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.