As we gather in our homes this Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the concept of “house churches,” which has had somewhat of a resurgence in our world as of late, mostly in China and in other places where Christians are being persecuted. House churches are defined groups of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes. The group may be part of a larger Christian body, such as a parish, but some have been independent groups that see the house church as the primary form of Christian community.
I recently talked with Jim Buckman, a missionary-at-large and a church planter in the New Jersey area, who explained that his approach to building churches was to start in the home. People feel more comfortable in their homes, they are surrounded by loved ones, and they are not caught up the structure of the organized church.
In many ways, the house church is a hearkening back to the model used in the early Church. St. Paul even references them in his letters:
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 16:19
Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. Colossians 4:15
And I am always attracted to this picture of what was essentially a house church immediately after the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:42:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
There is a certain feeling of togetherness and a common goal and a sense of accountability that happen within a house church. People care if you are missing. People can see what is really going on in your life. People can be present to remind you that faith in Christ is stronger than anything that life can throw your way.
House churches also remind me that we so often take for granted that we have a place to worship publicly. What if we did not have a place to go to or we would be persecuted if we were seen doing so?
If we all took the concept of the house church with us to our church buildings every Sunday, think of the difference that would make in how we worship and how we interact with one another.
And, by all means, contemplate starting a house church of your own! We can never have too many places to worship.