About Affiliation with the Church Without Walls International and How House Churches Operate

1) Are we required to pay tithes to CWOWI?

No, we do not require the paying of tithes to CWOWI.
Why? Because we can’t find any example in the NT where Paul, Peter, James or John (the writers of the NT letters) required the giving of tithes to themselves.

In II Cor 11:8 using sarcasm, Paul says he ‘robbed other churches, taking wages of them.’ Vine says of the word ‘wages’ here: “Material support which Paul received from some of the churches he had established and to which he ministered in spiritual things; their support partly maintained him at Corinth.” These were free will gifts given by individuals and churches to help support Paul. Similarly, CWOWI receives freewill tithes and offerings from our affiliates, and their leaders and members.

2) How is the network supported financially if you don’t require tithes & offerings?

Through the freewill tithes and offerings that come from members of CWOWI affiliates. We aren’t here to grow our own kingdom, therefore the network will grow as God’s people respond to His leading, giving and participating as the Lord is directing them.

Though nothing is required, most of our leaders and many members of affiliate churches do give tithes and offerings to CWOWI. We are content to grow at a pace dictated by the quality of the relationships and the giving of CWOWI members as they are led.

3) Can we establish our own financial accounts if we become an affiliate?

Yes, by all means. The example in scripture is that the people gave between themselves, as well as gave offerings to the apostles. The churches of the NT certainly had a means by which to manage their own tithes and offerings, and it indicates they gave to Paul and others as well. Affiliates are encouraged to establish a means by which to receive moneys so they can give amongst themselves and others.

4) What are the benefits of becoming a CWOWI affiliate?

Some of the practical benefits:

a) Giving to CWOWI is tax deductible.

b) Ordination for leaders, which facilitates ministry in prisons, hospices, hospitals, and so forth.

Some of the spiritual benefits:

a) You are not alone. You are linked with an international network of house churches, and this support and friendship offers a tremendous sense of belonging and camaraderie.

b) Monthly newsletters (via regular mail) that offer teaching and articles and news from affiliates.

c) Web site offering articles and information about house church.

d) Email newsletters, regular mail newsletters, special offers on cd series, Webinars, Weekly Thoughts email, teaching, and contact with leaders from around the globe through our Community Without Walls section, skype – whole new set of friends!

e) Free use of CWOWI’s host home or staying with other families when visiting Tulsa.

f) Conferences in Tulsa and regionally around the US and Europe bringing affiliates and those interested in house church together. These conferences offer workshops, teaching, question and answer times, food, fellowship and friendships!

g) Leaders from CWOWI Tulsa and affiliates who are available to come to you, to help you walk and talk through the process of starting and growing a house church. This is done on a love-offering basis.

h) CWOWI practices with balance, the 5-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit. Balance is the key word. Our members and affiliates regularly report the moving of the Gifts of the Spirit, sensing and seeing what God is doing in the Spirit, and learning how to allow the Lord to do what He wants to get done in a meeting.

This is one of the most important benefits to being a CWOWI affiliate. The balanced teaching with genuine apostolic and prophetic influence and ministry lead to a dynamic in house church that makes it exciting to see what the Lord will do next!

Also, in the NT we see Paul visiting churches, and he sent people to the churches, as well as receiving people from the various churches. Following this pattern, CWOWI advocates the traveling of CWOWI members between affiliates. As in Paul’s time, we are all strengthened when we visit each other and develop friendships from this ‘cross pollination’.

As of the date of this writing, teams from CWOWI Tulsa have been to at least 8 states, 3 nations, and we’ve hosted visitors from at least 6 states and several countries in our Retreat Center.

Additionally, this is what John and Barb Fenn do full time, as founders of CWOWI. Often people starting a house church hesitate at the thought of someone visiting them, in large part because of concerns about money or because they are just in the process of starting and don’t want to involve others when firm directions hasn’t yet been established. However, this is exactly the purpose for the visits! We come to help you walk and talk through the process. Additionally, most of the time we stay in someone’s home, and offerings are received as well. So concerns about money or how far along in the process you are should not be an obstacle; this is what we do for a living!

5) How much does CWOWI control at the local level?

Each affiliate is independent and self-governing. We look at affiliation as a mutual relationship. We are affiliating with you as much as you are affiliating with us. We choose to affiliate with each other out of friendship, love, and being on the same page spiritually. Therefore, John Fenn and CWOWI are here to help, rather than dictate.

In Paul’s letters we see him writing to the churches outlining the essence of the Christian life, giving advice on issues, and teaching, but those churches were self-governing. The same for CWOWI affiliates. We stand by as friends, shoulder to shoulder, not ‘top down’ rule. However, both CWOWI and the affiliates reserve the right to withdraw from the relationship. On CWOWI’s part, it would generally be in the event of a moral or doctrinal error on the part of the affiliate in which reconciliation is not possible.

6) What do the tithes and offerings go to?

The financial gifts that come in from affiliates primarily support:

a) Office expenses
b) Insurance
c) Web site
d) Salary
e) Travel expenses
f) Retreat Center expenses

7) What is the difference between a house church and a cell church?

There are many differences, but three main ones are listed below. For more information read “Return of the First Church” by John Fenn, and other articles on this web site.

a) A cell church meets first and foremost as a whole congregation. A house church meets first and foremost in homes in small groups.

b) A cell group is most often structured as a mini-church, with a leader and assistant leader, with the format and often the subject for each meeting predetermined. A house church is usually flexible in format and content, and the general sharing of leadership responsibilities.

c) A house church is independent and autonomous; a cell group is regulated from above, by the pastor.
I like Larry Kreider’s analogy in his book ‘House Church Networks’. He says a modern ‘mega’ church is like a Super Wal-mart, with everything under one roof, whereas a house church is like one store in a mall. In a mall setting, each store is dependent on the other. Separate, but interconnected.

8.) What do you do about flaky people or dominating people?

I refer you to my teaching from the January 2004 CWOWI newsletter below:

Unruly or Flaky People

One of the most common questions I hear is: What do you do about someone who dominates the meeting?

The short answer is to privately talk to them, pointing out that the structure of a home meeting is to offer participation by all. How they react is their business whether they get offended and leave, or meekly receive your word of instruction. Don’t feel guilty about protecting the right spirit in a meeting. But the long answer is more involved.

You see, most people who dominate the conversation, or insist on speaking, reading, singing, or playing something to the exclusion of others, are people who lack basic social and interpersonal skills.

It is interesting that Paul’s instructions for conducting a home meeting fall along the lines of social and interpersonal etiquette first and foremost.

Remembering that all churches in the NT met in homes, in I Cor 14:26-33 Paul writes some guidelines for the way a meeting should be conducted. In verse 26 he says essentially that all may participatexhe mentions Psalms (worship), doctrine (a teaching), revelation (a new thing the Lord has shone you), and tongues/interpretation (the moving of the Gifts of the Spirit) may all have a place in a meeting. Everything done in the main ‘service’ will fall under one of these categories, and therefore, anyone who dominates a meeting will dominate in one of these categories. After listing areas of participation in verse 26, Paul proceeds to give some guidelines, which are really just basic social courtesies:

V27: If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three-should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.

Notice that his instruction to limit the moving of a single gift to two or three people and telling them (and us) to take turns is nothing more than exhorting them to be courteous and non-dominating.
He continues in this vein in verse 28:

But if there is no one to interpret, let him be quiet and speak to himself, and to God. And again in verse 30: And if anything is revealed to someone sitting near, let the first one hold his peace. (Notice how he instructs them to defer to one another)

Notice again, he’s just stating basic social courtesy that is required when you are a guest in someone’s home. Essentially he is saying, “If you feel you have a word from the Lord, but there is no opportunity, then keep quiet and speak it to yourself”. And in verse 30 he is saying to take turns, deferring to one another. It’s not a sin to get a word from the Lord and not give it. This comes as a huge revelation for some, and for the person used to insisting they give their word, it runs contrary to what they think. But it is scripture.

You do this all the time and don’t even realize it. When you are thinking about someone and praying for them, often the Lord will give you insights or words of knowledge about them or their situation, and all you do is lift it up in prayer. You don’t run to that person and tell them what you think the Lord showed you in prayer, you keep it to yourself as a matter of prayer. The same rules apply when you come together in (house) church. If you get a word, but there isn’t the time or flow or it’s not good manners to share it, keep it between you and the Lord.

Paul goes on to say in versus 29-33 that people with prophetic words should speak ‘two or three’ and let the others judge. The instruction of ‘letting the others judge’ is again, nothing more than social courtesy. With the open format of verse 26 of having everyone sharing, there must also be mutual accountability, or else confusion will reign. The dominating person wants to talk, but they don’t like their ‘word’ questioned.

In verse 32 Paul says: “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
Again, Paul is saying that you may feel you have to give that word, but in fact, what you have in your spirit is subject to you. You don’t have to give that word if there is no interpreter, or someone to ‘bounce it off’ to be sure it’s right on, or if the timing is wrong. Paul concludes in verse 33 saying that God is not the author of confusion, but of peacexand he wants a home church meeting to be dominated by peace, not confusion.

So what do you do? Realize that the person who dominates or is flaky lacks social skills for a reason. Either a medical/mental condition, emotional hurts, fresh from a hurting situation in their lives, self-image, or something else, they need tolerance and understanding at first. When the time comes, Paul said to instruct people in meekness (Gal 6:1).

When you instruct them one of two things will happen, either they will accept it, or they will be offended and leave. We’ve found that when a house church follows the basic social courtesies Paul set forth, these guidelines don’t allow a person to manifest a dominating manner or be flaky, and they either grow into maturity in this area or leave.

You don’t want to pounce on someone if you feel they are dominating or flaky, but as a leader you may need to step in and redirect the meeting. Remember that house church is based on relationships. Therefore wait, be patient, look for God’s timing. Don’t look for the slightest wrong, but look for progress in their lives. We so often want to run to scripture for the answers, which is right of course, but in this instance, scripture indicates the foundational rules for conducting meetings in the home rests upon social courtesies. Someone who dominates a meeting isn’t walking in love, for love doesn’t push itself forward or insist on having it’s own way (13:4-8). Make sure you address the issue in love, showing them the way.

9) What do you do about children and teens?

The traditional style church is structured that someone else teaches your children about Jesus. The pattern set forth in the Bible is that the parents and a community of people raises up the children.
We have found that usually, families with small children tend to gravitate towards one another in house church, and empty nesters or singles tend to gravitate towards one another as well. The result is one house church will be young families, while another has no small children in it.

That said, the basic issue of what to do with small children is answered in one word: Nothing. Children are a part of the family event of having church in the home. They sit with the adults until their attention span dictates they need to do something else, and then they often go play in another room, or on the floor in the middle of church.

We did have one mother who took the kids for part of a meeting to teach them out of a curriculum and that worked well for that church. Other churches let the kids come and go in and out of the room throughout the meeting.

The issue really isn’t distraction as much as it is inclusion. We find that there is a little adjustment at the first for small children, especially those in public school. Home-schooled kids just seem to be able to sit still and participate better. Either way, once the concept of house church becomes a regular pattern, the church takes on a dynamic that is very family like. Babies get passed around, toddlers toddle to everyone, 4 & 5 year olds and other children participate in laying hands and praying for peoplexit’s one big family, and any distractions during a meeting become minor and hardly noticed.

Teens should be able to participate with the adults, taking part in discussions and prayer. Some house churches may want to have an all teen house church that meets either at the same time as the adults, or perhaps a Wednesday night or some other night.

Many of us who were a product of the Charismatic Renewal of the late 1960’s and early 70’s were discipled in teen and young people prayer meetingsxessentially house church. There is nothing better than letting the teens lead the teens in the Lord! (For legal and other reasons, you may want to have at least one adult on premises)

10) What does a house church meeting actually look like?

At CWOWI a typical house church meeting is on Sunday mornings. We moved to Sunday mornings (in Tulsa) as our primary meeting time as a matter of culture, though some in the network meet other evenings. We are flexible though, often meeting on a Saturday for special events or other times. Early on, we had a CWOWI affiliate meeting on Thursday nights and we found that people were going to one church on Sunday morning, and CWOWI on Thursday night. This set up a conflict both for them, and their Sunday morning pastor. So we made the change to request (not require) that affiliates consider Sunday morning as their primary meeting time. Each affiliate is free to do so or not, depending on their city’s church culture.

For a Sunday morning, we start at 10am. For the next 30 minutes people come in, catch up with each other, chat and visit. Around 10:30 the leader will start asking for prayer requests and praise reports. After that, usually we open with prayer for the requests, and individuals as needed. This is open-ended depending on the needs present.

There have been times that we’ve never gotten past morning prayerxthe needs were there and the gifts were in operation. We go with how the Lord seems to be leading.

After prayer there is either a time of worship, or the leader will go directly into a teaching or Bible study. This depends on how the leader(s) feel led, and upon their individual gifting. Someone who is a teacher will often just go directly into a teaching, and end with worship, or have little worship. Others may put in a CD, ask someone to lead worship on the guitar or piano; it varies. We have had times in which we’ve never gotten out of worship. It varies from time to time. The key is that the leader has something to share going in, or is open to an open format and seeing how the Lord will lead that day.

Often there is finger food if no potluck is planned. We do plan a potluck the first Sunday of each month, but often people will bring finger food at other times.

It’s not unusual to go until 12 or 1pm either way, although when there is a potluck we try to end the main meeting at 11:30 or so and just change format to lunch and keep fellowship and prayer going as needed. Often, through conversations during lunch, needs come to the surface and it’s not unusual to see people get up from lunch or dessert and circle around for prayer.

Because church is the people, we are the church, we have church whether we’re worshipping the Lord or eating lunch together, so the freedom to minister and be ministered to, remains.

11) How are leaders for the next meeting chosen?

The question is two fold: Who wants to host, and who will lead? Sometimes the host and the leader are the same, other times someone might host but have someone else lead. When a church first gets started, there may be just a few people with the knowledge and maturity to lead a meeting. But after a few months, the maturity and knowledge level of everyone is raised, so that anyone may lead.

We try to keep in mind that leadership, according to I Cor 14:6, may come in various forms. Paul said it would not profit them unless he came offering either/or: Revelation (something God has shown him for them), knowledge (his knowledge of the ways of God in and through life experience), prophesying (moving of the Gifts of the Spirit), or by doctrine (teaching).

Therefore, one leader may be more apt to have a time of prayer and letting the Gifts flow, while another may have a teaching to share, and yet another might share a testimony of what God’s been doing in his/her life.

On a practical side, we try to set the hosting and leading responsibilities during our potluck lunch on the first Sunday of each month. Who will host is thrown out to everyone and there is no problem with people volunteering. Often, hosting is decided later, as two or three people discuss who wants to lead when.

We do not advocate having no leader. There are times when there is no agenda or teaching, and the Lord seems to take over as the Gifts flow or a Spirit of Worship takes over, but it is clear in the NT that there was always a leader.

There is a stream in house church circles that says no one should lead, that “Jesus is the agenda.” We agree that the Lord is, and sets, the agenda, but we believe the Lord intends to move through the grace(s) given to his Body. This is why Paul said in I Cor 14:6 that “it will not profit you unless I come to you by revelation, prophesying, knowledge, or doctrine.” Paul did not teach them to have no leader; by contrast, he acknowledged that God moves through His gifts placed in His people.

We never see Jesus, anyone in Acts, or the epistles in a meeting, or advocating a meeting in which no one is in charge. This is why we ask someone to lead, which means being in charge of getting the mind of the Lord for that meeting.

12) How do you do praise and worship?

It depends on the giftings of the members, but often the leader will ask someone to bring a CD or tape to lead worship. Sometimes there is neither tape/CD nor musician and worship goes straight to singing familiar choruses or in tongues. Other times someone may be musically inclined and play an instrument. We have found that usually, no matter by tape, CD or live accompaniment, true worship comes forth from the spirit of man, so the goal is to set the atmosphere for true worship to come forth.

13) How do you do communion?

We have done communion in numerous ways. Loaves of bread and juice as part of a separate ordinance, and also bread and juice immediately preceding a potluck meal, recognizing that the first Last Supper was an actual meal, not a separate ordinance. We have communion as often as someone feels led to do so. Usually they will then lead.

14) What happens when you need to divide, or what is the right size for a house church?

We’ve found that the best group dynamics are when a church is in the 8-12 person range. Once a church gets above 15 or so, people’s needs aren’t met as well and the relationships aren’t as strong.

Once a church grows to 15 or so, everyone there will be able to tell the dynamics have changed. At this point, when the need is seen by all, discussion needs to be held about planting a new church. Our policy is that no one starts one by themselves that the burden not rest solely on them. A group of 2-4 singles, or 2 or more couples may then begin meeting in a new church plant.

I know the tendency while you’re contemplating house church is to nail as much down in your mind as possible, with every option planned out. But the reality is that relationship based Christianity is very organic, and planting a church from another is a very natural thing that flows naturally along established friendships.

John Fenn

Please send all personal emails or questions to me at cwowi@aol.com

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