the weblog of Alan Knox

A huge problem with “house church”

Posted by on Jul 11, 2009 in blog links, definition, gathering | 36 comments

First, if you haven’t read Guy’s post (from “The M Blog“) called “How house churches get started in Guayaquil“, then go read that post now. If you haven’t read Guy’s post, then this post will probably not make much sense.

Guy’s post reveals one reason that the house church “model” will have a difficult time in the United States (and probably in other “developed” nations with “developed” churches). Notice how Guy describes the start of a new house church:

Monica was hired to clean the house of a believer, Martha. Monica began to open up with Martha about the problems she was having at home with the man she was living with. Martha would cry and pray with Monica. She openly shared Christ telling her He could heal her life and home if she would just trust him. Monica thought it too good to be true what Martha shared.

One day Monica decided to invite Martha to come to her house to share the Gospel with her family. Martha took along Marlene, a gifted evangelist from the house church she attends. Marlene and Martha arrived at Monica’s and gathered the family together to dialogue about spiritual matters. Monica felt strongly that she should give her heart to Christ. She was certain that she would be the only one to do so. Much to her surprise, Medardo, her daughter Aneida, and her daughter’s live-in boyfriend, David, ALL gave their hearts to the Lord! From the very beginning, Medardo and David were changed dramatically by the power of Jesus working in their lives. Monica and Aneida were overcome with joy in the Lord.

Marlene, Martha and others began 45-minute weekly bus trips to disciple their new converts. Both couples decided early on that it would be best to get legally married. All four were baptized in a nearby river (see video here.)

The church that now meets in their home.

And, thus, we see the problem. You do see the problem, right?

I mean,churches in the United States would certainly be excited that one of their members (i.e. Martha) was interested in the salvation of her housekeeper (i.e. Monica). And, churches in the United States would certainly be excited about sending someone (i.e. Marlene) to share the gospel with Monica. And, churches in the United States would certainly celebrate with Monica, Martha, and Marlene when Monica accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior and commited her life to following Jesus.

But, then we run into the problem. You see, churches in the United States would not be excited about Monica and her family starting to meet with friends and family in their own home. No, instead, for the most part, churches in the United States would want Monica and her friends and family to make the 45 minute bus trip to meet with them.

This is the huge problem with “house church”. Actually, its a huge problem whether that new church meets in a house or not. So, perhaps the “problem” is not with the house, but with something else. What do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-11-2009

    I think we’ve been told our whole lives that we need to GO to church.

  2. 7-11-2009

    Steve is right, I think we view “going to church” as the pinnacle of the Christian life. If we can get them in the door and in the pew to hear what Pastor So-and-so has to say, we have really done our duty. “Going to church” becomes a goal in and of itself.

  3. 7-11-2009

    I do go to church…from my kitchen to my living room. The commute is brutal but I endure it.

  4. 7-11-2009

    I think it would be pretty dangerous to let people like Monica start a new assembly in their home so quickly after giving her life to Christ. I think it would be better to have her continue to make the bus trip to my church, and then in a few years if she still wants to do something new in her community, I’d recommend she go even further away to a Bible College that teaches the same teachings as my church for a few more years. After than it would likely be safe to have my church send her off to her community to start something new as long as they stay under the authority of my denomination.

    The way Guy describes Monica doing things sounds too much like it was left to the direction of the Holy Spirit. It’s much safer if we stay in the drivers seat.

  5. 7-11-2009

    I think you’ve touched on one the tension points in the house church movement. When, if ever, should a church add people to the point of needing to split? Is it better to pursue the path of rapid multiplication knowing that many of those churches fall apart.

    If a church is planted in the home of a new believer how does it survive without the support of mature Christians? As a church planter that has largely reached the “lost sheep of evangelicalism” I’d be hard pressed to put a member or a leader of a conventional church in house church leadership too quickly. The group would revert to old patterns very quickly.

    With a group of new Christians I might be less apprehensive as they have no old church patterns to fall back in to. Participating in life giving fellowship isn’t particularly complicated but people come with baggage and issues that can derail God’s work in a group. Perhaps the happy medium is to offer “apostolic” coaching and guidance in the formative initial phase of the church that gathers in the new believers home.

    We know Paul spent a lot of time in Corinth, but was that the exception or the standard he arrived at over time?

  6. 7-11-2009


    Much of the traditional church has taught people to insulate their “Christian-ness” from the “secular” week. Sunday at “church” is the place for the Holy Spirit to function, and then, only within the parameters allowed by that tradition, but always under the watchful eye of the leaders.

    If a believer does have a sense of purpose, as an ministering influence in their community, the hierarchy will want the “orthodox” version displayed, or NONE AT ALL.

    I like Jon’s irony.

  7. 7-11-2009


    I meant to also say that it seems that much of the house church movement is simply continuing that same traditional concept, which I mentioned.

  8. 7-11-2009


    You ask, “If a church is planted in the home of a new believer how does it survive without the support of mature Christians?” In this case Monica and Medardo ARE the mature Christians. They are looked up to by their entire community. People come to them for advise. Call for them to come pray over their sick. Ask them their Bible questions, etc.

    You are exactly right: to bring in a leader from an outside conventional church would probably be the end to the group and to their witness in the community. Too much baggage!

    The “apostolic” coaching and guidance comes from Marlene (the sister who discipled them), and from our CP team. A couple of weeks back, they had their first serious divisive issue. M&M came asking for advise. They were really torn up about what had happened. What we shared with them, though, was already being implemented. They had prayed long and hard over the matter and received direction from the Holy Spirit. Our “advise” was just confirmation that they had understood what the Spirit had said to do. The next week when we asked how things were going, they said, “all has been resolved.”

  9. 7-11-2009


    ;) You hit the nail squarely on its head!

  10. 7-11-2009

    Thank you for the comments everyone.


  11. 7-11-2009

    Guy muse,
    Thanks… if my sarcasm got it right… I don’t have much experience tho, I can only imagine things can get complicated in North American house churches like Leighton Tebay mentioned. I haven’t experience a house church (other than small group’s connected to larger assemblies), but I’ve heard that there is still the potential for an equal amount of politics and people following. So for me to say I just want to follow Christ and be lead by the Holy Spirit, it sounds nice in theory, but I don’t have a long track record of how that works out in how I fellowship with others yet.

    Anyways, I really appreciate the insights here from Alan regarding how we assemble together, and appreciate learning from your experiences in Ecuador.

    God bless

  12. 7-12-2009

    Here are the questions Alan.

    1. Where are the biblical elders, ensuring that they have biblical church discipline, sound expository teaching and who is going to protect them from wolves?

    2. Who has them spiritually covered?

    3. Heresy is sure to arise in this group correct? Do we forget about the pastoral epistles? What if a woman starts teaching this congregation?

    If these questions aren’t answered sufficiently then they may be a cell group or a small group but they can NEVER be a church.

  13. 7-13-2009


    We’re counting on your to take care of all of those things. ;)


  14. 7-17-2009

    Rather than focus on House Church paradigms, perhaps we would do better to examine just what the message of the gospel is. So often it is presented as something one can choose, at any time, simply by appealing to logic. Who really wants to go to Hell, anyway? I am more comforable with our lives simply so bearing the Light that folks like Monica cannot deny the truth of Jesus living in Martha. But can that work in the West? We are so disconnected. We just don’t have the chance to really reach others in our culture. Here on Maui, this is an unfortunate reality. I would LOVE to minister to a Monica, but I cannot do it alone. Nor am I going to “Get plugged in” to a four wall church. They will never be a fit for me. So I don’t really know where to turn next.

  15. 7-17-2009


    I agree with your comment completely. Our focus is not on meeting location but on the gospel and on our purpose in meeting together as the church.

    My suggestion for people who are looking for community in Christ is to pray and look for people that God may bring into your life. They may be neighbors, coworkers, family, etc. Then, begin spending time with those people and helping one another grow in maturity towards Christ.


  16. 5-13-2011

    I had a group come to me and it became what I began to call a home church. I do not think it is wrong to invite people in to something already established. It is about the commitment to disciple others and do what is needed for them.

    I heard something a while ago “We are called to make disciples not get more people to attend our churches.” Some people are never meant to join our intimate circles we interact with them at work, out in community, in cyber space, or out in our neighborhoods only.

    A truly transformed individual will seek out connections and information from others who are pursuing truth. They will dig into their Bibles and other information to help continue their growth in Christ. We do not have to control what that looks like.

  17. 5-13-2011

    I think many US Christians would see this as religious promiscuity. The common wisdom: if you lead someone to Jesus, you should bring them to “your” church for nurturing, incubation, and indoctrination.

    “Wait, I thought your were one of us. Why are you encouraging Suzy New-Christian to start a church with her own family and friends?”

  18. 7-26-2011

    Good post Alan and some great discussion. I guess what came to my spirit as I read was the age-old struggle of faith against reason. Who is responsible for building the church? Seems to me we have a serious lack of trust in the Holy Spirit’s ability and too much trust in our own. The early church had the apostles, but it wasn’t their knowledge or officiating that was vital but their willingness to follow the Spirit. Guy said “They were really torn up about what had happened. What we shared with them, though, was already being implemented. They had prayed long and hard over the matter and received direction from the Holy Spirit. Our “advise” was just confirmation that they had understood what the Spirit had said to do. The next week when we asked how things were going, they said, “all has been resolved.” Amen..think that is how it is supposed to work. The only way we can mess up the work of God is to get in His way with our prideful inclination that we know more than He does about what’s best for His body.

  19. 7-29-2011

    This is obvious, I think, but nobody said it out loud so I’ll just say it. In Luke 10, Jesus says when you find a person of peace, like Monica seems to be, stay in that person’s house. Don’t do like Jon suggested (sarcastically, but which we American believers tend to practice).

  20. 9-24-2011

    In Phoenix, Arizona a seventeen year old named Jacob came to the Lord and wanted to reach his family. He started a house church with them in an organic fashion. 2 weeks later the father invited some (Real Church) people to the gathering. They proceeded to answer all the questions and attempted to take over what Jacob was doing. At the end of the time the professional church people invited them all to come to their church. They didn’t come back the next week for another round of “look how much I know and you don’t”! How stupid can you be! Fortunately, no one went to their church and this Sunday, Jacob will baptize several of his family members who have chosen to follow Jesus! May his tribe and the Kingdom of God increase and multiply rapidly from here! This is our first success story of reaching a public high school student and giving them the vision and training to start their own DMM. We have made a lot of mistakes along the way and now we want to be great, great, great, great …. grand parents! On a side note… I went to see the movie, “Money Ball” today and it is an almost perfect parallel to the Big Church mentality v. the organic one. Jeff

  21. 9-26-2011

    Spiritual life is like a bird — it won’t thrive in a cage and it cannot soar there. When people begin to personally experience spiritual in their hearts, they must be encouraged and released, not held in a church or religious cage; not made loyal to a pastor or an organization but allowed to grow into a passionate love and zeal for God, Himself. Let people go . . . Jesus told them to “go.” The way to grow is to go!

  22. 11-3-2011

    We have been blessed to have the full support of a traditional church in our town. Several simple churches started because the leadership at Firstl Alliance Church was willing to send them out to begin their own house/simple churches with the intent of them leaving FAC. I pray that more traditional churches will follow their lead in the future. There are certain issues related to starting this way as you can imagine, but one issue that we don’t have do deal with is being discouraged by the traditional church.

  23. 11-3-2011

    The church in America does have a problem. House church is seen as other churches are seen: competition. Competition for tithes, people,baptisms, numbers, etc. But the issue is bigger than that. The real problem is we’ve defined discipleship as church busy-ness. If we get people busy at church, then we’ve made a disciple! Too bad Jesus never defined discipleship this way. According to the Great Commission, true disciples are people who make disciples. They may do more than that, but they cannot do less. Let me say it again: disciples are people who make disciples. They are reaching people and training them to reach and teach others. They actually live this thing out, not merely talk about it in Bible studies. As I write I’m stepping on my own toes…trust me.

  24. 12-8-2011

    We’ve done house church on and off for 30 years, you are right that churches do not like house churches, however I don’t think that is God’s opinion. I think God is fine with church where ever it is, a home, coffee shop, wal-mart, or any other building. We are the ekklesia, not the brick and mortar. The problem is in the mindset of “church building” people. Many times “church building” folks are a hindrance to individuals walking with God; they want to impose religious rules and regulations on others. I say be blessed where ever God leads you, home church or big building church. Just follow God. :)

  25. 6-25-2012

    Many comments here have jumped t the wron conclusion and are answering what is a no issue. The Pastor is traveling to the new converts home to nourish them.

    In the book of Acts the assemblies of the believers began at homes and became the Church house. And in the minds f the intellectual believer 2Corinthians 3:3-6 is not their trust, therefore speak against what their minds cannot grasp. This reminds me of the Disciples who thought that they were not worthy of serving tables but sought to choose seven men who from the start followed Christ and filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. What did they see in themselves that they exalted themselves above the enabling power that the others they chose to serve tables, that they saw below themselves. It was certainly self driven rather than God equipped; nevertheless God overrode their intellectual prowess and used Stephen and Philip beyond that of the other disciples in miracles and with great grace and witness, buy the Spirit of the LORD.

    Opinions of men are beneath the man of God and speaking in Christ the trust we have in Christ, and have no need of opinion scope, 2Corinthians2:17, 4:1-2

  26. 9-13-2012

    Just had this conversation.

    We had a bunch of people from our traditional church over and grilled burgers and brats etc. and then we talked about why were no longer attending the TC so we could work on developing a missional community. (We’re partnering with a former youth pastor who feels led to follow the MC/OC/SC model.) The big question, or one of the big questions, was, what we’re we going to do with the people when we finish teaching them everything we know? I don’t think there’s an answer you can give that would satisfy anyone who asked that question. God will have to work on that.

  27. 9-13-2012


    I’m just glad to hear that more people are having that conversation and struggling with the question.


  28. 2-21-2013

    It seems to me that geographical location or architecture isn’t of great importance when it comes to the gospel. Christ ministered in temples, seashores, boats, marketplace, etc. If there is apathy among believers, it surely will not be because of a “church building” or lack thereof. It would most likely be a heart issue, lack of commitment & perhaps immaturity.

    The great commission is an “explosive” mandate” not an implosive” one. We are called to go out into the world, not to bring the world into the church. Mega-Churches, traditional, store-front and home-churches all have their place and role. A church that is not reaching the community and transforming society is derelict in its duty. This is where home-churches I believe can and are having an impact. Through the development and networking of home-churches under correct leadership accountability, we can have a massive “invasion” in society as opposed to 1 building somewhere waiting for someone to drop-by and visit.

    To me it’s about a paradigm-shift. If we think we can only have “church” in a church-building instead of in every area within our sphere of influence, then I think we’ve allowed tradition to paralyze the momentum Jesus ignited over 2000 years ago: the mandate to “Go”. Just my opinion. :)

  29. 2-21-2013


    In Scripture, I see a distinction between proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers and edifying the church. It seems like your comment is more related to the proclamation of the gospel. In that, I certainly agree with you.


  30. 2-23-2013

    Anyone who thinks they do not need to “go to church” (or “meet together” as Hebrews calls it) has a seriously misguided view of what a church is. If someone thinks the primary function of a church is to meet, they are wrong, however it is a necessary part of being a body, to meet together.

  31. 2-23-2013


    I’ve rarely met a brother or sister in Christ who did not think it was important to gather together with other believers in order to encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25). In the story in this post, Monica, Marlene, Martha, and others were certainly gathering with others for this purpose. Is there something about this post that would cause you to make that statement?


  32. 2-23-2013

    John– do these “meetings” only take place on Sunday mornings and how many people must be in attendance for it to qualify as a “meeting?” And if a person attends a Sunday meeting for an hour each week, sings three songs and listens to someone else talk for 30 or minutes, does that satisfy the requirements of Hebrews 10:25?

  33. 5-8-2013

    Sadly, I have further evidence to add to your observation that close knit home fellowship will necessarily be skewed in a setting where folks have left the big box church, but big box thinking hasn’t left the folks.
    We have some friends who now ‘house church’ after telling us for a decade that because we neither went to church or house churched, we were out of line. They finally had enough, and left their denomination 10 yrs ago. I actually encouraged them to stay and try to convince the others to move away from rigid ortho-praxy together, because their small country church was filled with lovely God fearing families.
    He couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
    They been unsuccessfully inviting others to their house on Sundays, and/or attempt to wangle an invitation to others homes for services, which apparently closely resemble the ones they left in their denominational church.
    But now my friend has taken it to the next level because he thinks most Christians are held back by bad teaching.
    He’s just about to publish a theological tome on correct house church practices and procedures, having spent nearly 8 years researching every scripture on how to meet together etc.
    Trying to bring ‘house church’ into line with ortho-praxy is silly, but the logic behind it is fear to trust God.
    We learn to trust God best when we’re in committed, daily interactive fellowship with others.
    Iv’e tried several times to help him see that keeping his biological family as priority one, above and apart from Gods family, is idolatry.
    He’s a terrific fellow, and his children are a testimony to he and his wife’t walk with the Lord, but his inability to see that God designed his church to grow in a village, and not just a home, holds him back from being effective in his community.
    So, I agree that house church will either fizzle and die or be morphed into some even stranger hybrid, unless we trust God together and let Him transform our homes and temples into a village.
    Bill Clinton’s wife doesn’t know how right she was when she said that, except that she applied it to the wrong social structure.

  34. 5-8-2013


    Yes, I know of a few “house churches” that resemble the one you describe.


  35. 5-8-2013

    I think humans often try to organize and systematize, which is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact there are probably those with spiritual gifts in these areas. The problem lies in image and control, you can’t control a house church well, if it is not in your control it can affect your image.

  36. 5-9-2013


    Organization is important, and I agree that there are people who are gifted at that (referred to as “administration” in Romans 12, I think). Like the other gifts, though, I think we see problems with the gift (organization, in this example) becomes more important than the people involved.