Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Peek Inside a House Church in Omaha

In my daily browsing of blogs that mention the phrase "house church," I've just come across If I had to describe my church I would say something along the following lines. "We are a Christ-centered, biblically-informed, reflective, conversational, alternative Christian community that seeks to be Spirit-led, Spirit-transformed, and committed to life-togetherness in our day-to-day witness for Jesus." this one by Gary Nebeker who is an Associate Professor of Bible at Grace University in Omaha. The post I read (dated 10/10/2007) had a great section describing what goes on in the house church he's been involved in since 2003. Here's that section:

If you ever visit one of our gatherings, here's what you will observe. We meet for a communal meal in someone's home every Sunday evening around 5:30. We celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday at our communal meal. Sometimes we will sing some hymns or spiritual songs with guitar accompaniment. There are no youth specific ministries; the kids, from infants to teen-agers, are integrated into the meeting. In the first three years of our history we went through Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart video series, studied the DISC profile, read and discussed chapters out of Richard Lovelace's Dynamics of Spiritual Life, and studied the Book of Acts. In the past year we have examined the New Testament texts that pertain to elders and deacons. We are currently studying the virtues depicted in 2 Peter 1:5-7.

Several of the men in the group have provided leadership and some general "structure" for the others. We don't have "a pastor." There aren't any expository sermons. Usually a person prepares some thoughts based on a text of Scripture. After this person shares the group then spends some time discussing what this text is saying to us today. In addition to the time we spend together on Sunday evenings, we do a lot of "life-together" things during the week in groups of twos and threes.

He also writes this about the group of about 20 adults as well as children:
If I had to describe my church I would say something along the following lines. "We are a Christ-centered, biblically-informed, reflective, conversational, alternative Christian community that seeks to be Spirit-led, Spirit-transformed, and committed to life-togetherness in our day-to-day witness for Jesus."

I'm sure it's risky to generalize about house churches, but this does seem to be a nice vignette that has the feel of what I've been encountering among others who are following Jesus in this way.



Anonymous said...

I wonder what is the average number of people involved in one house church?

Feral Pastor said...

Hi EM -

The only source I've found for that kind of information is George Barna and if folks know of others, I'd love to hear about them. Based on his research, the answer to your question is about 20. If the HC group includes children, then they typically make up about 7 of those 20. You can read the report that contains that information
. Below are a couple of paragraphs that I tought were pretty informative.

From George Barna:

The Nature of the Gatherings

The nationwide research also provided a unique profile of what takes place in the typical house church, and who is involved.

Most house churches (80%) meet every week, while 11% meet on a monthly basis. The most common meeting days are Wednesday (27%) and Sunday (25%), while one out of every five (20%) varies the days of the week on which they meet.

The typical house church gathering lasts for about two hours. Only 7% meet for less than an hour, on average, while only 9% usually stay together for more than three hours at a time.

While most conventional churches follow the same format week after week, four of every ten house churches (38%) say that the format they follow varies from meeting to meeting. The proportion of home gatherings that typically engage in spiritual practices include:

93% have spoken prayer during their meetings

90% read from the Bible

89% spend time serving people outside of their group

87% devote time to sharing personal needs or experiences

85% spend time eating and talking before or after the meeting

83% discuss the teaching provided

76% have a formal teaching time

70% incorporate music or singing

58% have a prophecy or special word delivered

52% take an offering from participants that is given to ministries

51% share communion

41% watch a video presentation as part of the learning experience

Most house churches are family-oriented. Two out of every three house churches (64%) have children involved. Those churches are divided evenly between those who have the adults and children together throughout the meeting (41%) and those who keep them separated (38%). The remaining churches divide their time between having everyone together and having time when the children and adults are separated.

The Participants

The average size of a house church is 20 people; in the home churches that include children, there is an average of about seven children under the age of 18 involved. The rapid growth in house church activity is evident in the fact that half of the people (54%) currently engaged in an independent home fellowship have been participating for less than three months. In total, three out of every four house church participants (75%) have been active in their current gathering for a year or less. One out of every five adults has been in their house church for three years or more.

The research found that there are two types of people being attracted to house churches. The older participants, largely drawn from the Boomer population, are devout Christians who are seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God and other believers. The other substantial segment is young adults who are interested in faith and spirituality but have little interest in the traditional forms of church. Their quest is largely one of escaping outdated structures and institutions.

(End of material quoted from Barna.)

Anonymous said...

How is the organization/leadership handled? It seems like there might have to be one or two that take ownership over the group. In the small groups I have been in, this seems to be the case or it seems to fizzle. Is there another effective way to be a group?

Feral Pastor said...

Great question, EM! I'm eager to learn how leadership functions in a HC myself. I certainly don't yet have any experience to draw upon, but that won't stop me from sharing some of what I've heard and think about the subject, ;)

"Jesus is our leader" is a perspective I've encountered, probably among the House2House folks. What I think that means is that there is a practice of some form of communal, prayer-based, discernment/listening that goes on in the group when there's a need for guidance or direction. (I'm sure that's an inadequate description.)

The Bible is often referred to as being the "authority" in the group, which obviously gives it a leadership function. In practice,I'm sure that will be shaped by who happens to know the Bible better, or can make a persuasive case for how to interpret it, so that may not really settle much in terms of how leadership is structured.

Host, Convener, Facillitator, Apprentice and Coach are various leadership roles and models that you are probably familiar with from your own involvement in small groups. Some of that is more oriented towards the practical tasks of group life rather than leadership per se. However, I think the apprentice & coach roles are really important if you actually want to see your groups multiply or at least not fizzle out.

Shared Leadership can play out in various ways, I'm sure. Simple consensus based leadership would be one. Leadership can also be fluid and intentionally passd around from week to week, month to month, or "season to season" defined any way you want, e.g. for a specific topic or book of the Bible.

DNA-based Leadership is an idea that I've been thinking about. It derives from what I've learned from Bill Easum and Tom Bandy about articulating a "congregational DNA" that is expressed in the collection of Misison, Vision, Value and Belief statements. Once you have this DNA articulated, then it becomes possible for anyone to provide leadership to the group at any time, simply by calling everyone back to one or another aspect of the DNA. For example, if your group has a core value for Joy and is discussing what kind of service project to take on next, even a child could pipe up with a contribution; "We always say that Joy is important, so let's throw a party for all our neighbors!" In my book, that's an act of leadership.

So, there are a few thoughts to put into the stew. I'd love to hear what others think - especially if they have some actual experience to draw from!