Not So Simple Church
There is an interesting and important article on the front page of USA Today today. The headline: Christians celebrate ‘simple’ Easter. The article highlights the growing number of people walking away from the institutional church and opting instead for more organic or home church experiences. A January 2011 survey by the Barna Research Group reports that 5% of Americans attend a “house church or simple church, which is not associated in any way with a local, congregational type of church.” That number is an increase from a similar survey in 2006. The article touts the benefits of an intimate experience with a small number of believers where the “spirit moves” and there is no need for a pastor or church hierarchy. With Easter upon us, the article points out that more and more Americans are choosing to experience Easter worship in non-institutional ways. Respondents to the Barna survey reported that it was “good enough” for Christians to…
- Engage in faith activities at home: 89%
- Be active in a house church: 75%
- Tune in a religious program on television: 69%
- Tune in a religious program on radio: 68%
- Join in a special event like a religious concert or service activity: 68%
- Participate in interactive faith websites: 45%
- Participate in interactive faith events online: 42%
The USA Today article presents an alarming trend that we should be very concerned about. I say this not as a Pastor of an institutional church but as a follower of Jesus Christ. The whole discussion begs the question of what exactly is a church? While the Bible says that where two or more are gathered that the spirit of God is in the midst of them, it does not say that two or more constitute a church. And while it is true that the first churches met in homes (out of necessity I might point out) there is strong and obvious evidence of church authority and structure within those churches. It was never a free-for-all. But what is most alarming to me about the growth of the 21st century version of the American house church is that outside of a few Christians meeting for their own personal authentic experience, many of these “churches” are doing nothing else that churches do, namely missions. They are not training disciples in any sort of strategic manner. In fact, most of these house churches have NO strategy to do anything other than meet. They sponsor no missions endeavors, send no missionaries, etc. They do not baptize anyone and they offer little to nothing for the next generation other than childcare. It is, for the most part, a purely selfish experience with little to no outreach. I would argue that it is Jesus Christ’s intention for the Church to be the number one conduit for taking the Gospel to the world. And I do not see this in the house-church movement in America. I would even contend that in order to take our Great Commission seriously that we actually need the structure of cooperative church networks (denominations) because churches can do more for the sake of the Gospel working together than alone. The network that my church has chosen to be a part of is the Southern Baptist Convention. This network is 44,000+ churches strong. It has the greatest missions agencies in the history of the world and the 3# disaster relief agency in the world (behind the Salvation Army and the Red Cross). Our church is serious about engaging the world with Gospel so we have networked with the best. Is it perfect? No way. But, in my opinion, it is better than any other network out there and much better than going it alone.
Is there anything wrong, or unbiblical, about Christians meeting in homes for worship? Is there anything wrong with interacting on the Internet with faith sites? No. But it’s not the Church either. Which means it needs to be a supplement not a replacement. One of the things the institutional church needs to be better at is utilizing the homes of its membership for hospitality. Yes people do want an intimate experience with other believers. And technology opens all kinds of new doors to connect with people. But we don’t have to abandon Jesus’ call for the Church to do this.