Why So Many House Churches?

People are choosing to gather outside of the traditional church setting, and they're creating community in their homes.

Back in the 1960s, when I first became acquainted with Christian communities that gathered at least once a week in a private home to worship God, most of them were found in the inner city. A relatively small proportion were located in rural communities, and most of those (apart from the African-American congregations) could be classified as sectarian. The vast majority of house churches in the larger central cities, however, proclaimed an orthodox, Trinitarian statement of the Christian faith. Why did they meet in a private home rather than in a traditional church building? The obvious reason was economics. The constituencies came from the bottom quarter of the income ladder. They could afford neither a full-time resident pastor nor the cost of operating a single-purpose building for religious services.

Equally influential, however, was another factor in ascertaining why these people chose not to affiliate with a congregation worshiping the same God in a nearby church building. One answer: They were self-identified "outsiders." They did not identify themselves with the people who worshiped in those nearby churches. Some identified themselves by the nation in which they had been born and/or a language other than English. Many identified themselves by social class or state of birth or length of time as residents of that neighborhood or skin color or income or education or employment or family or marital status or social skills or kinship ties or a combination of those variables. They knew they would not fit in with the folks who attended that nearby church.

In contemporary American Protestantism, we see many small worshiping communities—and not only in house churches. This is illustrated by the reports of those denominations ...

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