HAVE ITS OWN VISION?
All church visions ultimately come back to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. We simply stick to this as our vision and mission statement. What greater mission can we have than the one that Jesus gave us? Jesus tells us to go, to make disciples, to baptise and to teach obedience.
The Simple churches that we see starting up around the nation do this more effectively than the congregational churches that I used to lead before.
Q: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH TITHING AND GIVING?
Our overheads for doing church are very low. Often our teachers, elders and mentors are unpaid, ordinary people. We teach and encourage people to give to the poor, especially to Christian ministries that serve the poor. Every week the groups serve needs amongst one another and sometimes this includes financial giving.
We strongly encourage giving towards church planting. We also encourage honouring elders and teachers financially, according to 1Timothy 5:17 and Galatians 6:6. This does not always mean paying a salary.
Q: WHO ARE THE CHURCHES ALIGNED TO?
Simple churches do not usually align with denominations. Some are completely independent, which is not healthy. Others are aligned to existing congregational churches. The ones we start are mostly connected in networks that align with a church planting team.
Church Planting teams have coaches and mentors. Once a network of churches matures and develops its own leadership, the church planting team will withdraw and act in a mentoring capacity.
Q: HOW DO PEOPLE JOIN?
We don’t grow churches by adding people. We rather plant new churches. Too much of our Western Christianity is about trying to grow churches by taking members from other churches. We don’t target Christians. If a Christian wants to join us, he or she immediately gets promoted to church planter.
We will assist this person to start a new church by coaching and mentoring the process. We are always on the lookout for workers. Every one of our members prays daily for workers to go into the harvest fields and make disciples of the unchurched (Luke 10:2).
Q: ARE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES INVOLVED IN PLANTING SIMPLE CHURCHES?
When we started out planting simple churches from normal congregational life, we thought it would be an easy transition. We discovered the words of Jesus in John 12:24 to be true, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it can bear no fruit.” We had to die to a lot of Western church culture and personal ambition before we saw the beginnings of a church planting movement. It was not easy.
So if a church and its leadership are prepared to let go of these things, they will be able to see church planting movements birthed. We are partnering with some congregational churches that have a desire to see their communities turn to Christ.