What exactly drives someone to start a house church? After all, aren't there enough churches?
There are certainly a lot of traditional churches in Wheaton, Illinois, where I caught up with one house church of three couples. None of the couples is bitter toward the dozens of churches they visited before starting their own church two and a half years ago. In fact, they described many of the churches as "nice" and "fine."
The reason they couldn't find a church home wasn't because they didn't like the music or the sermons—it was bigger than that. Part of it was logistical—one member is a firefighter with 24-hour shifts, so Sunday morning services rarely work out. Part of it was theological—they don't feel comfortable attending a church that denies women full participation in services and the life of the church. Part of it was life stage—as childfree married couples in their 20s and 30s, most church programming simply doesn't connect.
They also struggled relationally in the traditional churches they visited. Everyone in the group had trouble being themselves in the traditional setting. One woman shared how she always felt like people saw her as a troublemaker. Another agreed: her honest questions about faith had been met with suspicion and disapproval.
Despite their struggle to fit in at traditional churches, the couples were hesitant to start a house church. One of the women expressed, "There was a lot of self-doubt in this: It must be our fault that we cannot find the right place." After praying for God's guidance, though, they moved forward and started making plans for their new house church.
The Weekly Gathering
A typical meeting begins with a shared meal, which the couples take turns hosting. The group talks about the current study they're working through, the book they're reading, or the spiritual practices they've been working on. Each week, the group members take turns leading the discussion, but everyone participates in the conversation, asking questions and building on each other's responses as they chat.
To incorporate music into their meetings, they often make playlists to listen to during dinner. At the beginning of the week, the leader announces the theme for the week (they've recently focused on liberation, forgiveness, and inheritance, to name a few). Once the theme is decided, the leader sets up a shared playlist on Spotify. Throughout the week, each person adds several songs to the playlist that speak to the theme. This practice invites the group members to be mindful throughout the week about the topic, exploring what it means to them.
Then, the group listens to the playlist during dinner. Group members explain their choices and talk about how the songs speak to the theme for the week. This has been a great way for them to both explore the themes in a deeper way, and also get to know each other better. Songs often hold memories and emotions, and sharing them with one another deepens their relationships.
After dinner, the group practices Communion and shares prayer requests. They spend the rest of the time praying for one another.
Benefits and Struggles
One of the benefits of house churches is the inherent flexibility. This means that not every meeting looks exactly the same. This group has visited the food pantry, met in a local park, watched sermon videos, and even enjoyed ice cream together as a way to get to know each other better. One of the men noted that he appreciates that they "can be free to change the form if someone needs additional support," which isn't possible in a traditional setting. If someone has a question, they can stop to find an answer. If someone needs extra prayer, there's time for that.