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?
A friend of mine texted me Wednesday night. He was on Thanksgiving vacation, had met with an old friend and two of his buddies, he shared the Gospel, and his friend’s two buddies gave their life to Christ. Amazing! These are the kind of stories we live for.
But my buddy took the process two steps farther. First, he set up plans to baptize the two new believers and did so two days later. This alone is a huge step because many would have waited. It was something he’s seen done and he’s done himself. This was the easy part.
The second step was he sat down with these three guys (his friend and the two new converts) and instructed them for a couple of hours on how to follow Jesus. My friend shared with them simple steps that they can do over and over that will grow them up into mature disciples. My friend has helped these guys go from unbelievers to disciples of Jesus in a couple of days.
My point is this: It’s great to be able to share the Gospel with someone, but you also have to have a discipleship path for people that you can train them in quickly and they can do themselves. Will these guys be the start of a church? It’s hard to say at this point. But they could be if they decide to walk out the path my friend set out of them.
How about you? If you were in my friend’s situation, could you not only lead them to Christ, but baptize them? And if you got that far, would you be able to sit down and explain to them how to grow into maturity? Could the new converts be the basis for a new church? If the answers to some of these questions are no, then you may be seeing why we see very few movements of people coming to Christ in our country.
What we need are empowered believers to share the Gospel. We need believers who can and do baptize others. We need simple, repeatable discipleship patterns that can exist without a curriculum but can change lives. And what we need, friends, is a church that is easily planted.