The one thing that bothers me when Christians focus on missions outside of the United States is how America seems to be left out of the conversation. In Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna, the authors go off on a rant about the church building.
“Contrast the overhead of a traditional church, which includes salaried staff and church buildings, with the overhead of a house church. Rather than such overhead siphoning off 50 to 85 percent of the house church’s monetary giving, it’s operating costs amount to a small percentage of the budget, freeing more than 95 percent of its shared money for delivering real services like ministry, mission, and outreach to the world.” (Pg. 41)
What do they define as “the world?”
We are all missionaries. Many unreached people groups exist in isolated parts of the world, and in places like France there exists large numbers of Muslims. We are to go out into the world, but I wonder if we’ve forgotten our own people? Does our world exclude the people in our area? Why do I feel like America is excluded when people talk about missions? There are many missionaries in our country. The authors in the end of chapter 2 seem to be putting down the church building while singing the praises of house churches.
They said, “Early Christians turned the world upside down without them (church buildings). They grew rapidly for three hundred years without the help (or hindrance) of church buildings.” The authors referred to Acts 17:6.
As Americans, we are far from having the character the early Christians had or their sense of family. While the internet has brought the church body closer, our real lives lack a sense of community. A former pastor once mentioned this saying we leave for work from our garage and go home at night, pulling the car into the garage without ever greeting or talking to a neighbor. If one cannot do at least one or more of the following during Saturday or Sunday church, then the effectiveness of house churches looks dim:
- The introvert needs to become the extrovert.
- The cliques in church need to reach out to the stranger.
- The “pew potatoes” need to fill vacant places in ministry.
- People need to keep their commitments and promises.
- The neighbor needs to make an effort to talk to neighbor.
- And people who aren’t online, need to get online for the sole purpose of being a missionary. You don’t even have to raise support to be an online missionary. The online world is here, love it or hate it. The Christian has an opportunity to be the squeaky wheel and influence others.
House churches can potentially become one giant clique, especially if the person organizing it is an introvert. It’s human nature to want to gather with people we have befriended. Strangers can be messy. USA Today had an excellent article on house churches:
“I’d say the vast majority of house churches we know are Christians honestly trying to live 24-7 for Jesus,” said Tony Dale of Austin. He and his wife, Felicity, are pioneers in the American house church movement which is also referred to as home church, organic church or simple church. There aren’t any signs out front so house churches are difficult to find. Prospective worshippers usually locate them by searching the Internet or through word of mouth. Members rotate the services from house to house and take turns facilitating the gatherings. Anything more than about 15 people and the small group loses its ability to interact with each person, churchgoers say.
When they get too large, they divide and multiply. “We view it as natural to grow, flourish and disband into three or four new ones,” Dale said. “Not everything multiplies. Sometimes it shrinks and dies.” Sometimes congregations with diverse religious backgrounds break up over doctrinal issues or personality conflicts, moving on until they find or create a better fit. In Texas, home to several megachurches, the house church movement is beginning to catch on, judging from the chatter on social networking sites and interest in a national house church conference organized by House2House Ministries held in the Dallas area in recent years.”
This explains the explosion of small groups at church. It’s the church’s answer to organic church. These small groups are held at people’s homes and hold no more than 15-17 people. They meet every week or twice a month. My aunt calls them “mini-church.” She attends a mega-church on the weekends. I have small group at my house twice a month. Once again, the church is visible to people and less threatening than to search the internet and walk into a stranger’s home. The authors also mention the lack of community that church buildings create.
The authors mention pews that face frontward instead of towards each other, how the buildings are cold and not organic, the pulpit sits on an elevated platform, and the clergy sit apart from the congregation on the stage (in our church, our pastor sits with the congregation). I agree with a lot of what they said, but stumbled over the quote where our shared income could be used for real ministry and reach out. They think that money should go towards “real services” as if the church building isn’t being used in real service. Isn’t America part of “the world?” Or are we sequestered in our house church, serving the world, but ignoring our neighbor because we are extremely busy people? The church building is visible to our neighbors and more easily accessible to a dysfunctional America.
Pagan Christianity? made some good points in the other half of Chapter 2, and I agree with them that a church building is not necessary to worship God. I worship Him every day. To me, a church is a place to go and mingle with other like-minded individuals, to be challenged in my thinking and grow as I experience personalities and learn new things. The church’s answer to organic church seems to be small groups and if someone is looking for that kind of intimacy, find a church that has small groups. The support system within a church is broad, encouraging, and they have greater resources than a house church can provide.
If you are in a house church or have experienced a house church, feel free to share those experiences in the comments section.
*Most words in quotes are directly quoted from the book.