House churches are great – I wouldn’t want to do church any other way – but house churches are only one way to do church. Traditional churches (what I call “brick churches”) have advantages as well. Sometimes I find that house church attenders with specific needs can have these needs met in a brick church program better than in a house church. They can also continue to attend the house church. Navigating this grey area can actually strengthen both.
When would I would suggest utilizing the ministry of a brick church?
Simply put: When a house church member has special needs that are real and cannot be met by a small house church.
- I am a diabetic and I would like to attend a diabetic support group of Christians.
- I have two teen-age kids and they can’t connect with our house church which is made up of people with no teen-agers. My kids really need youth group.
- I am an addict and want to be a part of Celebrate Recovery.
- I am a young mom and want to attend MOPs (Mothers Of Preschoolers) or just want to be with other young moms (you could insert “young single” or “mature couple” or any other demographic label here).
These are all examples in which programs may be helpful to people in a house churches. As pastors and shepherds we should always be on the lookout for ways to serve the people in our flock. One way to do this is to put the needs of people before the form of our church.
Unfortunately, these sorts of programmatic needs are commonly used as reasons for leaving a house church. It doesn’t have to be this way.
When do you not suggest leaving a house church?
With the exception of a couple of very specific programs, I believe that most of the above can be met within the house church. For example, teen-agers are not necessarily better off hanging out in church youth groups (see this link for more on this topic). I think the yearnings for programs are sometimes excuses for avoiding difficulties in the more intimate house church environment. My preference would be for people to look for ways to enhance their intimate community before leaving for a program-based brick church.
In my experience, when people are looking to leave house church, the stated reason is often a “secondary” reason. When you experience an intimate house church your weaknesses and sins will be exposed. You may feel judged if anybody questions things they see in your life (rightly or wrongly). This is uncomfortable. Rather than deal with these things openly, our American church culture has taught us to just move on to something that better “fits our needs.”
If people are really leaving for the reasons I note above there is a possible other solution: enjoy the program of the brick church while maintaining your participation in the house church. I have suggested this to folks only to be given lots of reasons on why this isn’t feasible when, from my perspective, it’s very feasible.
How do you go about integrating the two?
My preference would be for people to just stick with one church. If, however, you do have a special need to get the services and programs of a larger church and you want to maintain your house church community you should prayerfully consider all involved:
- Talk it over with the house church and explain your circumstances.
- Seek out the pastor or pertinent leader at the brick church and explain your situation to them. Ask permission and don’t assume on their generosity.
- If you decide to attend the brick church program make sure to give appropriately to cover any expenses associated with your participation in that program.
There is no reason that this has to be a binary decision. Sometimes, it might best serve people to have a foot in both camps. In my view, this doesn’t mean you attend or are members of two churches. It means you are a part of a house church and also being served by a program of another church.