I have been a faithful (although far from perfect ) disciple for 11 years, and have experienced the highs and lows of the ICOC movement. I am fortunate to be part of a church that is led by a man with a great heart and love for people, and we have largely weathered the storms of the recent past. However, there is a growing feeling amongst disciples (in our fellowship, as well as others that we interact with) that the "house church" model offers an attractive biblical alternative to the way we currently meet and express ourselves as God's family. The material that is most referenced is that on http://www.house-church.org/.
I am one of the leaders in our fellowship entrusted to complete a strategic review (please excuse the corporate-speak) of our church, including our practices, leadership model, and relationship with other churches, and the house-church model is one that some members have asked to be considered. While the views on http://www.house-church.org/ seem compelling, I am very aware that there are likely to be other valid views, or downsides to this approach—hence my request for your insights and response to these specific questions:
1. Are the views expressed at this website balanced and based on a complete consideration of relevant scripture?
2. If so, why don’t more churches opt for a complete house church model? (I understand that meeting in homes has always been and still is an important part of our church life, but the primary focus has been on centralised worship and teaching.)
3. What is your personal conviction on house churches replacing the traditional way of meeting as a larger body in central venues?
Any other comments or advice you may have on this topic will of course also be most welcome.—Neil Trollip (Port Elizabeth, South Africa)
Yes, I have thought a good deal about the house church model. I seems to be more biblical than the traditional model. And yet I am not sure the traditional model, including buildings, is "unbiblical." I am expecting to see a shift in some parts of our fellowship to the HC model. The website you reference is still under construction, but when I have more free time and it has been completed I will be happy to visit it. Yet I have read books about this approach to ministry and am quite sympathetic. The trick is to equip the members when the gifts are spread throughout the span of many HCs... not to mention taking care of the children! Yet I do not see these obstacles as insuperable. Perhaps central meetings – with outside speakers or Bible teachers – could take place monthly or quarterly, feeding the flock and stimulating discussion and study.
But I think you are right: most of the real personal growth in Christians’ lives takes place in smaller groups through personal (one-another) relationships. The early church appears to have met in homes for the first two hundred years or so. It will be interesting to see what new directions your church and others decide to go in. I am fond of saying “One size does not fit all” and am very supportive when a local leadership group in any congregation goes in a direction it thinks is biblical, even if I might have a different viewpoint.
(For more on my thoughts, see the 4-part audio series New Testament Leadership. This series makes numerous bibliographic suggestions. You might also take a look at Alexander Strauch’s excellent books The New Testament Deacon and Biblical Eldership.)