House church culture

Today I’ll share about the ‘culture’, the ‘mind set’ of house church especially geared towards those thinking about house church – I think this will help define differences for you. If you’re in house church, my hope is that it will further define some of those intangibles that make house church, house church.

I’ll make some generalized statements about traditional church structure for the purpose of comparison and making a point, and as such I am not trying to offend, merely making generalized observations.

As such, the major difference in house church culture from traditional church culture is this: Traditional church has trained whole generations to look at church as ‘what can it do for me’ or ‘what it can do for my family’, rather than “How can I grow in Christ in safe relationships with true friends, and contribute to the overall well being of a (home based) family of faith, that is also outwardly directed to my community.”

Some years ago I consulted with traditional churches and Bible schools, and I would have the pastor distribute questionnaires asking why people chose that church. Without fail pastors were surprised and humbled when the results were tallied. “Sermon” was way down the list in terms of why people went to any given church. “Children’s church/youth group” and “nursery” were nearly always the #1 reasons, followed by ‘good music’ or ‘good worship’. One pastor’s sermons even fell below ‘parking lot shuttle service’.

Some use church for social reasons too. They use the nursery and children’s church as a babysitter so they can have a break, or as a means to meet people their own age, or they love sitting back and listening to a choir or full band. I’ve had several lukewarm husbands tell me candidly when away from their on-fire-for-the-Lord wives that they come to church mainly ‘because it’s good for business’.

By contrast, the culture of house church can be illustrated by quoting an Indian man when a friend of mine visited his country. He told my friend: “You Americans preach a different gospel than we do. You tell people if you receive Jesus as Lord you will gain your health, you will gain money, you will gain your family and business. We tell people if you receive Jesus as Lord you may lose your health, you may lose your money, you may lose your family, you may lose your business, you may even lose your life.”

People in house church have a different set of priorities. We think in terms of the relationships we have within house church are so rich that we’d like to include others in those relationships, and so look for people of peace in our existing spheres of influence in family, community, and work to get to know better and invite to our living rooms.

We in house church think how to include others in our lives, traditional thinking seeks to include others in programs.

House church is messy. We get to know one another and as such pray for each other and track those prayers weekly. We know when someone is having a hard time financially and have the opportunity and responsibility to respond, both individually and as a (house) church.

Traditional church is sanitized Christianity, sanitized faith. It’s largely reduced to theory and best case scenarios. You can give money to a program without ever having to actually know a person and their situation. In house church you get to know the person for whom the formulas didn’t work. You share their hurts, their victories.

House church in involved Christianity. Rather than give to programs where specialists in a particular ‘outreach’ go to prisons or take meals to the sick or collect and distribute food and clothes or work on someone’s house in need of repair, those in house church become those ‘specialists’ for people for those in our midst. WE take the food ourselves. WE go take money to pay an electric bill, or work on someone’s house.

Outside the box
Traditional churches are by nature inwardly directed – not an indictment, just fact. By their nature they are all about attracting people which attracts money and volunteers to carry forth the vision of the church. In my consulting days the #1 question pastors asked was “How do I shut the back door?” (Keep people from leaving) coupled with it: “And how do I grow my church or school?”

For that reason all their problem solving thinking is confined to that structure. If there is a social need – start a program (clothing, bus, singles, young married’s, food pantry). That thinking goes to the congregation as well; if this church doesn’t meet my needs or those of my family, we’ll leave and search for another traditional church that has the program we need.

House church is comprised of people who value the relationships they have in that house church as a foundation in Christ. Therefore solutions to issues are found via relationships. Someone needs food while recovering from surgery; organize everyone who meets in the living room to take food to them because when one hurts we all hurt – not a program, but a house church community response.

Young families needs not being met? Divide out to a young family house church and start inviting other de-churched Christians or people of peace non-Christians to house church. Someone doesn’t have transportation to the meetings, YOU go out of your way to pick them up and then drop them back home.

We don’t think in terms of ‘if our needs aren’t met we’ll go to another church’, but rather, how can I be part of the solution? What provision has the Lord made for us and our family in our larger house church family? How can we be outwardly focused to bring others into the richness that we have in these relationships in house church?

House church meetings require preparation, especially for the leader(s) that day. This isn’t for people who want to sit back and not participate nor have anything to share. Whoever is leading that day is expected to take it seriously, spending time in the Word or prayer and with the Lord to get a leading on the direction for that meeting. If whoever is leading does not do this, house churches become social meetings revolving around fellowship, food, light prayer, but no real spiritual meat, and it stagnates.

So for all those thinking about house church, many of whom this is the first time receiving my Weekly Thoughts, I encourage you to read #1 and #2 on this subject at our home page under ‘articles’. House church meetings meet with purpose, with priorities being the people in that house church – and growth in Christ. Next week, the last of the series…how to start, how to walk in love with such diverse people, and more!

John Fenn
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