House churches in the U.S. for the sake of missions -- a radical proposal

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elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
We are often told that our checkbook is an indicator of our priorities. The same could be said for the church. When you look at your church's budget, where is most of the money spent on? Pastor's salary? Administration? Caring for the poor? Evangelism? Missions?

I'm from California, and real estate in the Golden State is very expensive and very scarce. The older churches have very expensive properties, and the newer churches are usually paying huge amounts to lease property. Rent or mortgage, property and facilities management, utilities and other building-related costs often make up the bulk of a church budget.

So, I propose that our churches move away from needing expensive buildings, and instead meet in homes. The churches in the Bible met in homes, or outside, not in church buildings. If churches no longer spent all that money every month just to have a place to meet, then that money could be used to support their pastors better, care for the needy, and support more overseas missionaries. The Great Commission still has yet to be fulfilled; there are not disciples among every tribe, language, people and nation.

What do you think? Is the priority correct in this proposal? Is this something the church ought to do? Is it plausible or feasible? Are the American churchgoers too conditioned to having church meet in a building for this to work? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a church model?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
There certainly were house churches in the Bible.

But that's not the whole context.

You need a reliable place to meet, that logistically meets the needs of meeting, and can accommodate present and future growth.

Often, one's house will not meet all those needs. Think of all the variables- what if the people are away traveling, don't want to host on a particular day for whatever reasons, or can't accommodate more than 25 people, is there room for a choir? etc.?

Occasional or incidental meetings, yes, but those will tend to "come and go."

Establishing a permanent work, needs a fixed place that can accommodate. Some churches have purchased a house and converted it into a sanctuary.
 

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
I completely agree that too many churches waste too much money on buildings. I like the idea of house churches, but it may not be practical for larger congregations. My church meets in a YMCA and it is perfect. They have a large gym where we have our service, a few classrooms for nursery, and a huge pool that we use for baptisms. We only get access to the building for four hours on Sunday morning, but it only costs us about $1000 a month. Compare that to what we would spend if we had a mortgage on a mulit-million dollar building.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
There is also a place for having the church building occupy a visible place in the community. This would seem to be more difficult if the building were a "regular" house.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
The Lord just doubled the size of our building w/no mortgage and no fundraising. This enables us to pursue having an intern, opens our VBS so we don't have to cap enrollment at 80, lets the congregation gather in one room outside of the sanctuary, etc., etc.

I worry about the trend toward rented facilities and churches in houses. I fully understand that this is sometimes unavoidable and that the early church used a variety of meeting places. But I get an overtone of churches viewing themselves as less-than permanent. One can pop up today, function for a while, then slide away without anyone even knowing that it existed.

I sometimes see buildings that were obviously once churches that are now used to sell antiques or books or something. It makes me wonder: what happened to that congregation? Are their children still following Christ somewhere? It was clear that an earlier generation wanted to permanently establish a place for God's worship; it is tragic that use has ended. But the building itself still stands as a silent witness.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Don't forget to put in a hefty line item in your budget for litigation expenses. You'll have land use issues, occupancy permits to deal with, etc. ADA exemptions and RLUIPA will help, but that won't cover all of the issues, and even items covered may have to be litigated.

Over time, the costs may even out, but for the first few years, renting might be cheaper.

I remember running into some of the 'home church movement' folks some years ago. (It is certainly not a new idea.) It's not something I'd with which I'd want to be associated.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Interesting. Simpler isn't always better. There are always variables to be considered (as has already been brought up). We were informed today that our lease is being terminated. Right now we don't know where we're going. We may have no alternative but to consider meeting in homes until the Lord provides another facility. However, that is not the typical church house church model. There is a difference between meeting in a house because of necessity and meeting in a house because of design.
 

Rufus

Puritan Board Junior
I worry about the trend toward rented facilities and churches in houses. I fully understand that this is sometimes unavoidable and that the early church used a variety of meeting places. But I get an overtone of churches viewing themselves as less-than permanent. One can pop up today, function for a while, then slide away without anyone even knowing that it existed.

I sometimes see buildings that were obviously once churches that are now used to sell antiques or books or something. It makes me wonder: what happened to that congregation? Are their children still following Christ somewhere? It was clear that an earlier generation wanted to permanently establish a place for God's worship; it is tragic that use has ended. But the building itself still stands as a silent witness.

Up here I've seen a few nice old churches that are either abandoned or are "preserved" by the government but there not really used for tourism either. One is on somebodies property, a big old white church, another is abandoned and beat down it is made of stone and has stained glassed windows but it looks like it hasn't been used in eighty years, right here in my town we have Union Chapel and an old Presbyterian church that are both preserved.
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elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
Interesting. Simpler isn't always better. There are always variables to be considered (as has already been brought up). We were informed today that our lease is being terminated. Right now we don't know where we're going. We may have no alternative but to consider meeting in homes until the Lord provides another facility. However, that is not the typical church house church model. There is a difference between meeting in a house because of necessity and meeting in a house because of design.

Bill, I saw your post just before I was about to post mine. I certainly didn't intend to direct this post towards your church in any way. I imagine that the early church met in houses out of necessity as well, mainly because of persecution.

I have never attended a house church. My motivation for bringing this up has nothing to do with endorsing a house church "model" but simply being a diligent steward of what God has given us and using our funds as efficiently as possible to accomplish the goals that God has laid out for the church: making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that Christ has commanded. I don't think a building is all that necessary for this, and it is disproportionately expensive.

You need a reliable place to meet, that logistically meets the needs of meeting, and can accommodate present and future growth. Often, one's house will not meet all those needs. Think of all the variables- what if the people are away traveling, don't want to host on a particular day for whatever reasons, or can't accommodate more than 25 people, is there room for a choir? etc.?

As JWithnell and Rufus alluded to, a church building gives a sense of permanence, but in many cases, this sense of permanence is often nothing but a facade.

A reliable place to meet is nice, and not having that is a major inconvenience, but is that need for convenience worth the thousands of dollars that are poured into a church building? In the age of cell phones and the internet, is it too hard to tell everyone about a location change? If a house gets too crowded, is it too difficult to worship outside? Or work towards splitting into two house churches?

Do we really need to have a choir, spend money on choir robes, or alternately, a huge sound system and electric guitars sucking up electricity? Why not just a guitar or a piano, or just a cappella worship?

A reliable location, a good sounding choir or worship band, and a large facility are all nice things to have, but I simply want to ask: is it worth the thousands of dollars when our own missionaries are being sent home because of lack of funds? When missionaries often spend several years in "partnership development" raising support before they can go overseas?
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
I don't think a building is all that necessary for this, and it is disproportionately expensive.

Don, it's the last part of your statement that you need to be careful of (emphasis mine). If a church's facilities expenses are to the point that missions, acts of mercy, and member care are curtailed or non-existent, then your comment has validity. However, not every church is in this situation. Many churches are good stewards of what God has entrusted to them. Not belonging to any one person, their facility is used to minister to the family of God. Church buildings are a presence of stability in a community. There is a sense of belonging. The building is a gathering place for the saints and a beacon of hope for the sinner. Local ordinances often prohibit signs or excess parking. This can be a limiting problem for a house-based church. There is much to be considered.
 

elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
I don't think a building is all that necessary for this, and it is disproportionately expensive.

Don, it's the last part of your statement that you need to be careful of (emphasis mine). If a church's facilities expenses are to the point that missions, acts of mercy, and member care are curtailed or non-existent, then your comment has validity. However, not every church is in this situation. Many churches are good stewards of what God has entrusted to them. Not belonging to any one person, their facility is used to minister to the family of God. Church buildings are a presence of stability in a community. There is a sense of belonging. The building is a gathering place for the saints and a beacon of hope for the sinner. Local ordinances often prohibit signs or excess parking. This can be a limiting problem for a house-based church. There is much to be considered.

Bill, fair enough. For the sake of discussion, I'm putting it in black and white terms and making broad, sweeping generalizations. I am doing so because I think it could apply to many, if not most, of our churches. I want all churches to consider whether their finances are being used best for the glory of God. If your church is already being financially efficient and distributing more money toward missions than towards a building, then this discussion is meant to encourage you.

Yes, there is a lot to consider, but I think it's better to get the ball rolling and consider the possibility of moving to house churches, rather than for us to simply dismiss the concept outright as too trendy or too difficult or inconvenient. Our churches often do things out of tradition and become too rooted in doing things the way we've always done them.

For example, yes, local ordinances may prevent signs, and parking would be difficult. But I think the benefit of not paying for a building would outweigh a lot of these things. Also, organized carpooling would reduce parking immensely and be better for the environment and traffic congestion. If you need to, you can park a couple blocks away.

Inconvenient? Yes. But I think our American desire for convenience hinders the effectiveness of the church in so many different areas.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Don, keep in mind that the same approach used in your argument can be used against house churches.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Other possibilities besides an expensive building might be renting out a hotel conference room for several hours every sunday and making the service open to the public.

Some churches overseas even set-up in malls, like is being done much in West Java and other areas where church buildings are sometimes targetted by radicals, since areas where malls are built are often the most tolerant areas and being inside a mall offers certain protections.

With the popularity of VFW posts declining, some of these, or elks lodges, etc, might allow cheap or even free meetings.


However, a set-aside building does help convey legitimacy in our culture. To be contextual in Western culture, and remove needless barriars to the gospel in the West, a set-aside building is a plus.

Many folks think that only cults and wackos meet in basements. Plus, I would much rather go pee in a "public" place like a church building, then go to the bathroom in someone's private home and see their private articles of toiletry and what their favorite toilet reading material is, etc.

---------- Post added at 02:15 AM ---------- Previous post was at 01:56 AM ----------

Here's a link to an article about shopping mall churches in West Java: http://www.indonesiamatters.com/1699/mall-church/

Also, a final note. In many places on the mission field, there are nice big church buildings. It would be ironic for a US church to forsake its own big building to send away a missionary in order to serve in places where there are big buildings for worship...but maybe it would be a good change.
 

elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
Don, keep in mind that the same approach used in your argument can be used against house churches.

Could you elaborate here, Bill? As I said before, I'm not particularly attached to house churches as a model.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Having come out of the house church movement myself, I can say that one of its biggest problems, and the one that has most likely prevented the movement from gaining traction over the last 2000 years, is that no matter what you do you can never truly make someone's home a public place. No amount of explaining can reassure the unconverted or baby Christian that they are indeed welcome at some stranger's house on Sunday morning. Private homes are a great place for private meetings but not for public meetings. Once you go the house church route you become a kind of 'secret society' which is contrary to the great commission your house churching is supposed to be benefiting.

This is the main reason I left the house church movement in favor of the local church with all of its failings and blemishes and imperfections. I believe the church needs to do whatever is necessary to remain a public meeting, even if that means disproportionate spending.

Whose to say what is disproportionate spending in the first place? The Bible does not tell us what the ideal church budget looks like.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Don, keep in mind that the same approach used in your argument can be used against house churches.

Could you elaborate here, Bill? As I said before, I'm not particularly attached to house churches as a model.

Don, okay, let's use your argument as a model and I'll use the same tactic by refuting it:

I think it's better to get the ball rolling and consider the possibility of moving to house churches, rather than for us to simply dismiss the concept outright as too trendy or too difficult or inconvenient.

I think it's better to get the ball rolling and consider the possibility of moving from a house church to a public facility, than for us to simply dismiss the concept outright as too stodgy or difficult or convenient.

Our churches often do things out of tradition and become too rooted in doing things the way we've always done them.

House churches often do things out of tradition and become too rooted in doing things they way we've always done them.

For example, yes, local ordinances may prevent signs, and parking would be difficult. But I think the benefit of not paying for a building would outweigh a lot of these things. Also, organized carpooling would reduce parking immensely and be better for the environment and traffic congestion. If you need to, you can park a couple blocks away.

For example, yes, there would be a higher cost of paying for a building, but the convenience would be worth it. People could park in a parking lot making it easier to access the facility. This is especially helpful for the elderly or handicapped. It would also be considerate to our neighbors by not parking in front of their homes. It will also eliminate excuses for people not to attend church because of the inconvenience of parking.

Inconvenient? Yes. But I think our American desire for convenience hinders the effectiveness of the church in so many different areas.

Catering to convenience? No. It would be making public worship more accessible for all who would desire to come and greatly enhance the effectiveness of the church in so many different areas.

Don, the reason your argument can be turned on its head is because it is not a biblical mandate. If the bible clearly commanded us to meet in homes then the issue is rendered moot. I understand your cost cutting comments. They make sense on the surface. But is yet to be proven that giving would increase, or remain the same, proportionally to larger churches. There is also the unintended consequence of driving the church underground. If the house church model held sway, and more and more church buildings became shuttered, the church would enter into a defacto bunker mentality. The church would virtually disappear from society.

Again, house churches sometimes are necessary. They are necessary in oppressive governments, such as China. If my church cannot enter into a new lease we may be forced to meet in a home until we can find public accommodations. But to suggest house churches as the norm is an over reaction In my humble opinion.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I find that in some of the house churches I have attended, several strong personalities often ran the show. These strong personalities either started the house church (either to do it 'their way" or due to not being able to submit or work with a wider conglomeration of folks), or else these desired to untowardly control the church through hosting the fellowship meetings.

Sometimes, a house church is merely a gathering of malcontents.

I have found this grievous tendency among several "Uniting Church and Home" folks who could not tolerate any public meeting or public worship not of their own construction and isolated themselves due to their "convictions" (a word I have often come to dread).
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I have wonderfully fond memories of meeting in people's homes as a church started. I think the intimacy helped us all get to know one another and knitted a core group that still provides leadership 30 years later. But there was always an eye to the future -- even before we had a pastor, the men were meeting regularly to pray for guidance and God's blessings on our tiny start.

I think it could apply to many, if not most, of our churches. I want all churches to consider whether their finances are being used best for the glory of God.
I don't believe this kind of broad accusation is at all appropriate. If you know this to be true of your own church, please take it up with your session.
 

elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
Thank you all for your comments. They've been helpful for my thinking.

I've called it a "radical proposal," acknowledging that this is something that was going to challenge the way we do things. In that sense, I should have been prepared for the negative reception, but I had hoped I would get more people entertaining the idea, at least for a moment, instead of pushing back so hard.

As far as the church being "driven underground" and having "no presence in society," I wonder if that is really such a bad thing after all. The underground church in China certainly has a profound impact on society. The church prior to Constantine was that way. Why is it so important for us to have presence in society? Is it because we fear persecution? Are we afraid of being thought of as strange, or mocked? (This happens anyway, by the way).

As far as "the Bible doesn't have a church budget," i am not saying any such thing. I am saying that the priority of the church is making disciples of every tribe, language, people and nation, and that if a church can cut major costs regarding a building and allocate that toward missions, this is better overall for the priority of the church.

Anyway, this was an interesting experiment in trying to be creative in getting the church to consciously self-sacrifice to support missionaries. When the SBC is not able to send out very many missionaries and pulling missionaries out of countries because the IMB is underfunded, when missionaries are spending 3+ years raising support full-time to be sent out, and when our own missionaries on PB are forced to return home because a lack of funding, I think those of us who are senders need to get our creative minds working to see how we as a church can best do our part in the Great Commission.

If anyone else has creative ideas to support our missionaries who are constantly struggling with undersupport, I'd love to hear them.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
is there room for a choir?

This is definitely not something for which it is necessary to make provision.

Okay, no choirs, choruses or bands.

Is there enough room for a few people in concert to sing acapella?

Room for any musical instruments that require amps or speakers? Electrical outlets? Is there enough room for them and a sound barrier?

Quote Originally Posted by Scott1 View Post
You need a reliable place to meet, that logistically meets the needs of meeting, and can accommodate present and future growth. Often, one's house will not meet all those needs. Think of all the variables- what if the people are away traveling, don't want to host on a particular day for whatever reasons, or can't accommodate more than 25 people, is there room for a choir? etc.?
As JWithnell and Rufus alluded to, a church building gives a sense of permanence, but in many cases, this sense of permanence is often nothing but a facade.

But that's a separate issue isn't it? Your church will not be a "facade."

A reliable place to meet is nice, and not having that is a major inconvenience, but is that need for convenience worth the thousands of dollars that are poured into a church building? In the age of cell phones and the internet, is it too hard to tell everyone about a location change?

Believe it or not, there are many people who still do not have cell phones, or apps, or internet- or at least do not check them regularly.:)

If a house gets too crowded, is it too difficult to worship outside?

Inclement weather? Allergies?

Or work towards splitting into two house churches?

Doesn't this divide the resources of an already small church- two servings of communion?

Do we really need to have a choir, spend money on choir robes, or alternately, a huge sound system and electric guitars sucking up electricity? Why not just a guitar or a piano, or just a cappella worship?

Will the house have electrical provisions for electric guitars and other instruments? Room for the sound system? Will the nonchristian neighbors appreciate the noise witness? (While I'm not against choir robes, many biblical reformed churches do not have robes or vestments.)

A reliable location, a good sounding choir or worship band, and a large facility are all nice things to have, but I simply want to ask: is it worth the thousands of dollars when our own missionaries are being sent home because of lack of funds?

Is the covenant community tithing to support God's work?

When missionaries often spend several years in "partnership development" raising support before they can go overseas?
A separate issue.


---------- Post added at 09:54 AM ---------- Previous post was at 09:43 AM ----------

Don,

your idea of meeting in people's homes involves hospitality and building (covenant) community, which are good (biblical) ones.

Really, I would expect sound biblical teaching to produce fruits of tithing (giving) enough to support a stable, neutral and sufficient place to meet for corporate worship.

Take these ideas and try to create a hospitality culture where people invite members, visitors to the church into their homes for meals after church on Sunday, and at other times. That they will network and enjoy fellowship, and help one another throughout the week. Having a duly constituted Diaconate will help with this.

That, and stability are sorely needed in this generation of believers, as ever.
 

GulfCoast Presbyterian

Puritan Board Junior
I think the "public church building" also serves as a ministry (for lack of a better term) to the public. Ours is used for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, the Scout District meetings, Roundtables, "Friends of Bill W" (Alcoholics Annon), the Community Choir, and any number of community group meetings. All of the above, other than AA, have some "member connection" with the Church, but having a "building" also meets a "facility need." To be sure, the Church does not exist to provide facilities to the community, but it is part of what I consider the "general ministry" which has born fruit in new families. Its just another part of the equation.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Okay, no choirs, choruses or bands.

Is there enough room for a few people in concert to sing acapella?

Room for any musical instruments that require amps or speakers? Electrical outlets? Is there enough room for them and a sound barrier?

If there is room for people to be there, there is room for people to sing. And if it's a small space, it seems unlikely that amplification of any kind is required - not to mention that instruments are not necessary in the first place.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Don,

So how is support raising going?

---------- Post added at 03:49 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:44 PM ----------

True story:

While I was raising support, I met a member of a suburban church that bragged to me about their missions program. In fact, they could not support any more missionaries because a large part of their missions budget was dedicated to this new and innovative effort.

There effort was as follows: They spent 10 thousand dollars on a huge banner that said, "Come, let us set the table" and then, underneath was a row of picnic tables. Every Sunday they would serve free food to the community to anyone who would come. This wasn't a homeless shelter mind you, but in an upper class suburb of Saint Louis.
 

LawrenceU

Puritan Board Doctor
We met in houses for three years, out of necessity. We were not a 'house church'. We now rent a facility and the Lord has used it in ways that are hard to describe. One thing to bear in mind is that houses in the first century were not houses like we know. The houses in which early Christians most likely met were laid out in a format that incorporated a large atrium and often an adjoining peristylium. Even the modest houses could accommodate a large number of people when compared to our houses today. The idea of a small group of believers huddled in a small lamp-lit room is most likely not accurate.
 

elnwood

Puritan Board Junior
If anyone else has creative ideas to support our missionaries who are constantly struggling with undersupport, I'd love to hear them.

Don, is this really what this thread is all about?

You'll have to be more forthcoming, Bill. I can't read your mind -- what are you implying that this thread is really about?

---------- Post added at 11:03 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:57 AM ----------

Don,

So how is support raising going?

I actually haven't started raising support yet; I've been really busy finishing seminary and with linguistics school this past month. It's still early, but I hope to get a support letter out this week regarding the vision trip to your part of the world early next year. Looking forward to seeing you, my friend.
 
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