Simple Church

(This is a rewrite and update of an earlier lost post.)

The house church concept has matured over the years and now goes by a couple of different names including: house church, simple church, organic church. Of late, I’ve heard the term simple church used the most.

I’ve been intellectually interested in the simple church model for some time. My first introduction to the concept was from friends of ours who got involved in a “house church” back in the late 80s or early 90s. I then heard about the house churches of China and India where they are a primary way Christians seem to gather. Here is the America, simple church has been “under the radar” which has made it hard to get any real understanding of the concept, but that’s beginning to change.

House2House.com, a ministry to encourage the model, describes “simple church” this way:

By ’simple church’, we mean a way of doing and being church that is so simple that any believer would respond by saying, “I could do that!”

By ’simple church’, we mean the kind of church that is described in the New Testament. Not constrained by structure but by the needs of the extended family, and a desire to extend the Kingdom of God.

By ’simple church’, we mean a church that listens to God, follows His leading and obeys His commands.

By ’simple church’, we mean spiritual parents raising spiritual sons and daughters to establish their own families.

House Church is a term sometimes used in the way we use the term Simple Church. It can be confusing in that: A Simple Church may or may not meet in a house (it can meet anywhere).

I ran across this video produced by House2House at exagorazo. It gives an overview of the simple church concept. I found it thought provoking.

Simple Church Video

It is not surprising to find that, according to The Barna Group, the biggest obstacle to the growth of the house church model is not theological, but cultural.

“Americans are emotionally open to belonging to a house church, and surprisingly few have any real objections to others joining such a community of faith,” said George Barna. “But the main deterrent to house church growth is that most people are spiritually complacent; they are not looking to upgrade their spiritual experience. Compared to conventional church attenders, house church adherents are much more likely to say that they have experienced faith-driven transformation, to prioritize their relationship with God, and to desire a more fulfilling community of faith.”

Here are some interesting stats that give me a better feel for the simple church concept. I’m quoting directly here from a press release issued by The Barna Group regarding their research into this model.

”Most house churches (80%) meet every week, while 11% meet on a monthly basis. The most common meeting days are Wednesday (27%) and Sunday (25%), while one out of every five (20%) varies the days of the week on which they meet.

”The typical house church gathering lasts for about two hours. Only 7% meet for less than an hour, on average, while only 9% usually stay together for more than three hours at a time.

”While most conventional churches follow the same format week after week, four of every ten house churches (38%) say that the format they follow varies from meeting to meeting. The proportion of home gatherings that typically engage in spiritual practices include:

  • 93% have spoken prayer during their meetings.
  • 90% read from the Bible.
  • 89% spend time serving people outside of their group.
  • 87% devote time to sharing personal needs or experiences.
  • 85% spend time eating and talking before or after the meeting.
  • 83% discuss the teaching provided.
  • 76% have a formal teaching time.
  • 70% incorporate music or singing.
  • 58% have a prophecy or special word delivered.
  • 52% take an offering from participants that is given to ministries.
  • 51% share communion.
  • 41% watch a video presentation as part of the learning experience.

”The average size of a house church is 20 people; in the home churches that include children, there is an average of about seven children under the age of 18 involved. The rapid growth in house church activity is evident in the fact that half of the people (54%) currently engaged in an independent home fellowship have been participating for less than three months. In total, three out of every four house church participants (75%) have been active in their current gathering for a year or less. One out of every five adults has been in their house church for three years or more.

”The research found that there are two types of people being attracted to house churches. The older participants, largely drawn from the Boomer population, are devout Christians who are seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God and other believers. The other substantial segment is young adults who are interested in faith and spirituality but have little interest in the traditional forms of church. Their quest is largely one of escaping outdated structures and institutions.”

I don’t believe simple church will become the dominate form of gathering here in America, but it certainly is gaining adherents and influence. From those I know who are involved in one and from the Barna research, they appear to be more missionally minded also.

Update: Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) has done a George Barna on House Church post. Andrew is always a good read.

6 Responses to “Simple Church”

  1. Webb Kline says:

    I belonged to several house churches in the late 80’s to early 90s. 2 of them had the goal of eventually having a building program, which they ‘succeeded’ in doing. One of them had no goal, while other had a vision to reach a government housing community. The one with the vision was the only one that I would consider to be missional, and if we could have started that one with the hind and insight I have today, it would have been immensely successful. As it was, there were still to many with old-wineskin mentality that hindered its ability to minister to the community it was trying to reach.

    I think we were drawn to the house church idea because we were very dissatisfied with our institutional experiences and thought that somehow the house church would make us more like the first church. The intimacy of fellowship was great. There was virtually no expense. But, then there was also no financial resource base for our mission because it consisted of about a half dozen families.

    In retrospect, we were really just small traditional charismatic churches, and we eventually decided that, while the small group was a good thing, we could still be more effective in an organized church. Today, with the ability to network on the internet, perhaps a collectivity of house churches would have more merit.

    However, I did attend Cincinnati OH Vineyard for a while and they had no problem with their house groups evolving into their own churches geared toward meeting particular needs in their individual parts of the city. That was a effective of a system as any I’ve seen.

  2. Rick Meigs says:

    Webb: I suspect that house churches are much like regular churches in that they will reflect the spiritual motivation of the members and leaders. Barna’s observation that today, “…house church adherents are much more likely to say that they have experienced faith-driven transformation, to prioritize their relationship with God, and to desire a more fulfilling community of faith” is hopeful.

  3. Adam G. says:

    Although I like the warmth of a house church, I continue skeptical of its long-term practicality. Always having gatherings in a home requires a VERY patient host who can put up with kids running around and people spilling things. They can’t own a lot of antiques!

    The same effect can be reached in small groups in a church with a building. You can even keep the building anonymous if you like to try to avoid the sacred cow effect. Why not buy a house?

  4. Rick Meigs says:

    Small groups in homes can provide some of the same effect, but I don’t believe they can or will ever replace what a simple church is able to do. Simple church is a holistic approach that is philosophically different than a small group, which is an extension and reflection of the main institutional church it is connected with.

    Simple church doesn’t have to meet in a home, they could meet in any third place.

    I’m personally not convinced that the simple church movement will ever be that large in America, but I do believe the future is in smaller community based neighborhood faith communities in the 50 to 150 member range.

  5. Sandy says:

    My concern is not with the method of church but the doctrine that is taught. The emphasis on ‘NEW WINE ‘is alot of regurgitated ‘Later Rain ‘theology which is heresy.While I can appreciate the desire to get away from a pulpit format until I am convinced it isn’t another type of Jesus Movement or a ‘type of a ‘me and Jesus ‘ type of approach it is going to crash and burn over the long haul like the bad theology of the 70’s and 80’s. It is based on to much subjectivity and not the written word with sound exegisis.What surprises me is the people who seem to be most forefront in the movement are survivors of that era. Why they want to go around that barn again is beyound me! I.m not going anywhere near it.

  6. Rick Meigs says:

    Sandy: Thanks you very much for sharing your perspective on this issue. It is always welcome.

    I do think you are way out in left field on this one though. Simple or house church is the only model even mentioned in scripture. No where do you find the current institutional church model. Now I’m not suggesting one is right or wrong since scripture doesn’t favor or speak to models.

    As for the Jesus Movement, my word, it was one of the greatest movements of God seen in the 20th century. Sure, there is error in all movements, but that is no reason to discount what God was about or cheapen the tens of thousands who came into a transforming relationship with Jesus during this time.