Category Archives: House church

Multi-site and house church network similarities

As already stated on this blog, I think there are some definite ecclesiological links between house church networks and multi-site churches.  Here is a link to an interesting article that talks about one multi-site church that is purposefully incorporating house churches into its multi-site strategy, which seems to at least in part support my claim of the two types of churches being linked organizationally.  I don’t think I would like to participate in a house church that relied on a video message, and I think a lot of traditional house church people would probably recoil at that idea, but I think Northland is absolutely fascinating for trying this thing and they are really breaking some new ground in North America.  Check out the article!

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Neil Cole on multi-site churches

Neil Cole, of Church Multiplication Associates (and author of several books) recently weighed in on the multi-site church phenomenon over at his website.  I think what Neil has to say about the phenomenon is absolutely fascinating, partly because he seems to be arguing for a network of house churches, and against multi-site churches.  I found from the few that I studied that ecclesiologically they are practically the same, so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about on that point.  I’ll make that argument in a subsequent post (if I haven’t already).

One claim that Cole makes that is flat-out wrong is that all multi-site churches have one centralized headquarters, out of which they operate.  The multi-site church that I studied actually was in the process of decentralizing away from that model.  They were moving from a “server” type of configuration, where all of the resources came from one central location, to more of a network with multiple hubs.  I’m not sure how that has gone for them, but I know they were certainly aware of the issues around centralization and they were working on decentralizing.

That being said, Cole does make a pretty good critique of the movement as a whole.  I agree with him that centralization in a network or group of churches should be avoided.  I also share his dislike of video sermons.  The article, however, kind of devolves at the end into a critique of all things megachurch.  I think Cole seems to be equating the multi-site church phenomenon exclusively with megachurches.  I know that this is not true at all for the multi-site church I studied, where the pastor himself purposefully did not want to set out to make a bunch of megachurches.  I also know that there are churches of many different sizes that are multi-site churches – not just megachurches.

Geoff Surratt, guru of all things multi-site, responded to Neil Cole on his blog, and Neil Cole joined in the conversation as well.  It’s a good read.  I think if both of them got in the same room together and had a conversation they would find that they have much more in common than they have differences.

Networks, House Churches, and Multi-Site Churches

It goes without saying that not all multi-site churches have the same style of organization.  Likewise for house churches that affiliate together.  One of the interesting facets about multi-site churches and house churches is how some of them have chosen to affiliate together in network forms.

These networks seem to be less formal and more relational than denominations.  This may be because of their relatively small size compared with denominations.  Yet, they also appear to be much more relationally connected than churches in other types of networks, like the Willow Creek Association, or the Purpose-Driven network.

Here is a link to an article that talks about two churches that have merged together into one multi-site church.  They operate as two separate 501c3 organizations, but they partner together as one church in separate locations.  The network-type churches that I studied were likewise interested in connecting on a much more significant level than simply as “local” churches that voluntarily affiliate together.  They each considered the network to be “church.”

For one house church network, this meant that “church” was the network of house churches spread out over a 6 square block area as well as each home church.  For another house church network, this meant that “church” was both the individual home churches and small networks, as well as the larger network that encompassed a citywide area.  For the large multi-site church I studied, the one church that met in many locations was literally a worldwide multi-site church.  So “church” was the entire worldwide network, as well as each individual worship center.

I think these developments raise some interesting questions:

  • What exactly should count as “church” and why?
  • Why would churches want to be so closely bound together when they could instead be independent and autonomous?
  • What happens as these networks grow larger and larger?  Do they one day turn into a denomination of sorts?  What exactly is a denomination?

And so on.  I have a little bit more to say on denominations, but I’ll save that for another post.

Is there ONE RIGHT polity?

The post that really gets comments and attention around here is the one on multi-site ecclesiology and the earliest churches.  I feel like I should clear something up though, because I feel like I am having to argue for something I don’t necessarily believe.

I don’t think there is ONE RIGHT WAY for churches to organize themselves.  Nor do I think the New Testament presents ONE RIGHT WAY.  I think the New Testament presents a plurality of polities in the different churches, and is largely concerned with matters other than polity.  So I don’t want to argue that a multi-site polity is more “biblical” or correct than any other type of polity.  Or that I have special insight into the practices of the earliest Christians that lets me know that the earliest churches were really multi-site churches like that exist today.  They weren’t.  I know they weren’t.  A multi-site polity is really our creation after the fact, just like presbyterian, congregational, episcopal, or other polities.  I just find that the whole multi-site ecclesiology discussion opens up a whole new creative lens for reading the New Testament.

I think, actually,  that polity is a mix of theological and cultural concerns (like everything else about churches).  The way churches and denominations in the United States are organized today probably says as much about our modern, disestablished, democratic, and individualistic milieu as much as anything else.

Think about this: if a first century Christian walked into your church, what would he or she think?  How about: why are there “senior” and “associate” pastors?  Those weren’t there in first century churches.  Why is there a “youth” pastor, and “office administrator?”  They weren’t there either.  Where is the prophet?  Teacher? Evangelist?  Bishop/Overseer?  Apostle?  Those are gifted people that God gives to the church, so why don’t they have official jobs?  Where are they?  Better yet, why are all the churches so separate?  Why aren’t they connected together?  Why do they all act like little kingdoms unto themselves?  And so on.

So, no church has the perfect, “biblical” polity.  Every church (including the multi-site congregations) has to pick and choose what to emphasize and de-emphasize in scripture to make their polity work.  That being said, I do have some preferences.  I like polities that emphasize trust, openness, empowerment, speedy decision making, egalitarian relationships, and interdependence, and I dislike polities that lead to being closed, suspicious, slow, bureaucratic, autonomous, and hierarchical.  Some of that is just personal preference, and some of that is from theological concerns.  Of all the polity choices out there, I think multi-site polities have the best potential to tend toward the former list instead of the latter.  In future posts I’ll talk more about churches and their polities that have qualities I admire.

What is a “local” church?

Have you ever wondered about that?  I think most people take the answer for granted.  It’s seems kind of obvious: the church on the corner, large or small, where people go each Sunday.  It’s the place where the word is preached and the sacraments are administered.  Or maybe our house church brethren would say that it is the group of people who meet regularly to worship and be the church together.  In fact it’s so obvious, that it seems pointless to look at the New Testament for any sort of guidance.  When reading the New Testament, it’s easy to imagine the church at Ephesus or Corinth looking just like First United Methodist Church, or Community Bible Baptist Church.

However, the modifiers that have come to be attached to “church” like visible, invisible, local, and universal can’t be found attached to ecclesia in the New Testament.  I’m pretty sure that those modifiers are also not used with other biblical images for church like “body of Christ” or “people of God” in the NT either.  I should probably do some more research to figure out exactly where those modifiers came from, but the best that I can figure out is that they have arisen over time as men and women have tried to figure out what exactly “church” means.  So we delineate whether it is the visible or invisible church, or local or universal.  But we don’t need to be bound by those modifiers.  Maybe it’s time for some new ones?

In Acts 8:1-3, we see Saul persecuting the church in Jerusalem.  He goes from “house to house” dragging off men and women and putting them in prison.  Church here is used in a citywide sense, and likely includes many house churches that were connected relationally and that could also be considered “church” in a citywide sense.  Acts 9:31 talks about “the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria” having peace and being built up.  This could be understood as church in a regional sense that also consists of many separate small fellowships, but exists in a regional sense as church as well.

When you look at multi-site churches today, or house church networks, the “local” church idea tends to break down.  When a church considers itself to be one church meeting in many locations, what does local mean?  Or when a network of house churches considers itself to be church on a citywide network level, how is that “local?”  Or what about the internet campus of a church?  It’s like a whole new local.  Ultimately, I think the term should be thrown out.  It’s not really helpful anymore.  I’m not sure what should replace it though.  Any ideas?

NBC’s “Chuck” star Zac Levi and his house church

Here is a link to a Relevant Magazine story about “Chuck” star Zac Levi.  It talks a bit about Zac’s house church, how he came to help found it, and what it means for him.  I think it’s interesting that the house church phenomenon has reached into even Hollywood.  That would seem to be the last place to find this sort of thing – but who knows?  From my limited perspective into the world of house churches, it seems like not all house churches work equally in different contexts.  I have heard of house churches struggling to get off the ground in some suburban contexts, while in others they have done just fine.  More urban contexts seem to work well for many house churches.  It makes me wonder about how connected Levi’s church is to other house churches, and just what type of context it exists in.  Interesting nonetheless.  And I love “Chuck” too, so that makes it all the better!

7% of all Americans worship in a home

Right after George Barna wrote his book Revolution, I remember an immediate buzz about house churches and Barna’s lauding of the movement.  However, in recent days but that seems to have waned a bit.  But house churches are still evidently an object of interest for national media, as evidenced by this recent Newsweek piece by Lisa Miller.  I like Miller’s work and have read a few of her columns.  This one is particularly interesting for her digging out of a little tidbit that I didn’t see covered anywhere else: 7% of Americans say that they attend religious services in someone’s home.  I’m not sure if I have ever run across a statistic like that which actually can make a substantive claim on the extent of the house church movement in the U.S. (though I probably should have).  Reputable research on house churches is just hard to come by.

So, what does it mean?  That number seems pretty large considering that it is 7% of all Americans, not just those who would call themselves Christians or those who attend church occasionally.  Miller also points out that 6% of all Americans consider themselves to be atheists, so that would be interesting if house church people alone outnumber U.S. atheists.

It lends support as well to the purpose of this site: exploring the common ecclesiological bonds between house church networks and multi-site churches.  If there are that many house churches out there, then it is important to pay attention to the ecclesiology that is being practiced in their networking together.