Thursday, July 29, 2010

House Churches: Closer to God?

I heard the other day that a lot of people are dropping out of mega-churches and are attending house churches as their only place of worship. A house church is a church that meets in someone’s home and has less than twelve or so members. I’ve got no problem with churches like that. I grew up in a church about that size. The highest attendance I ever saw was twenty-five, but we had a church building to meet in. I’ve known of several mission points that were started by meeting in someone’s home.

Some say they are returning to the way the early church worshiped by having house churches. Personally, I think that’s hogwash. There’s evidence in the Bible of big churches, little churches and everything in between. If you feel more comfortable in a tiny church, by all means attend a tiny church, but don’t try to say that makes you closer to God.

Another justification for these house churches is that people see it as a way of shaking off the tyranny of the larger churches, requiring them to pay for the overhead of the church building and the pastor’s salary. Once again, from my experience with tiny churches, I can say that they’ve missed the boat. First, the Bible teaches us to pay the pastor. (1 Corinthians 9) I can’t disagree that a house church makes more efficient use of buildings than larger churches. Most church buildings are grossly underutilized during the week. But what I can say is that having a larger church building may provide benefits that outweigh the inefficiencies. The overhead cost of the building is spread out across many families, so it is a small burden for each family and may be no more of a burden for each family than hosting the church is for the family in whose home a house church meets. A larger church can provide more resources than a tiny church can. A baptistery, for example, is a wonderful thing to have. I was baptized in the river because we didn’t have one, but the church I’m in now does and we can baptize all year round.

And consider the pastor. Some of the house churches don’t have a traditional preacher, but they all have a leader of some kind. There is someone who dedicates himself to doctrine and teaching. If the church isn’t large enough to pay the pastor full time, the pastor will have to work during the week to make enough money to feed his family. My dad did that for years and I can tell you that it is hard for a man to work forty or more hours at a secular job and still find enough time to prepare for his responsibilities on Sunday. Of course he’s also expected to visit the sick church members and a number of other things. The reason we pay pastors and church staff full time is so they will be free to spend the time they need in preparation.

So what I’m saying is that I don’t believe there is a “right” size for churches. They all have different problems. Some people desire to worship in a small house church and that is fine, but they miss out on some of the benefits of a larger church. Some people desire to worship in a larger church, but there are things about that that keep it from being perfect as well. So worship in whatever size of church you want, but don’t try to tell other people that your size of church is better than their size of church.