Most likely you don't use the term "house church" to describe your small group. After all, don't house churches meet "over there," in places like China, India, and Ethiopia where Christians are persecuted?
The reality, however, is that the house church movement is alive and well in America. Researchers have estimated that there are 20 million people meeting in house churches in America and Barna predicts that alternative movements like house churches might reach 30-35 percent of all Christians by 2025. Yet, many more small groups exist in the U.S. with some estimating that 75 million adult Americans regularly attend the estimated 3 million small groups. What are the differences between house churches and small groups? What might small groups have to learn from modern-day house churches?
Houses churches see themselves as fully the church, quite apart from the Sunday gathering. The leaders are elders or pastors, not facilitators developed in the local church. House churches derive their meaning squarely from the New Testament Church, not by any modern small-group model.
Small groups, on the other hand, are not independent, but part of a local church. Leaders are prepared and coached through the local church and the small groups gather together each week for corporate worship. Though there are some key differences, small groups can learn a lot from house churches.
Get Your Motivation from Scripture
Those in the house church movement believe that meeting from house to house is the Scriptural way to do church. In fact, house-based ministry became so common in the New Testament that throughout the book of Acts, every mention of a local church or church meeting, whether for worship or fellowship, is a reference to a church meeting in a home. The early disciples themselves met in homes because it was the strategy Jesus taught them. After all, Jesus met from house to house throughout Galilea and Judea, and then sent his own disciples into homes to evangelize and establish a base for gospel preaching (Luke 9; Matthew 10).
Small-group leaders can become tired and unmotivated when they lead a small group simply because it's a good thing to do, an important ministry in the church, or a helpful way to keep people from slipping out the back door. Even a focus on spiritual growth can fall flat when other less time consuming alternatives present themselves, like one-on-one meetings with friends or a new church program.
Small groups need to dig deep into the biblical foundation to derive meaning and motivation to press on. When small-group leaders and members understand that the early church met in homes and that Jesus commissioned them, there's new meaning and motivation to continue in small-group ministry—meeting is homes was important to Jesus. House to house ministry is biblical and the best way to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28). We must take our cue from people in the house church movement and let that motivation drive everything we do.
Home Ministry Is Valid and Important
House churches see themselves as fully the church. They realize that the New Testament writers used the word "ecclesia" when referring to the church in the home as well as to the gathered church on Sunday. Paul addressed the whole congregation in a particular place as ecclesia and also used ecclesia to describe the individual house groups (1 Corinthians 1:1; 16:19). The one was not seen as detracting from the status of the other. Wherever believers met together, they were "the church of God." House churches are fully functioning churches in themselves.