What if I told you that the way we do traditional church—what we might call the “performance-based model” with a stage and an audience—is the new kid on the block, and that the in-home gathering was actually the more common expression of the early church?
Many traditional church leaders look at home churches with more than a little caution and skepticism. This largely comes from experiences with home churches started out of bitterness or resentment toward the institution of church, from a place of pride or selfish ambition, or because someone has a theologically deviant bee in their bonnet, and they want to run with it outside of any accountability. These are reasons to be critical for sure! But most home churches aren’t like that, and these red flags aren’t unique to home churches. How often do we look across denominational lines and judge another church, or group of churches, because they speak in tongues… or don’t speak in tongues, because they baptize infants or by sprinkling, or because they assert KJV only, or because they have women pastors or deacons, or because they don’t allow women to teach at all? How many churches have been started as the result of a church split? These are all horrible reasons to start any work in Jesus’ name because it really has nothing to do with Jesus’ name at all! These motives boil down to self-righteous pride and foster division and factions—things God hates!
Many traditional churches actually have a home church ministry that they support and encourage. Of course, they don’t call them home churches. They call them “small groups,” but home churches are what they are: groups of believers, meeting in homes to seek and honor God together and to disciple one another in their common faith. Most leaders of larger churches recognize that true discipleship and spiritual growth doesn’t happen on Sunday morning, so they organize smaller groups of believers to meet at various times so their members can go deeper and apply the truths of scripture to their specific contexts. That is the heart of the home church, and this was actually how it worked from the beginning!
Even before the official birth of the church after Jesus’ resurrection, while Jesus’ disciples were still in training, he gave instructions to them and sent them out “to every town and place he himself was about to go.” Sending them, he gave some very specific instructions. Among them was to “search for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:11-13). That sounds a lot like planting a home church!
After Jesus’ resurrection, we see in Acts that the disciples were all gathered together in one place—in the upper room of a home—praying and seeking God together when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Once the church was born, we see that “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). Meeting in homes was a normal part of life and worship.
As the church began to grow, as the apostles planted churches and encouraged groups of believers, we see that Paul made sure to greet Aquila and Priscilla and “the church that meets at their house” (Romans 16:3-5), “Greet those who belong to the household of Aristibulous,” “Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord,” (Romans 16:10-15); all of these groups of believers met in homes because Gentile believers didn’t have a temple. Additionally, Aquila and Priscilla’s home church is mentioned again in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul instructs to “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house” (Colossians 4:15), the letter to Philemon is written, “to Philemon… and the church that meets in your house” (Philemon 1:1-2).
Home churches are not in competition with traditional churches. They are a part of the body of Christ. Jesus has one body, not a morgue full of parts. He has one bride, not a harem. Each one of us as believers and as groups of believers, are a part of that one body. We are all sent on the same mission: Jesus’ mission, and we each have a part in the purpose of God. A home church will reach people who, for whatever reason, won’t set foot in a traditional church. Though many people may not go to a church building, they will come to a friend’s house. If that friend is a follower of Jesus, then those people are “coming to church” every time they spend time with those friends! Home churches are also necessary in areas of the world where Christianity is illegal or persecuted (but growing anyway).
No one is “building their church” (unless they are in competition with God) because it’s Christ’s church. No one is “building a church for Jesus” because Jesus is the chief architect. It’s His work and we are partners in His work with Him whether we are part of a traditional, denominational church or a home church. We are all meant to build each other up, to encourage one another, to love one another, to meet one another’s needs. There is no distinction; God doesn’t favor one kind of church over another. He seeks worshipers who worship “in spirit and in truth.” We all serve Jesus together in His mission. We serve in different ways and in different contexts using different methods, but—if our motives are pure—the mission is the same.
Are you thinking of starting a home church? Maybe in your home or maybe somewhere else, like a coffee shop? We have resources that can help you. Only Jesus can tell you exactly what to do or how to do it, but AJM’s Home Church Support Network can walk beside you. We are creating and curation resources to encourage, equip, and empower people just like you; people who want to see their neighborhoods and communities transformed by the power of Jesus. People who want to see their families, and other believers grow deeper in their faith. Please contact us and share your story! Let us know how we can encourage you.