…George Barna, Evangelicalism’s best-known and perhaps most enthusiastic pollster, named simple church as one of several “mini-movements” vacuuming up “millions of believers [who] have stopped going to [standard] church.” In two decades, he wrote, “only about one-third of the population” will rely on conventional congregations. Not everyone buys Barna’s numbers–previous estimates set house churchers at a minuscule 50,000–but some serious players are intrigued.
The Maclellan Foundation, a major Christian funder based in Chattanooga, Tenn., is backing a three-year project to track Colorado house churching. The Southern Baptist Convention, with more standard-church pew sitters than any other Protestant group, has commissioned its own poll and experimented in planting hundreds of its own house churches. Allan Karr, a professor at the Rocky Mountain campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary who is involved in the poll, guesses that three out of 10 churches founded today are simple and that their individual odds for survival are better than those of the other seven. House churches are not known for denominational loyalty. That doesn’t bother Karr, however. “I want the denomination to prevail,” he says, “but I have an agenda that supersedes that: the Kingdom of God at large.”
House churches claim the oldest organizational pedigree in Christianity: the book of Acts records that after Jesus’ death, his Apostles gathered not at the temple but in an “upper room.” House churching has always prospered where resources were scarce or Christianity officially discouraged. In the U.S. its last previous bloom was rooted in the bohemian ethos of the California-bred Jesus People movement of the 1970s. Many of those groups were eventually reabsorbed by larger congregations, and the remnants tend to take a hard line. Frank Viola, a 20-year veteran Florida house churcher and author of Rethinking the Wineskin and other manuals, talks fondly of pilgrims who doctrinairely abjure pastors, sermons or a physical plant; feel that the “modern institutional church does not reflect the early church”; and “don’t believe you are going to see the fullness of Jesus Christ expressed just sitting in a pew listening to one other member of the body of Christ talking for 45 minutes while everyone else is passive.” (link added)
John White @ House Church Chronicles finds it interesting that CT & Charisma both slammed Barna’s book and by extension the House Church movement. J. Lee Grady, one of my favorite editorialists, does seem to have forgotten to take his anti-hyperbole meds,
But what Barna wants to do is reinvent the church without its biblical structure and New Testament order—and without the necessary people who are anointed and appointed by God to lead it. To follow this defective thesis to its logical conclusion would require us to fire all pastors, close all seminaries and Bible colleges, padlock our sanctuaries and send everybody home to be discipled by somebody on the Internet or at a “spontaneous” worship concert. (After all, who needs buildings? Megachurches are so ‘90s.)
And CT’s Kevin Miller makes this suggestion,
Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of Revolution for Life Together, the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany. Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church. That’s something so spiritually challenging that several million people no longer want to do it.