That's not the only benefit, though, as the group eagerly expressed. "Everyone's contributions matter. You can't hide in a house church," explained one. Another shared how much she appreciated the transparency, especially in decision-making. Several members agreed that because church is in their homes, it's easier to connect their faith with the rest of their lives. Rather than travel to a special building, church is held right where the rest of life happens—and that makes it hard to compartmentalize your faith.
On the other hand, the group has faced some difficulties, the biggest of which is explaining their house church to outsiders. One woman shared how excited she was to tell a former mentor and pastor about the house church, but the experience turned out to be extremely painful: "Instead of celebrating with me, he responded gravely with a loaded question: 'So what do you think God meant when he said we are to gather together as a church body?'" His response has been echoed by others in the predominantly Christian area in which they live, and that's been hard for the group members.
The group also talked about the struggle to have a long-term plan. Flexibility is both a strength and a weakness—it's certainly possible to be too flexible. Though they appreciate the flexibility to do what they want to do from week to week, one of the women commented, "We know it's often healthy and beneficial to do things we may not feel like doing in the moment." They have also spent a lot of time talking about whether they should continue inviting other couples or if they should stay small. Because they are each leaders of the church, the decision must be made together, and it can be difficult to discern the right next step as a group.
Are You Simply a Small Group?
One of the questions I was most eager to ask the group was how they compare their house church to a small group. One of the women had a thoughtful response:
The distinction isn't entirely necessary and is a relatively new phenomenon. Small groups are a symptom of large, multi-community churches. Small groups give you the intimacy that big churches realize is crucial yet they are not able to provide. Most people view the distinction between a small group and a church to hinge on the presence of a sermon and live music, and possibly Communion. That is not our definition of a church. Nor do we see that as a biblical definition of church. Many Evangelical Christians believe, as some of us once did, that a house church is something new, edgy, or a break from tradition. That could not be further from the truth. Churches have been meeting in homes, over a meal, since the beginning.
The group was quick to explain that their spiritual journeys have led them to where they are now—and that means their expression of church isn't right for everyone. All six members had religious upbringings with backgrounds in Evangelical churches. Four of the six members attended a Christian college. One completed seminary. Four have post-graduate degrees. Three work for Christian organizations, and all but one work at not-for-profit organizations. They are from the Midwest and are white, married, heterosexual, 20-30 somethings, childfree, and middle class. They recognize that their identities inform and shape their choices and beliefs. Other churches or house churches need not look like theirs.