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Should North American churches transition to house churches in the fall?

A recent article on CBN threw out an interesting idea that maybe churches should look at starting house churches if the recent COVID-19 lockdowns don’t end.

The coronavirus has resulted in restrictions being put on church services severely limiting the number of people that can attend a service. Many believe it’s more political than health related because the restrictions on churches are more severe than businesses with very similar vulnerabilities. For example, are people attending a casino any less vulnerable to the Coronavirus, than those attending a church? Obviously not. So, why does a church have more severe restrictions than a casino?

When the Coronavirus originally hit and services were prohibited, many churches turned to online services that people watched in the privacy of their homes. Initially it seemed popular, but according to Barna Research the number of people watching online services has been steadily dropping with 32% fewer people watching today, than during the early days of the pandemic.

And recently, some large churches, such as Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, pastored by John McArthur, have decided to restart services with or without the government’s approval. Grace Community Church can seat 3,000 people and was having two services each Sunday before the pandemic lockdown hit.

After restarting its services, in violation of the city’s lockdown orders, government officials immediately threatened the church leaders with jail and/or $1,000 daily fines if they continue holding services READ: John MacArthur Lawyers Up as LA Threatens Jail Time Over in-Person Church Services

Meanwhile, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has publicly allowed and even supported mass demonstrations.

But there is another alternative.

According to the CBN article, one large mega churches has turned to house churches to solve the problem. The Summit Church, a 12,000 member church in Cincinnati, met in 12 different locations before the Coronavirus, and recently made the decision to transition to house churches. Now its meeting in 2,400 homes and has grown to 15,000 members. In these house churches meetings, people are gathering for fellowship, worship and prayer.

When you mention the word church, we immediately think of a building but the original Greek word, ekklesia, was not talking about a building but rather a group of people, an assembly of called out ones.

The church always referred to people. The building was almost irrelevant other than serving as a tool that provided a place for the church to gather.

When we look at the early church in the Book of Acts, it was largely a house church movement. And throughout the New Testament we see several references to churches (the people) meeting in homes:

  • Mary, who was the mother of Mark, had a church meeting in her home (Acts 12:12).
  • The Holy Spirit’s movement on the gentiles started at a meeting in the home of Cornelius (Acts 10:23-26).
  • In Romans 16:3-5, Paul greeted the church that was meeting in the home of Priscilla and Aquila. But it also seems that where ever they went they started a church in their home. When the two joined the Apostle Paul in Ephesus, the duo remained in Ephesus when Paul continued on in his missionary trip, and had a church meeting in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19).
  • Nympha had a church in her home located in Laodicea (Colossians 4:15), as did Philemon (Philemon verses 1 and 2).

And there is already a large house church movement in North America today. A survey conducted by Barna in 2009, suggested there were about 30,000 house churches in the US.

However, as I was reading comments on the house church forums, it was filled with statements, similar to one person who provided five things that were happening in the church that he disagreed with that resulted in him joining a house church. It almost sounded like the person was angry. Many expressed similar resentments. There are no perfect churches and never will be.

Others have even suggested that house churches are the only true Biblical model. But there are no commandments in the New Testament stating that churches must meet in homes. The writer of Hebrews simply encourages people not to forsake the gathering together (Hebrew 10:25).

In fact, Luke says that during its early days the church was meeting in both the temple (at the colonnade, a covered area beside the temple) and in homes, where they often shared meals together.

46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, (Acts 2:46 NIV)

42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:42 NIV)

But when the Jewish leaders banned them from meeting at the temple, the early believers moved to house churches and continued in this fashion when the Romans started persecuting Christians because this was the safest way to continue meeting together. But that changed once persecution of Christians started to wane, allowing them to move to more public buildings.

Certainly house churches are a genuine expression of the church and may be an alternative for churches this fall. And many believe one of the fastest growing churches in the world today is found in Iran that is made up of almost solely of house churches.

Pastor Brian Tome, who pastors Cincinnati’s Crossroad Church, is not planning to restart church services until next year, is also looking at alternatives.

Tome told CBN:

“I would love if there were some miracle move of God – shoot, we could open up at Christmas – I would love that. God’s doing a new thing and the more energy and effort we spend thinking about the old thing, instruction for the old thing and complain that we don’t have the old thing, the less we’re actually going to have something for the new thing.”

READ: Still closed by pandemic, some churches are shifting to Biblical home Church: ‘God’s doing a new thing’

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