When you think of a church, you might think of a special place you go to gather with other Christians to worship, pray, and learn about God. In fact, “church” is typically defined as a building that is used for public worship.
But it might be interesting to understand that’s not entirely true. From a biblical perspective, “church” is not a building but a people – more specifically the body of Christ in the form of His disciples who follow His way and do His will. While today’s church usually meets in a building, the building itself is not the true church. And some Christians today are increasingly not meeting in a separate public building, but in a house.
Known as a “house church,” these are typically smaller gatherings of believers who assemble regularly to worship, pray, and learn about God in someone’s residential home.
Here are 14 things to know about a house church.
What Is a House Church?
A house church is a term used to describe a group of people who regularly gather for worship in a private home, whether a house, apartment, or other living space. Sometimes house churches meet at the same home week after week, and other times they rotate among members’ homes.
House churches might be connected to or associated with a larger church or denomination that meets in a public space, but for whatever reason have chosen to meet separately for a more intimate and personal setting. Other times, they are groups of people who have broken away from another church or denomination and started their own private gathering space, or they are people who are not associated with a church at all and have simply decided to begin regularly meeting together in a home to worship the Lord.
A house church is not just a group of people who gather to do Bible study or have a fellowship meal at someone’s house. These are actual worship experiences, often with prayers, hymns, sermons, and other aspects of a typical Christian worship service. Sometimes sacraments such as Holy Communion are offered, as well.
Sometimes people meet in a house church because their numbers are small and they have not yet raised funds (or have not yet gathered enough people) to establish a larger worship space outside the home.
Other times, people choose a house church because they desire a smaller, more family-like feel when it comes to worship.
In some nations, where Christianity is outlawed, people meet in house churches secretly, so they can freely worship God and practice other elements of their faith without public discovery and repercussion, such as persecution.
Is a House Church Biblical?
A house church is most definitely biblical. In fact, the first Christian churches met in houses. Acts 1:13 describes the first house church as the “upper room” of a house where Jesus’s disciples gathered privately. Later, Christians — known as “followers of The Way” — alternated between homes and larger spaces.
Paul talks about the church meeting in the house of Priscilla and Aquila in 1 Corinthians 16:19 and in Romans 16:5. Other Scriptures that talk about house churches are Colossians 4:15 and Philemon 2:2.
As time passed and the number of Christian believers grew – as did public acceptance of the faith – many house churches moved to larger buildings. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, there are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the total population. Some meet in houses, and some meet in large buildings (also called churches).
But again, it’s important to know that a church is not a building but a people.
14 Things to Know about Attending a House Church
1. A house church isn’t a church unless it’s functioning as a church in accordance with the Bible. That is, just because a group of Christians meets together in a home doesn’t make that gathering a house church unless there is intent of worship or other elements of a church service incorporated. A house-based Bible study or house-based fellowship gathering isn’t the same thing as a house church.
2. A house church doesn’t have to look and feel the same as church in a public building. That is, people might not sit in rows or pews, dress up, take communion, or even sing. Then again, they might.
3. A house church can be any size, small or large.
4. A house church might meet at one home, or it might rotate among the homes of various believers. A house church might also meet out-of-doors, such as in the backyard of a home.
5. A house church might or might not be open to the public. Some house churches keep their numbers intentionally small and discourage others from joining their gathering, even as they attempt to share the Gospel and encourage people to join or establish other churches.
6. A house church typically works to establish unity and open discussion.
7. Because house churches tend to be small, worshippers are not anonymous. Members are seen and recognized.
8. House churches can be great for those with small budgets. There are typically no salaries for a pastor or overhead such as rent.
9. House churches, because they are small, might have limitations in comparison to larger churches that meet in a public building. For instance, there might not be a kids program or nursery. There might not be a licensed or ordained pastor who leads the church.
10. With house churches, there might be a tendency to turn inward and focus on the concerns of the small group rather than the community.
11. When someone (or a whole family) moves or otherwise leaves the house church, a large hole might be created that can be difficult to fill.
12. House churches, because they are smaller and more private, might not have the sort of stringent oversight larger churches have when it comes to the handling of money or the theological soundness of what is being preached.
13. House churches tend to be more relationship-based, which can be both good and bad depending on the personalities and issues at hand.
14. Know that no church is perfect. While the head of the church is Christ, churches (whether house churches or those in a public building) are comprised of people, who are faulty and imperfect. Therefore, keeping your expectations in check is always a must.
Is a House Church the Right Fit for You?
If you are seeking a smaller community of believers and are feeling anonymous or disconnected from a larger, more traditional church, a house church might well be the best fit for you right now. Also, if you find you have some strong theological differences with some of the mainstream Christian churches in your community and are seeking to gather with likeminded people with whom to worship God, a house church might also be a good fit.
You also might find yourself returning to church for the first time since childhood, or since the pandemic. For you, a crowd of people might be overwhelming, and the comfort and intimacy of a house church might feel more comfortable.
In conclusion, a house church can have a number of benefits. For those in nations where Christians face persecution, arrest, or even death threats, house churches can be a great solution, for they provide a safe space to gather for worship. For those with health issues or with aversion to large groups, they can also be an excellent option. As well, they can be a great choice for those in desperate need of intimate Christian community.
House churches are not perfect, but neither are churches that are based in large public buildings. Wherever you choose to worship, remember: it’s about God, not your comfort. Worship where you can exercise this the best.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Natali_Mis
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.