Most people leave their home to go to church, and then go back home to live. But that hasn't always been the case in church history.
The early church movement was a home-based movement that met from house to house (Acts 12:12; Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). Under the radar of the Roman Empire, God used the early house churches to evangelize, make disciples, and transform the world. They were so effective that Christianity eventually became the dominant religion.
Throughout church history, God has used the house church strategy to draw his followers back to a simpler form of church life and mission. In fact, since 1950 the global house church movement has resulted in a spontaneous multiplication of churches that has proven to be one of the most significant influences of the modern-day church.
Because most house churches gather in countries where the Christian church is persecuted or poor, it's difficult to ascertain exact data. Even conservative estimates of the number of people attending house churches, though, are staggering: many millions of Chinese Christians alone meet in house churches. The house church movement is alive and growing.
In Our Own Backyard
I recently heard a missionary representative for China talk about house churches springing up like wildfire. The representative spoke of one Chinese leader in particular who had planted 30,000 house churches by training people and helping them plant a new church within three weeks.
It's clear that the most rapid growth in the house church movement is in restricted access areas like China, Asia, and North Africa. But they're becoming increasingly popular and accepted around the world—including in North America. Larry Kreider, author of House Church Networks, writes:
Within the next ten to fifteen years, I believe these new house church networks will dot the landscape of North America just as they already do in other nations of the world. Places like China, Central Asia, Latin America, India, and Cambodia have experienced tremendous growth through house churches and disciple and empower each member to "be the church."
George Barna has estimated that by the year 2025, membership in the conventional church in the U.S. will be cut by 50 percent, while alternative movements like house churches will potentially involve 30 to 35 percent of all Christians in the United States. Similar movements of house churches are also rising up in other western nations like Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K. What about house churches is so attractive?
Simple and Reproducible
Ed Stetzer says, "My attraction to the house church springs from its simplicity and faith. I have been a part of large church starts …. Each involved more and more money. In my heart, I often feel that church planting should be simpler."
The idea behind house churches is not to grow one church larger, but to keep the church intimate while reproducing other intimate fellowships in other locales. Many New Testament church practices cannot function effectively in large, impersonal groups. Home churches form communities of believers who get to know each other in all aspects of life. They share their spiritual gifts to edify the body. Authentic Christianity has a greater chance of emerging in the lives of individuals and families because intimacy and accountability are built into the church.
The house church movement focuses on simple, reproducible strategies that release common Christians for uncommon work. They celebrate evangelism and reproduction that is natural and spontaneous. As people are released into ministry, new interdependent churches are formed. This produces support without a cumbersome hierarchical structure.