Right after "How can I find a house church in my area?", "How do I start a house church?" is the 2nd most common question I receive. There are several things to consider.
In scripture we have the names of several people who were the original hosts/leaders of their own house church; Lydia in Philippi, Jason in Thessalonica, Titus Justus and Crispus in Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus (and at another time in Rome), Philemon in Colossae, a lady named Nymphas in Laodicea.
(Acts 16:15, 40; 17:5; 18:7-8; I Cor 16:19; Rom 16: 3-5; Col 4:15, Philemon 2)
The pattern is that usually the full burden does not rest on any one individual - they had help. For instance, we are told Lydia had employees and the Philippian jailer and family, Philemon had employees, and in Corinth the Jewish leader of the synagogue Crispus teamed up with the Roman, Titus Justus. Apparently though, Priscilla and Aquila, a husband and wife team, appear quite gifted with hospitality for they are mentioned as hosting the church in their homes both in Rome and Ephesus - wherever they went apparently they hosted the church.
We have found the same pattern to be true; unless really graced with hospitality, you will need to team up with someone at some point. Maybe at the start you can host and lead alone, but after a bit the Lord will usually bring someone alongside on the same spiritual page to bear the load. From there we've found that rotating homes and leaders each week shares the load and brings everyone up spiritually. If at some point you don't start rotating leaders and homes each week, meetings become a miniature of what we left, with everyone looking to one couple or one leader for 'the word'.
Many house churches start by de-churched friends inviting other de-churched friends over for a meal, some prayer, worship, study in the Word - and talk of home based church. House churches differ from prayer meetings or Bible studies in that people who attend are serious and purposeful about why they are meeting on a regular basis.
We use the word 'intentional' in several applications here in our Tulsa churches. We are intentional about each other, intentional about how and why we meet, intentional neighbors and intentional about moving those we fellowship with 'up' in our priorities in life - in prayer, in fellowship, in communication between meetings.
One does not just start a house church without these careful considerations. This is not just another event to fill the week, it is intentional Christianity, relationship based faith and relationship based church.
Earlier in this series I spoke of following Jesus' instructions from Luke 10 of finding people of peace. These are people who accept you for you long before they accept Jesus. They are family, friends/neighbors and those in the community, and co-workers. They are people within your existing sphere of influence. There are many people, believers and unbelievers, who prefer to come to a living room rather than a church building.
Thus hosting starts very small scale, often 1 or 2 others. Have a meal in your home, then have a time of worship and prayer and discussion...that's how it starts. That said, I know one situation where a couple decided after a time of not going anywhere to church to invite everyone they knew that was de-churched. They started right off with 6 or 7 couples and families!
When a house church actually meets varies, but a threshold is crossed when people realize the seriousness of what they are doing - mentally the jump is made that this is more than just friends having a meal and time in the Lord - this is their spiritual home and their spiritual family.
When that happens sometimes the switch is made to meeting Sunday mornings, sometimes Saturdays, sometimes a weekday night - but the mental change happens that this is church, this is my spiritual family.
So here is what happens typically, but not all the time, just a sample: People arrive and visit for the first 1/2 hour or so. (The host has put out some water and finger foods - maybe cheese and crackers and fruit - something simple.)
After the first 1/2 hour or so the host/hostess who may also be the leader(s) for the meeting, starts by asking for prayer requests...after a time of sharing those requests everyone starts praying for those needs. At this point anything can happen - people may want prayer personally, and people will lay hands on them and see what the Lord may say through the gifts of the Spirit, or just prayer.
Depending on the gifting of the leader, the group may start worshiping, or maybe just continue in prayer and the flow of the gifts of the Spirit, or right into a Bible study or hearing what is on the heart of the leader of that meeting.
Worship flows from the heart, born from the existing intimacy and vibrancy of each person's closeness with the Father and Jesus, and a true worshipper can at a moments notice break forth in their own words adoration and love for the Father and Jesus. They need no cd or instrument, or if there is such, those things merely accompany the existing melody in the worshiper's heart.
God inhabits the praise and worship of his people, so if people in house church are not willing to worship vibrantly from their hearts (or not willing to learn to find their own words and melody) they're not as likely to have the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit (and gifts of the Spirit moving) in that meeting.
When people want the baptism with the Holy Spirit but struggle speaking in tongues, in many of those cases they don't know how, nor practice worship on their own - to truly get lost in the Spirit in their expression of love to the Father.
Side note: Most 'big' healings I've been a part of both personally and with others, involves the person receiving during worship, getting so caught up in expressing their love for the Father and Jesus that just being in the Father's presence, where there is no lack, heals them.
Think of it; the Greek word for 'worship' is pros-kuneo, pros meaning 'toward' and kuneo meaning 'to kiss'. Worship is therefore the intentional ("towards") kissing of the Father God - a full on expression of love - and He is seeking those who will worship from their spirit and in truth (pure motives) to worship him.
But if you say 'Let's worship' in most churches of any structure, and if you don't have someone else's music and lyrics, people don't know how to express that kind of love to the Father. That's one reason Paul says to "Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise and voices and making melody in your heart to the Lord. And in everything give thanks." (Eph 5:19-20)
(So maybe a house church needs to purposely study worship a bit and not have a CD for a season until people learn how to worship, how to use their own words instead of a song writers to tell Father God why they love Him, and why they love Jesus?)
The things of God involve the Spirit and the Word - both elements must be present. If you have the Spirit without the Word people get off balance. If you have the Word without the Spirit things are dry and boring.
If people in house church are not willing to move from their heart - if they haven't mentally prepared to be active and go over and lay hands on someone and expect God to speak through them or give them a word for that person - then house church will stagnate.
In many meetings the vibrancy of prayer and worship lead naturally into a study and discussion of the Word, though in practice the Word and prayer and worship may follow any order, differing according to how the leader feels led for that meeting.
This is where people get nervous - the expectation that they will bring forth a study or message. In house church though everything is discussion oriented, not sermon oriented. Many excellent times in the Lord have started with merely a single verse, or a single thought about a single verse even. You're among friends, others will fill in the gaps because it's discussion oriented...relax, share what's on your heart, it's safe.
Paul told the Corinthians "When you come together every one of you has a psalm (worship/prayer), revelation (something God showed me, this week or another time), doctrine (something God taught me this week or another time), tongues/interpretation (freedom to move in the gifts of the Spirit)." I Cor 14:26
Depending on the way God created whoever is leading is how the meeting will go. A leader more graced in intercessory prayer may lead everyone in worship and prayer, a teacher may forgo worship in favor of a deep study in the Word, someone may just have one recurring thought that stayed with them all week they'd like to share (a revelation) - and it goes from there.
The point is that it is intentional. Whoever is leading is seeking the Father for the upcoming meeting. My pattern has been, and often this is the case with others I've discovered, is along about Wednesday (for a Sunday meeting) the Father starts putting a thought or verse or Psalm or revelation or subject on the leader's heart - and they think on that for those several days before the Sunday meeting. It's natural, flowing, and completely easy because a person can be themselves, as the Father directs them.
A house church revolves around people as guests in someone's home, getting to know one another. As such one of our founding verses is Galatians 2:9: "But when Peter, James and John...perceived the grace in Barnabus and me, they gave us the right hand of fellowship..."
Perceiving the grace is essential to knowing and loving people of varying ages, races, backgrounds, and life experience. Perceiving the grace in the verse above meant that though Peter and the others were called to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, they were in fellowship and relationship. Peter would later write that some of what Paul wrote was hard to understand, meaning that even though he didn't fully understand Paul's call, teachings, or life experience, he perceived the grace and loved him. (II Pet 3:16)
This means we look for Jesus in another person - when you find Jesus in them and what He has done and is doing in them, their past, their race, their socio-economic standing falls into the category of irrelevance. This is how we walk in love with people who are very different from us - perceive in your spirit Jesus in them, and love Him in them.
House churches do go through stages though. We've found that for the first 90 days all are on best behavior. In the 3-6 month time frame (if they stick around), personality conflicts arise and people have to learn to perceive the grace in others. In the 6-9 month time frame they work through it all, learning how to be proactive in meetings and walk in love, and by 12 months a core group of friends has worked through personality conflicts and grown to truly enjoy each other's company. Somewhere in the 6 month to 18 month time frame a house church starts turning outward to invite others - though this varies widely.
Lastly, there are no stand alone house churches in the New Testament. Many start off as individual house churches, all alone, like in Acts 11 in Antioch, or Acts 16 in Philippi. But at some point each house church sought to be connected to an apostle and a larger network of house churches. From those relationships people wrote back and forth, traveled back and forth, sent money back and forth - they were connected to each other.
It must have been some discussion in Corinth, for according to I Corinthians 3 they were acting like un-born again people, so caught up in strife were they over this issue - some said they wanted to be associated with Apollos, some with Paul - he told them it shouldn't be a point of strife and they were acting like babies. Later in chapter 9 he told them he was the most instrumental in their spiritual life and they should be supporting him, but the point is they wanted to be connected.
In Antioch, once connected to the leaders in Jerusalem, they sent an offering to help against a prophesied famine, and Paul thanks the churches in Philippi (which started you'll recall in Lydia's house) for sending support twice while he started the house church in Thessalonica - they wanted to help start other house churches by extension through Paul's ministry. (Acts 11:29, 16:40/17:1-8, Phil 4:15-16)
And in II Corinthians 8 Paul is receiving an offering for the leaders and believers in Jerusalem from the Corinthians and once again mentions the house churches of Philippi and area (Macedonia) giving as well - so Philippi was connect to Thessalonica and also to Corinth and all were connected to Paul who was also connected to Jerusalem....and on it goes.
We try to emulate Paul - he sought to build relationships not a network. Networking and those relationships developed naturally over time, but relationships were the point.
And that is why this second foundational verse is so important, from II Corinthians 1:24: "Not that we would have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy, for by your own faith you stand."
Neither Paul nor we have dominion over someone's faith - each house church is an independent, real church. Our part as leaders, and as others in a network, is to be helpers of joy. And there is great peace in that.
Be intentional, you can do it, you're not alone!
Please send all personal emails or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org