Monday, March 31, 2008

Why House Church? Community.

This is part four in a four-thread topic.

Please Note: Although I'm "defending" the idea of house churches here, I don't think it should be an either/or proposition, or that conventional congregations should be abandoned wholesale in favor of nothing but HCs. I see value in both, and I'm eager to see hybrid and partnership forms develop as well. But since HC is appearing as the "new thing", it's natural for it to need more explanation, which is what I'm trying to provide.

Community. Lastly, I also think we should explore the HC form because it provides the most natural context for the rich life of Christian community Jesus wants us to have. By “Christian community,” I’m referring to the kind of shared life we find described in the “one-anothers” of Scripture; things like love one another, care for one another, encourage, admonish, comfort, serve and so on. Most of these simply can not be done readily in a large group gathering like Sunday morning worship, if they can be done there at all. Yet a HC provides a very natural context for encouraging, comforting and such. So I think the work of the Kingdom will progress better if the primary expression of Christian community is the one in which you can readily practice these key marks of community.

The importance of community and investing in the kinds of gatherings that promote it is even apparent to those who don’t believe. You may have heard of Matt Casper, an atheist who was hired by a Christian to visit and comment on a wide variety of congregations. You can read all about his visits in the book Jim and Casper Go to Church. But here’s a quote I found on another blog in which he himself talks about community:

“The “community” at some churches seemed to disappear with the first note of the recessional, if it was ever there at all. I think “community” goes out the window when you have 2,000 (Saddleback), 7,000 (Willow Creek), or 16,000 (Lakewood) people under the same roof. What you’re seeing then is simply mass mentality, no different than a World Cup game, a rock concert, or the Nuremberg rallies. It’s when these mobs would break into smaller groups that the community focus would kick in. And the smaller the church, the larger the sense of community. I attended a house church where the sense of community was so incredible, even a non-believer could feel it. And these house church people were/are committed to working together to make the world a better place and held each other accountable.

It’s a simple fact of human nature: the more people there are, the less individual accountability there is. And the message of Jesus is ALL about individual accountability. The biggest problem facing the entire world may be people saying, “Hey, that’s not my problem.” Johne Donne put it best: ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Basically, the big churches let people feel like they were doing something to make the world a better place, when they weren’t really participating at all.”

Striking words for us to hear – especially as they come from an atheist who's been to a lot of churches.


Ross said...

I am going to defend conventional congregations here, but with the caveat that I am doing so for the sake of critical development of ideas, not because I am opposed to HC’s.

An important thing to note when looking at the community at conventional and even large conventional congregations is the role of small groups. Without reading the original source from which the Matt Casper quote is drawing, it sounds like he was only visiting the ‘Sunday morning service’ (though of course these don’t always occur on Sunday mornings). That is probably an unfair comparison because the large service is not designed for intimate community, but rather unifying worship and teaching. My guess is that those large churches also utilize small groups which are designed for the same intimate kind of community that HC’s excel at.

With that said, your (and Casper’s) critique is not without merit. It is often the case that attendees of large churches only go to the large service and never engage in a small group where transformative community and discipleship are more likely to occur. Large churches ought to make small groups central to their ‘corporate culture.’ It must be a spoken, acted, and felt expectation that attendees (pastoral staff included) will engage in small groups. When small groups are done correctly, I think they can meet the same needs that an HC does (with the exception of the HC’s ability to operate very inexpensively).

Feral Pastor said...

Good! It may not alway be clear, but I'm not actually anti-conventional or even pro-house church, so much as I am a pragmatist. I'm for any & every form that's effective for discipleship: helping people who don't know Jesus to meet him and those who do know him to become more like him. These days my pragmatism is driving my critique of overinvesting in conventional forms, and driving my undoubltedly still naieve enthusiasm for the HC form.

You're right in challenging the quote I provided since it doesn't say anything about what may be happening in the community life of those congregations outside of Sunday morning worship. And since I haven't read the book, I can't say whether Matt even explored those aspects of these churches, though it would seem an obvious thing to do. So it's a good caveat. My interest in his comment was less the critique of mega-worship services and more in how palpable he found the community in the HC. If he did also visit small grous in mega churches it would be really interesting to see if he found that similar or different in any way from his HC experience.

I may have an opportunity to ask him in person at a Conversational Evangelism coference in May. ( I'll see about following up on that.

I totally agree with you about the importance of small groups in large congregations. I think that's essential to effective discipling. But that's where my pragmatism comes in. It's very hard to take an established culture where Sunday morning worship attendance is the centerpiece of being a "Good Christian" and change it to one where SG participation is central. It can be done, but it's really hard. And for me, the option of starting fresh by building a new culture from the ground up in a HC form was a big part of my decision to go that direction.

Anonymous said...

But the church isn't about meeting our needs (or wants or preferences). It's about worship, primarily - corporate worship. Everything else is really quite beside the true point and purpose of the church.

I'm sure alot of work went into the last few posts and the points made in them are fine if we are talking about a business or corporation and how to make it work effectively or make it financially solvent. But the church isn't a business and is at it's worst when it uses business principals to operate and when it gauges its "success" on whether it it fiscally sound by keeping accurate account of the the number of good works done by its members.

My thots.

Feral Pastor said...

Anon -

I agree that the Church isn't about meeting our needs, much less our wants or prefernces. But tell me why you feel the Church is about corporate worship. It seems to me that God established the Church more for the work of spreading the gospel, rather than for gathering for worship per se.


P.S. - If you could sign with initials, a first name or an alias, that would be great!

AnneMarie said...

Great thoughts!

I personally think that there is a need for both "conventional churches" and "house churches".

Not everyone will walk into a conventional church and vice versa. I just say pray it up and don't knock anything down unless if it is not Biblical.

Jesus was and still is radical. He did some radical things by eating with the tax collectors and all. I strongly believe that He is calling the Body of Christ to do some radical things in order to bring glory to His name. Also, to mentor, disciple, and spread the sweet news of Jesus Christ.