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Home/House churches in Christianity:

Organizational models, beliefs, & practices

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Christian groups follow different organizational models:

Most Christian churches, from the third century CE to the present time, have been "program-based" organizations. Each is usually composed of a dedicated building, with one or more clergy, staff, volunteer committees and a large congregation. They conduct many programs during the week: from Boy Scouts to Bible study; from choir practice to young adult meetings. The highlight of the week is the Sunday (or in some cases Saturday) service. The highlight of that service is usually a member of the clergy preaching to the assembled congregation. That is what most people visualize when they hear the term "church."

A second, recent and growing church model is composed of many "cells" - each with up to perhaps 15 adults -- and their children -- meeting in each other's homes. The cells are the focus of church life; the congregation as a whole is seen as a federation of many cells. The weekend service still exists, but it is much less important to the membership than the weekly, intimate cell meetings. They meet in homes "for fellowship, ministry, prayer and evangelism, while the large group meetings are designed for preaching and worship." 1

Still a third model dispenses with the central church organization entirely, and consists of individual home churches. There is no professional clergy preaching to an assembled congregation; rather, there are many independent groups of lay persons meeting together on a regular basis. They may meet in homes, apartments, parks, restaurants, halls, etc. They may or may not network informally with other home churches in their area. Their structure bears a strong resemblance to the structure of the primitive Christian movement, modern-day Amish groups, Neopagan covens, local Humanist meetings, fellowships within the Unitarian Universalist religion, etc.

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Beliefs and practices

Home churches are almost invisible. Many are not associated with a church congregation or a denomination. They usually do not extensively advertise in any media. They often have no formal name. No umbrella organization links them together. They are not registered with governments as tax-exempt non-profit groups. They have little or no annual budget. Some home church members do not even like to be referred to as "Christians" because that term has grown to represent the traditional large church establishment in many people's minds.

There is great variation among, and often within, home churches concerning theological beliefs and practices.

"We are from almost every 'Christian' background, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, many others have never been associated with any sect. We agree on very little doctrine. Some believe baptism is necessary for salvation, some don't. Some believe smoking is okay, some don't. Some believe that drinking alcohol is okay, some don't. None believe that doing something that harms his neighbor is okay. None believe that breaking the laws of the secular authorities is okay." 2

In spite of this diversity of belief, the vast majority follow the evangelical wing of Christianity; they teach restricted roles for women, exclusion of sexually active homosexuals and same-sex couples, opposition to abortion access, strong opposition to pre-marital sex, etc.

Eleven "streams" within the house church movement are documented in an essay by Frank A Viola 3 These include fundamentalist, neo-evangelical, post-evangelical, world-faith, etc.

Home church meetings are often unstructured, and vary from week to week. Sometimes the members may be moved to pray, or to read or to sing, or to discuss a spiritual topic. Sometimes they might share their experiences with each other, or emotionally support or spiritually and minister to each other. Freedom and lack of formal structure are major components of home churches. All are given an opportunity to speak, as they are moved to do so. However, most do not grant all of their adult members equal status: they generally do not permit women to teach or to lead.

A frequent feature at home church meetings is a shared meal. This is a full meal in remembrance of the Lord's Supper. It is followed with the elements of a loaf of bread and a single cup of wine which is shared by all. They believe that this closely replicates the Lord's Supper celebration of the early church.

A few home church members take an antagonistic view towards organized religion; some feel that Christian denominations are the Mother of Prostitutes described in Revelation 17. They look upon religious organizations as man-made; they recognize only one group of Christians: the Body of Christ. Jeff Henning comments:

"The Churches have reproduced Christians after their own kind, which is weak, vacillating, and driven by the views of society. The church system is so corrupted from the biblical pattern that nothing short from a clean break and meeting in homes can free us from the pollution." 4

They view their mandate as operating as a family, not a business or organization.

With essentially no costs, they can afford to direct all of their finances towards helping the poor. Not being burdened down with various programs, they can direct their energy towards evangelizing those that they regard as unsaved and lost.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Present Testimony Ministry at: http://www.home-church.org/
  2. Personal Email from a home church member.
  3. F.A. Viola, "Some Streams of House Church," essay at: http://www.ptmin.org/
  4. Break Bread Ministries, Inc at: http://www.bbmin.org

Copyright 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-NOV-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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