I am aware of a couple of house churches that have recently “folded” because of life’s circumstances. A job change, a graduation and subsequent need to move, leaving for the mission field, whatever: life changes and when it does the folks that make up the house church are scattered.
Let me preface this with the observation that local churches are not catholic in the “small c” sense. It isn’t necessary that they live on forever. In fact, I am sure that there are many churches that have outlived their purpose for existence and need to die. However, there is value in continuity and the goal is for healthy churches to live on and thrive.
House churches, far more often than traditional churches, suffer from “recidivism” or contraction. They arise, live a while, and then die a quick death. We often hear about “rabbits and elephants” in the positive sense only. While it’s true that rabbits multiply quickly, elephants live a long time. This is one advantage of the traditional church: it has incredible staying power.
So how can a house church be strengthened against a short life? One answer, I believe, is to be a part of a network of house churches. I have mentioned in other blog posts the nature of the early church and why house church networks are closer to the first century model than stand-alone house churches so I won’t repeat that here. What I am observing is that independent house churches do not survive as often as networked house churches.
The network provides balance to leadership, helps when a particular house church is struggling to grow and can come alongside other groups in the network that are struggling with issues. I am currently witnessing a house church in disintegration. I have no doubt that had this group chosen to affiliate with a larger network a year ago (when they were healthy and growing) the network in their city could be helping them now to continue on. It’s unfortunate that the needy community in which this house church has been meeting will no longer have a vibrant house church in its midst.
House church networks are, IMHO, a better way to do house church than the oxymoron of the “independent house church.”