By Bob Fitts, Sr.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus… Greet also the church that meets at their house (Rom 16:3-5).
“The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house” (1Cor 16:19).
“Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house” (Col 4:15).
“To Philemon, our dear friend… and to the church that meets in your home…” (Philem 1,2).
From the above scriptures it is clear that the early church met in houses. They were not what we might call a “church house.” They were houses that people lived in, and opened up as a meeting place for the church.
The early church did not have church buildings. Such buildings did not appear until the year 232 A.D. The most explosive period of church growth in history, until recently, took place during those early years when there were no church buildings.
However, right now, in China, there is an unusual move of the Spirit of God that is even greater than that early growth. This is happening without the use of church buildings. This revival is a house church movement.
The following excerpt is taken from the Caleb Report in the 1990 Jan./Feb. issue of MINISTRIES MAGAZINE. The report is given by Loren Cunningham, founder and president of YOUTH WITH A MISSION:
“According to the U.S. Center For World Mission, more than 22,000 Chinese are coming to Christ each day. That is the equivalent of seven days of Pentecost every 24 hours. It is happening right now. Most of this explosion of new belief is coming from China’s rural communities, where 80% of the population of China lives.
“Jonathan Chao, founder of the Chinese Church Research Center, told me how the Chinese revival is being spread by young people. They are mostly ages 15 to 19. The teenagers go to villages and share the gospel where it has never been heard before.
“As converts are organized into small groups, the teens call for the `elders’ (believers in their twenties) to come and teach the newly formed home church. At the same time the teenagers go on to reach the next village.
“Chinese pastors and teachers do not have financial barriers to spreading the Christian message. They live with the peasant farmers in each new area, and do not construct buildings. They have very little and need very little.
“By this simple means, the good news is leaping across the fields and mountains of China.”
The explosive church growth that is now going on in China has something in common with the growth in the early Church in the book of Acts. They were both a house church movement. This same kind of growth is seen in other countries today where church buildings are not allowed.
There is a simple principle expressed here: The more obstacles that we allow to hinder the planting of new churches, the more growth we will see.
I have had experience in both planting and pastoring house churches. I see some definite advantages to house church planting for church multiplication:
HOUSE CHURCHES ARE EASY TO START
To plant a house church you do not need to buy property or build a building. You will not need a pulpit, pews, hymn books or a piano. You can do without a baptistry, a Sunday School and a youth pastor.
You will not have to belong to a denomination or be incorporated. You will not have to meet on Sundays, have a church bulletin or meet in the same place every week.
You will not have to have a sign with the name of your church on it. It will not need a name. In fact, you do not even have to call it a “church” as long as you know that it is a church.
None of the above are bad or wrong, but neither are they necessary. The Apostle Paul used none of the above in his church planting ministry.
Many of our modern churches have left the simplicity of the New Testament and added so many extras, which are really not needed. Therefore, it has become more and more difficult to start a new church.
You cannot go to any country today where the Apostle Paul planted churches and point to a building and say, “There is the church of Corinth!” or “Look at that lovely building! That is the church of the Ephesians!” or “Here is the church of the Thessalonians!” There are no such buildings. So far as we know, the churches that Paul planted met in houses.
Ray Williams, a close personal friend, has been a missionary in Mexico for 25 years. He has been used of God to plant scores of churches in Mexico out of which hundreds of churches have been birthed.
He told me recently that he once started a church in a wheat field. That church has grown large. Out of it have come a multitude of “daughter and granddaughter churches,” each with a church planting vision.
We tend to make our churches too complex. God is calling us back to simplicity and ease of multiplication.
HOUSE CHURCH IS RELAXED AND INFORMAL
Several years ago I took my family to a church where the pastor was an outstanding Bible teacher. I loved the church and wanted to continue to attend. However, everyone there dressed in a style that my family could not afford.
Some people do not come to certain churches today because those churches have set the standard of dress too high. They have made church a “formal” event. Many who will not attend a formal type of church will attend a house church because it is more relaxed. It has a casual, family atmosphere.
In his book, UNDERSTANDING CHURCH GROWTH, Dr. Donald McGavran lists “Eight Keys To Church Growth In Cities”. The very first one gives us Dr. McGavran’s idea of the importance of planting and multiplying house churches. He states:
“The eight keys I am about to mention are not mere guesses. They describe principles on which church growth men agree.
“First, emphasize house churches. When the Church begins to grow, each congregation must soon find a place to assemble.
“The congregation should meet in the most natural surroundings. It should be a place where non-Christians can come with the greatest ease. It should encourage the converts themselves to carry on the services. Obtaining a place to assemble should not lay a financial burden on the little congregation.
“The house church meets all these requirements ideally. House churches should always be considered, both for initial planting and for later extension.”
HOUSE CHURCHES ARE EVANGELISTIC TOOLS
Dr. Peter Wagner is considered by many to be the foremost authority on church growth today. He says, “The best method under heaven for evangelism is church planting. There never was a better method and there never will be.”
SATURATION CHURCH PLANTING is the name given to the vision now being adopted by mission leaders worldwide.
A church that divides in order to multiply will experience addition. A church that has its focus only on addition will tend to bog down and stagnate.
The goal of many church leaders has been to try to make one very large congregation, rather than to multiply congregations. However, the church in any city will increase much more rapidly by multiplying congregations than it will by seeking to build one super congregation.
The largest church in the world is in Seoul, Korea, under the pastoral leadership of Dr. Yonggi Cho, who has applied this principle of multiplication. His church is evangelizing the city of Seoul in a remarkable way by multiplying congregations. These are called “cell groups.” They were willing to divide in order to multiply, and the addition has been incredible.
HOUSE CHURCHES FACILITATE TRAINING OF PASTORS AND LEADERS
Educators have understood for a long time that the best method of training is still the apprentice method. This is “one on one, hands on” training. It is what a blacksmith, plumber or lawyer would have received a hundred years ago. They learned by observing and doing while being accountable to a master in the trade.
This was Jesus’ method. His disciples learned by watching, listening and doing while they lived their lives with the master teacher Himself.
In house churches pastors can be trained to actually do the work of pastoring. At the same time they will be under the supervision of a senior pastor. They will grow as the church grows under their leadership.
Those pastors who have full-time paying jobs could continue to work until the church is able to support a pastor. Some will pastor more than one house church since they will not all meet on Sunday morning.
HOUSE CHURCHES HELP BOND RELATIONSHIPS
A small house church makes it much more likely that the very shy will find their identity within the body of Christ.
In our house church we usually had our noon meal together on Sundays. Each family would take part in preparing and serving the meal. The forming of relationships occurs much more easily in such “household” situations.
In his periodic Church Growth Report, Win Arn makes the following statement under the caption A PROVEN GROWTH PRINCIPLE:
EFFECTIVE SMALL GROUPS: “In our study of growing churches, we have found that one common characteristic is the high degree of relational ‘glue’ among members. Call it ‘love,’ ‘friendship,’ ‘caring’… it is what genuinely attracts and holds members.”
HOUSE CHURCHES ARE ECONOMICAL
A house church will be able to channel almost all of its finances into ministry. Since the meetings will be held in houses, all building expenses will be avoided. In this way, only ten tithing families could support a full-time pastor.
Since one pastor could oversee more than one house church, he does not have to receive all his support from one congregation. Meetings can be held on other days or nights as well as Sundays. I heard of one pastor who was regularly conducting 12 house meetings each week.
Nothing in the New Testament says that Sunday at 11 a.m. is the hour for church. As a matter of fact, the pattern in the Book of Acts is that they met daily. The first day of the week is seldom mentioned at all, and never is it emphasized as a special day set aside for worship.
Of course many of these house churches will be led by pastors- in-training. These people will have regular jobs and will pastor a house church as time permits.
The honor of a livable income should go to those who are giving full-time to the work. However, even those who serve part-time as pastors should also receive similar honor. They should be given some love gifts and remuneration from tithes and offerings. This would offset their expenses and encourage them in the work of the ministry. Whether part-time or full-time, “the workman is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7).
HOUSE CHURCHES CAN SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF GROWTH
Some of our congregations have grown so large that they have to build bigger buildings, rent more space or go to two services. This is what we call a “happy problem.”
There is also a happy solution. Begin to train pastors by assigning them an area of the city. Then give them a few families to start a house church in that section of the city for the purpose of “having a baby.”
The most life-giving thing a church can do is to have a baby. I have seen too many churches die because of a spirit of possessiveness in the leadership. The churches that God is blessing are those who continually give away everything that God gives them.
Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given to you” (Luke 6:38). A giving church is a growing church.
Michael Green is the principal of St. John’s College of Nottingham, England. In his address before the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974, he spoke on Methods and Strategy in the Evangelism of the Early Church. He said: “In the early church, buildings were unimportant; They did not have any during the period of their greatest advance.
“Today buildings seem all-important to many Christians. Their upkeep consumes the money and interest of the members. This often plunges the people into debt, and isolates them from those who do not go to church.
“In some cases, even the word ‘church has changed its meaning. It no longer means a company of people, as it did in New Testament times. These days ‘church’ incorrectly often means a building.”
There are many advantages to house churches. The most important is that of simplicity and ease of multiplication.
The fastest-growing church movements in history are those that have not had huge organizational structures. The most successful movements have focused on the essentials without wavering.