The home-church movement

CellGroup This Sunday's Washington Post carried a relatively long inside-page article on the growth of home churches. I have quite a few beefs about this article, written by Michael Alison Chandler and Arianne Aryanpur, primarily that the reporters missed a key facet of Christianity that is encompassed in Matthew 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

So if a couple of believers join together for prayer on a Sunday afternoon, can I consider that a house church? Or is it just a prayer meeting? Do they have to abandon their traditional church to qualify as a house church?

The article makes all sorts of arguments for those seeking a simpler former of Christianity. A former Presbyterian minister says he abandoned his denomination in favor of house churches because he was tired of long meetings. Others say they are attempting to escape the "distorted" established church and find true Christian worship:

The worshipers have different faith backgrounds, including evangelical, Episcopalian and Catholic. What they share is dissatisfaction with traditional church services.

"You can't ask questions in most churches. You might make an appointment with the pastor, get in his daybook for a quick lunch," said Rodgers, 50.

A growing number of Christians across Washington and around the country are moving to home churches -- both as a way to create personal connections in the age of the megachurch and as a return to the blueprint of the Christian church spelled out in the New Testament, which describes Jesus and the apostles teaching small groups in people's homes.

Estimates vary widely for a movement that is by design informal and decentralized, but the consensus among home-churchers is that they are part of a growing trend.

I don't doubt the truthfulness of these motives, but with my lifetime (OK, sure, it's not that long, yet) experience in churches, I know that people don't leave for such simple reasons. Almost always it's a bevy of reasons. To use their reasons as an explainer for the supposed growth and future growth of home churches is ridiculous.

It's supposed growth. While the article purports to make the case that this is a growth trend, it fails to provide solid evidence that this is indeed the case. While George Barna is a respected religion pollster, there is a lack of solid numbers to support the article's assertions:

George Barna, a religion pollster, estimates that since 2000, more than 20 million Americans have begun exploring alternative forms of worship, including home churches, workplace ministries and online faith communities. Barna based that figure on surveys of the religious practices and attitudes of American adults that he has conducted over the past 25 years.

"These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church," said Barna, who became a home-churcher last year. The alternatives are attractive to those who want to deepen their relationships with God and one another, and they also suit Americans' growing taste for flexibility and control of their schedules, he said.

Although many Christians still participate in their old churches while trying out a new one, Barna predicts that over the next two decades, traditional churches will lose half their "market share" to these alternative start-ups.

His estimates far exceed the best guesses of home-church networks. The Orlando-based Dawn Ministries places the number of home churches in the United States in the tens of thousands, based partly on the size of online directories and attendance at home-church conferences.

While the article is commenting on a trend, I think it would have helped if the Post had found someone to explain the importance of church membership and being under the spiritual authority of an elder or a priest. I know these topics are not popular today, but they are an essential part of Christian theology.

Photo credit: "Cell Group Meeting" by kormmandos001.

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