If you have been a part of a house church for any length of time I pretty much guarantee that somebody from a “brick church” (my term for a traditional, pastor-led church) has said the following to you upon hearing about your house church:
“We have home groups for that.”
They might say community groups, small groups, etc., but they are all talking about essentially the same thing. This betrays an essential misunderstanding about house churches. These people don’t understand one of the most foundational concepts in the house church movement; namely, the priesthood of the believer.
For most Christians, particularly Protestant Christians whose churches have a Reformation history, the doctrine of the “Priesthood of the Believer” is limited to soteriology (the theology of salvation). It does not extend into their ecclesiology (church theology).
In a typical brick church the home group is an extension of the pastor’s ministry. A friend who is a leader in a house church network in New York City has recounted a conversation that he had with somebody attending a brick church.
“Oh, I see what you do in house church,” he said to my friend, “we have home groups for that.”
“That’s great!” replied my friend, “and what does your group do when you gather?”
“Well, we watch a video of the pastor together and then we talk about it,” he replied.
That’s it in a nutshell! The typical brick church is organized around the teaching ministry of the pastor (the priest) whereas a house church is based on the service of all the “priests” – all members of the group – to one another and those outside the group.
In a brick church, professional clergy becomes the de facto “ministers” and the congregants are “ministered to” by this group of leaders. The house church paradigm sets this dynamic on its head, with each follower of Jesus taking on the responsibility of being a priest. Rather than sitting back and letting the pro’s do it, in a house church setting, you are the pro.
This is why most home groups cannot provide the same sort of environment that a house church can. It’s not about what the participants “do” but what they “are.” Can this happen when a home group is the extension of a larger church? Perhaps, but I have rarely, if ever, seen it or experienced it myself. I have, on the other hand, experienced the long arm of the pastor in making sure that home groups reinforce his ministry.
So, I don’t think your home group is the same as my house church.
Feel free to disagree with me!