We are advocates of houses churches. We are completely convinced that God will lead thousands of people to start new house churches within the next few years. But that could be good, or it could be a disaster.
House church is not a panacea for all that ails the institutional Church, nor should it be an end in itself. Like any church, house churches can get off track—every church is made up of fallen people who hurt and disappoint each other. We make mistakes. We sin. The closer we get to each other, the more we see each other's faults and the more we can hurt each other. Relational Christianity in house churches can be messy.
Here are some common pitfalls and how to overcome them.
The Pitfall of Consumer Christianity
House churches should be about something far more radical than trying to be a smaller version of big churches. If we simply replicate the bigger churches we know well (on a smaller scale), we end up multiplying problems, not offering solutions. Our culture needs a new expression of church, not a dumbed-down mini-version of what already exists. If people want a church that is radically committed to the mission of God, sooner or later they will have to contend with the values—the DNA, if you will—that have been instilled in them for years in traditional churches.
DNA is an apt analogy for the persistence of values imported into house churches from traditional churches. The problem we face is almost cellular! Apple trees produce apples and orange trees produce oranges, and if a person's experience has been a social, cultural, and economic system that produces churches shaped by our Western culture, we should not expect that person to produce anything different without deep spiritual change. .
Leaders of all church sizes know what it's like for people to leave over a slight disagreement about the style of worship or for a different variety of programs offered at another church. Many Americans and Europeans choose their church like they pick toothpaste—by shopping! If they don't like the product at one church, they'll check out another product the next week.
House churches run counter to this consumer mentality. They flat-out don't work unless people are committed.
The Pitfall of Inauthentic Community
If we seek community with other followers of Jesus without an orientation to a new definition of church—a definition that is about genuine community and radical commission—people will revert to expectations based on older models. We must orient people to a community based on genuine relationships that require honesty, forgiveness, and mercy. If we do not, churches will experience conflict and division among people, and conflicting expectations within people.
In order to experience genuine community in a house church, we have to trust other people. But there is this little problem called sin! We don't, however, believe that sin is the greatest barrier to community, but lack of forgiveness. People in our nation are broken, and trust doesn't come easy these days. When people consider whether or not to trust, many seem to think that the other person's sinfulness is the problem. They are idealistic about their own lack of sin. Idealists don't do well in community—not because they are imperfect, but because they don't acknowledge their imperfections and received the forgiveness of God. If idealists have not received forgiveness, they will struggle with giving it to others.