Simple Church Networks in Europe (And What it Means for the United States)
Simple Church Europe just released its findings of its latest survey. The survey is an attempt by the leaders of the organization to uncover meaningful trends in the house church movement in Europe. You can get the full survey by following by jumping to their website here.
I won’t quote much of the 21 page report because, though it won’t cost you any money, Simple Church Europe does want you to download the report straight from their site. It’s important to look at their conclusions because the United States is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation, much like Europe. Their findings will greatly help us in the future.
The report actually breaks down three types of house church networks that exist in Europe:
- (a) Apostolic networks: simple church groups started by an apostolic worker ‘straight in the harvest’, mostly along the lines of the instructions Jesus gave his disciples in Luke 10 (planting a new simple church group in a household/social circle instead of inviting people to an existing church meeting). These networks are primarily made up of new believers who just heard about Jesus, are being discipled, and win others to plant new groups.
- (b) Bridge networks: simple church groups made up of existing Christians who intentionally seek to be ‘missional’. They try to build relationships with non-believers, often using conventional forms of evangelism and a ‘come to us’ approach.
- (c) Christian networks: simple church groups formed by existing Christians who mainly seek a more relational and participatory alternative for conventional church. These groups tend to be inward-focused and sometimes reactionary: seeing their way of church as more biblical and healthy than the churches they come from.”
Not surprisingly, apostolic networks grew at a faster rate than Bridge networks and Christian Networks (which as best as I can determine are more like small groups that have a larger meeting once a week). Apostolic networks see house church groups dissolve at a slightly higher rate as well. The most encouraging finding, however, is that apostolic networks see the highest number of conversions among people from previously non-Christian backgrounds.
What this points to is that fact that Luke 10-style church planting (Person of Peace, building on relationships around that person of peace, etc.) is both risky and incredibly rewarding for the Kingdom. Not surprisingly, the authors of the study suggest that bridge networks and Christian networks learn from the apostolic networks in a way that causes Kingdom expansion.
What does that mean for us? No research of this kind has been done in the United States, but these stories seem familiar from what I’ve seen in the house church movement in the United states. All three types of networks exist here and are growing. The major difference between our context and Europe is Europe’s population is much more secular than ours.
I think one of the major points this report emphasizes is the need to learn from apostolic workers who are building house church networks accoridng to the Luke 10 principle. Everywhere I see significant Kingdom expansion happening in the house church movement, this seems to be the model.
I think this report also highlights the tendency of churches that are not started out of the harvest to draw on already existing relationships with believers or those with a Christian background to fill our churches. We definitely want a place for everyone to belong and be equipped. But if our concern is for the harvest then those starting house churches among primarily Christians (myself included) need to adjust our models and strategies for church planting in the future. We want to avoid doing ministry that only attracts Christians and focus on those activities that are bringing lost individuals to Jesus.
This also highlights a great need however in the house church-community-at-large. That need is for those with apostolic and evangelistic giftings to seriously consider training and equipping others. Without more apostolic and evangelistic giftings functioning in and training our house churches, we will continue to draw people but we may not impact the Kingdom significantly. This will also require a significant amount of humility on the part of existing house churches, because until now many house churches have been reluctant to accept this kind of help.
I would love to know what you think. Does this survey reflect your experience with house churches in the United States? If you are participating in a non-apostolic house church network, are there changes that need to be made to grow in apostolic methods? What are the hindrances to that? Jump to the survey here, read it, and come back and let me know your thoughts.
If you’re looking for more information on the house church movement in the United States you can check out my previous post on house church stats here or pick up the book Missional House Churches, by J.D. Payne (Amazon Affiliate Link).