My argument is “yes,” but that may not be immediately obvious. In my research, I found one example of house churches existing as a part of a multi-site church, so that case serves to support the idea that they are related. However, I also found the people who comprise house church networks and those in multi-site churches to be quite different and to embrace quite different emphases (both leaders and attenders).
There was a pervasive anti-institutional feeling among house church people. One of the reasons they were a part of house churches was because they were tired of the passive aspects of larger churches. They detested the idea of sitting in rows of chairs or pews and staring at the back of peoples’ heads without knowing anything about them. They didn’t like that 20% of the people did 80% of the work. They felt that being the church involves intimate relationships with other believers, which is lacking in larger churches (or at least much more difficult to achieve).
The people in the multi-site church that I studied shared some of those concerns, but went about addressing them in different ways. The church heavily stressed small groups as being a key part of its mission, and it aggressively sought to involve attenders in many aspects of serving. However, its sites still suffered from similar challenges that other large churches face with attender passivity.
So, how can these groups be related to one another? Especially other multi-site churches that seem to care less about member passivity and appear instead to simply be replicating one megachurch at another site? I think it comes in the larger connectional aspects of their ecclesiology. One cannot argue the differences in ecclesiology that show up in practical matters like the way worship is conducted and understood, and how house churches live out being the church together. However, they share some important similarities in how they understand themselves as a church that meets in many locations.
Many house church networks and multi-site churches understand themselves to be “church” on at least two levels. For house church networks, “church” is often both the house church and the network as a whole. For some multi-site churches, “church” is the individual site and the church or network as a whole. This is the similarity that binds them together. So, is this important, and what does it mean? I hope to lay out some of my ideas about that in future posts.