Starting a House Church
While Harmony Bible is used and supported by members of what some call denominational or “institutional churches” its also used by those belonging to a Home church (simple church, organic church, neighborhood church).
What makes a church a church? Its not the brick-and-mortar, nor a steeple, an altar, or a clergy person. It’s the priority and authority of Christ in the hearts of those who choose to gather to study the Scriptures, grow in Christ, support one another, and encourage one another as we go through life and serve others.
If you feel called to begin a home church we wish to offer you encouragement, free resources, training and a network for support. Register with Harmony Bible and receive our PDF “House Churches in the New Testament and their Value Today”. Click on the sections below to read our response to some of the most common questions about house churches.
[accordian class=”” id=””][toggle title=”Why do Home Churches exist? Why start one?” open=”no”]Home Churches offer an alternative for those who wish to integrate worship into their daily living, exercise their spiritual freedom, and simplify their schedule. Rather than attending a church on Sunday, a home church provides a community in which neighbors and friends gather to study the Scriptures, worship and support one another without denominational barriers or standards; without massive overhead costs created by staff salaries and property. Those who belong to a home church often feel a greater sense of community, authenticity, simplicity and intimacy with God and the others. [/toggle]
[toggle title=”When did home churches begin?” open=”no”]We clearly see home churches mentioned in I Corinthians, Philemon, and in Colossians. After Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension some of the Apostles and early Christians continued the practice of visiting the Jewish temple and synagogues (Acts 2:46; 13:14) but only for about 18 months (Acts 18:1). It’s estimated that by 100 A.D. there were a million Christians throughout the Roman Empire – these folks met in house churches, the no longer went to synagogues for learning. Each house church passed on the Gospel message, trained and equipped members to go out and share the Good News. The Apostles and those that immediately followed them agreed with Stephen’s testimony that “God does not live in a temple made of stone” (Acts 7:48). The first evidence of an ecclesial system did’t seem to emerge until Ignatius’ writings between 98 and 117AD. Read The House Church Book by Wolfgang Simpson [excerpt, Amazon] for an exhaustive study of the subject .[/toggle]
[toggle title=”How large or small is a House Church? ” open=”no”]The typical house church is between 10 and 15 people, most stay below 25 members, and those that grow beyond most often begin gathering in different homes and a movement in your community is begun.
Discipleship should not strengthen your ego but the disciples who will go and do likewise. As you disciple folks you will be reproducing many your own habits, disciplines, and convictions – so be careful to examine yourself often, repent, confess to the group and teach them what you have learned on your own journey.
Growth and multiplication of the house church is a suitable strategy because there are still people suffering without a Savior. This was the essence of what Jesus told the Apostles when he issued the Great Commission. As the leader you will be helping people know Christ and the Gospel and live life in the power of the Holy Spirit. You’ll help folks identify their vocation, then train and prepare every disciple to fulfill their vocation and build up the whole church. You’ll train up and prayerfully support those who feel called to begin a new group. It could take a year or two but it could be as little as 4-8 weeks before someone is sent to begin a new group. Don’t be so concerned about the time table as what’s at stake and on the being discussed at the table. In this way, generation after generation you’ll fulfill the Great commission (section 181) and equip the saints (Eph 4:11-13).[/toggle]
[toggle title=”Does it have to meet in a home” open=”no”]Certainly not – which is why some use the terms: simple church, relational church, or organic church. You can meet in a home, at a cafe, in the workplace or a park. We’ve even met tent dwellers in America meeting under freeway on-ramps.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”What of leadership and ordination?” open=”no”]Most healthy house churches have a person who’s spiritual vocation is that of a teacher, a shepherd. In any scenario, its important remember that the house church is a community of believers who mutually submit to Jesus as the head (1Cor 1:11-12; 3:1-17). If you see potential in one of the members ask them to be your apprentice and celebrate the event and future vision within the group. Whatever the vocation and gifts are within the members find ways to encourage them to develop and use those gifts in the group and beyond.
When a new group begins consider following the same pattern as the early church – by releasing the Apostles to visit other house churches and towns to further the work of God. We urge you to encourage each member to discover and exercise their spiritual vocation and gifts and to allow the Spirit of God to direct every member while learning and sharing, as well as exercise their vocation, gifts and other strengths within the group, the local community, and the world. This is what is meant by the priesthood of all believers.
As for ordination, there is no Biblical mandate for institutional ordination or a degree. However, if you file there may be specific requirements based on the charter of the registered organization.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”What about the IRS, Registration and other Legal aspects?” open=”no”]In the USA you are completely in your rights to gather as a church without filing. While you may choose to file, there is no law that requires you to incorporate or file any documents. Filing offers some benefits, but it can also create greater problems and more required processes. If registered independently or in partnership with another organization then there will be certain standards, reports, prohibitions or fees required to comply with the State and Federal laws. In most cases where wisdom, discernment and love exists it won’t be a problem, but another facet to consider is liability. Without filing independently or with another registered organization there is no way in America to have a central bank account in the church’s name. Most groups don’t have a church bank account – they simply support one another and others when the time comes. Groups that do file will be able to accept donations in the name of the church – be it goods, property, or money. Since members are free to report their gifts when filing their personal taxes in either instance, the group may want to keep financial records of each gift, and any distributions for expenses, gifts and assistance. Some however choose to give without personal benefit or acknowledgement feeling the requirements and involvement of the IRS in such things more of an infringement and distortion of one’s gift and a benefit. Other data the IRS would ask of a group that has filed will include: membership; donations, revenue & expense; property & assets; bank accounts, credit cards, other debt.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”How many home churches are there?” open=”no”]There are probably more than 30,000 Home Churches in the United States alone – a country that does not outright persecute Christians. Places like China where public gathering of Christians is not allowed some estimate that there are as many as 90 million “underground” Christians meeting weekly in house churches.
We believe that the number of house churches in America will rise dramatically in the next 10 years due to the current cultural trends, statistics of religion singularity and “success” of home churches.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”How do we get started?” open=”no”]You can begin any way or time that you like. We would recommend that you consider the following steps:
- Attend to your own spiritual and emotional well-being through Bible study and prayer.
- Attend to your own financial needs and employment.
- Pray for your neighbors and friends until you feel God urging you to begin.
- Invite your neighbors and friends to get together.
- Serve a fantastic meal, get to know one another, and talk about gathering weekly as church.
- Invite all those interested to the first official house church gathering. Let people introduce themselves again, and share their spiritual aspirations, and what they would like to do to help the house church.
- Commit to meeting each week for at least a month and choose a course of study and format. Feel free to use our “Getting Started 4 week Series” or jump in to studying the “first phase” of Jesus life over the course of 14 weeks.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”What should we study” open=”no”]The Scriptures to be certain. We encourage you to use the Harmony of the Gospels. This site makes that very easy and free. Use the Index to see the scheduled readings for each week (a 3-1/2 year study series). Use the Study Notes to help you prepare. Register and receive a PDF of the Harmony of the Gospels that you can reprint for use each house church. Use our additional free resources as you see fit.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”How can Harmony Bible help us?” open=”no”]We can offer registered members:
- Resources (here on the website)
- Training and encouragement (video conference)
- Nonprofit status as an integrated auxiliary (coming soon)
- Online giving and smartphone app making for your group (coming soon)[/toggle]
[toggle title=”If I want to begin a group do I have to be the leader?” open=”no”]No, you don’t have to be the leader. You might be one of the members who enjoys offering hospitality and opening your home, or you may be more of a “shepherd” caring for the members more than being the leader. Again there need not be a leader per-say but in most groups its our experience that the one teaching or facilitating the study each week is considered by most to be the leader.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”Is it okay for us to have communion?” open=”no”]Sure it is. First off remember that the last supper was a meal – perhaps even a feast. Wine (or grape juice if you insist) was part of the meal. What became communion in the institutional church was originally a full meal among Christian friends. They were in unity – in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ. The same practice is suitable today. You can even use a chalice and paten and special wine and bread if it helps your group focus and remember we are one body in Christ, called to the ministry of reconciliation each according to our own gifts.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”What about music, prayer and liturgy” open=”no”]Don’t recreate an experience similar to what folks have had in their denominational churches. Sure its allowed, but it’s unnecessary and the group will likely have a wide array of experiences and opinion of denominational liturgy. Rather than guitars and such, music playing in the background may help set a tone of praise and worship. Finally, your time for sharing and prayer should not overshadow your study time except in extreme situations (deaths, local catastrophes and tragedies).[/toggle]
[toggle title=”Are we allowed to baptize people?” open=”no”]Yes, you can baptize folks in the pool, the river, the ocean or even using a bowl. However, like being a teacher or shepherd, baptizing is a delight and a spiritual burden. You will feel a greater sense of responsibility and deep connection with each person you baptize. We do believe that baptism is a sacrament of grace and as such its important that whether baptizing an individual, infant or a whole household we all rely on God’s grace and enduring love to save us, set us free from sin, and sustain us and equip us for ministry with the Word of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.[/toggle]
[toggle title=”Is the leader allowed to marry people?” open=”no”]When speaking of legal matrimony in the USA – this is a matter of the State in which the marriage ceremony takes place. We have no rules against it. We would like to offer you guidelines, resources and advice. The “officiant” must be registered with the county on record and follow their rules. Another option is for your leader to assist an ordained clergy person belonging to the denomination of the couples choosing. Another option which many couples today choose is to complete the legal marriage at the courthouse and the sacramental blessing in the midst of the church.[/toggle][/accordian]
If you have other questions please feel free to write us.