More Than A Small Group…
Often when we meet other believers and they find out we meet in homes, they begin to tell us about their experiences in small groups that are part of their church experience. Often, I’m actually thankful for this, because I recognize that this is their way of trying to relate to what we do. It’s a bit of verbal and social hospitality that is an attempt to bridge the gap between what we do and what they do.
While I appreciate all of the kindness and I totally see some of the similarities (especially as they relate to size and group dynamics) I think it’s really important to point out that house churches are a bit more than small groups. Yes, they meet in homes like small groups. Yes, they are small groups of people, just like small groups. But that’s where the similarities start to end1.
House churches are a different animal because….
….they are responsible for extending the church in their relational networks and their region. They grow through evangelism and witness, not through attracting new believers from the larger church.
….they are spiritual families. They live life together and support each other, like families do. They are more than just a meeting once a week.
…they are responsible for each other. There’s no other immediate group of believers that will encourage, support, rebuke, love, or edify the members of a house church. It’s up to each house church to take care of the members of its body.
…the curriculum is the Bible. There’s no Bible study manual or teaching series spread around to the other house churches. The content that is produced results from each member’s time in the Word and relationship with the Holy Spirit.
…they don’t have a program. They are the program. Gathering together and following the Holy Spirit wherever he leads as He builds the church is the program.
…they do what a church does. They devote themselves to the gospel, they fellowship together, they eat together, they pray together, they baptize new believers, they practice communion. Whatever a church does, they do.
Why is this important? Why the need for distinction? Clarity helps us pursue the right things. I want you to plant a house church, but you’ll take different steps to get to a house church than you would to start a small group. How you build up the church, make disciples, teach each other, and take communion will change depending on whether you believe your group is a church or just a short term collection of Christians who may be committed to other things.
So, are you part of a small group or part of something more?
Photo Credit: IMG_1205-Edit.jpg by MjZ Photography
Hi Travis! An enlightening post. I have attended a ‘connect group’ as part of a larger church, but the distinctions you made in the post helped me to see how house churches are different in certain ways. Thanks! Blessings, Steven 😊
Thanks for stopping by, subscribing, and joining us for the journey. Glad this post was helpful for you. I hope to be a blessing as we go…so always let me know if you have questions or thoughts. We grow better together.
The reason I do house church is that we are called to give our lives to each other, to know and be known, to be accountable to each other and to hold each other accountable, to get to know each other in real ways — which is very time consuming and challenging and requires real commitment and a place of high priority in our lives. As we do these things, together we will be Jesus to the world around us. I have found that living a life like that is difficult to do in a group of 10 or 20. It is very difficult in a church of 100 and virtually impossible in a larger group. Unfortunately, most churches (and, to be honest, most house churches, I think) are built on the idea that if you get together one or more times a week in a meeting, that constitutes loving each other the way God has commanded us to. I have been a member in a number of regular churches, and involved in small groups in virtually all of them, and I have seen and read a lot about church small groups — and almost all of them are founded on the principle that relationship is important in the church and so they set up another meeting where people can gather in small groups so that they can have “relationships”. In house church, we claim we are having real relationships because we also gather for a meal before or after the “meeting.”
In my experience, people in these church small groups genuinely care for each other and for the Lord, but there is seldom much commitment to each other outside of regularly (maybe) coming to the meeting. And that is the distinction between a church small group (or for that matter, most churches and many house churches) and a healthy house church. In a healthy house church — our lives are wrapped up in each other because we are the body of Christ, and no one part of the body can effectively function without intimate and regular connection with the rest of the body. Again, I write “house church” here because, although this type of “body-life” is conceptually possible in a larger church, it is difficult to maintain, and, I think, seldom found. As I said, I have found it difficult to find and maintain this type of body-life even in a house church setting.
I love this and always, you are very on point. There are even house churches (unhealthy ones) that don’t share a life and are very meeting focused. I’ve seen it. Often we keep dancing around the fact that no matter the structure, we have to stop seeing church as something for us to serve our needs and start seeing it as a people who God deeply loves and we have to walk in relationship with.
And you’re right. It’s hard to do in a large group. The kind of intensity that you have to love people with to do it well is too big for a big group. The bigger the group, the harder it is.
Part of the key, I have to believe, is continually going back to be filled by Jesus with the love the Father gives. I know when I touch that realm, its easier to love well and freely. I need to be reminded of that every day. We can’t pull of Acts 2 or true community or house church outside of the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s an impossible reality.
Travis: Thanks for the reminder that the key is Jesus. I forget that it is Jesus who builds his church and it is the Spirit who is the source of the life in the church. I usually try to make God’s church happen in my own strength. And that is, I am sure, where my discouragement happens.
My family moved to East Asia and we’re trying to have a house church. At the moment, my family only is involved. I have been a member of a small group but it was part of a larger congregation. However, I noticed I grew closer to the people in my small group and we were growing together. Thanks for the insightful post.
Thanks for stopping by and reading! I so appreciate your writings and it’s great to have another fellow writer stop by. Also, I’m encouraged to hear you’re starting a house church and I’ll be praying for you and your family. I know those early days are sometimes difficult, especially when it’s just you and your family and no others from outside. Keep being faithful and ask the Holy Spirit for opportunities to share the Gospel with others. Sometimes new believers are the best soil for churches that start in our homes and the best place to find them are folks who look like they don’t belong in a regular church. 🙂