House churches: What may be new to us is normal for them
While COVID-19 has disrupted the way we do church, it is a good practice drill for us to prepare for the possibility that one day, we might no longer be able to gather in large congregations.
After all, the Bible tells us that there will be persecution in the end times. Would we still be able to meet corporately under such circumstances?
Seen in that light, perhaps we could learn a thing or two from a group of believers for whom not much has changed in the new normal – Christians who are members of a house church.
We spoke to Joey Lam, who has been worshipping at a house church for the last one year, to find out what his experience has been like.
WHAT IS A HOUSE CHURCH?
More minority than mainstream, house churches are churches that, well, gather in homes.
One distinct characteristic is that there is little or no hierarchy, which is not surprising given that they are small in size.
Quite unlike cell groups that tend to have members from the same life stage, Joey shares that his house church is inter-generational. There are 11 members, with the youngest being 27 years old and the oldest being 62 years old. There are also three children who only join in occasionally.
And while typical cell groups have agency over the agendas of their meetings, they are usually guided by a broader direction set by leaders of the church.
On the other hand, there is no distinction between members and executive committee/board members in Joey’s house church.
He shares an example of how the members make joint decisions together.
“Once a month we would collect offering, count and announce the monies collected, and discuss how we would use the funds for missions. So in a sense we factor in ‘committee meetings’ into our time together,” explains Joey.
Addressing the misconception that house churches are not connected to the larger wider Christian community, Joey says: “Our house church leaders themselves have mentors from overseas who run house churches too. We are also connected with other house churches in Singapore.
“Additionally, all of us are free to join other para-church organisations or be involved in other ministries.”
Joey also affirms that a healthy house church would not be teaching doctrines that run contrary to the fundamental truths of Christianity, which is how cults are usually defined.
“What is most important is that followers of Christ today must read and know the Word, test each spirit, verify against scripture, and smell false teaching, so they will not be blown by every wind of doctrine – whether in a house or conventional church,” he says.
HAS COVID-19 HIT THE HOUSE CHURCH?
Because of the way house churches are structured – with members being used to attending services in a small group setting – Joey says that the pandemic hasn’t really had a huge impact on their gatherings.
“Everyone comes ready to give and serve,” he describes. “Minimally, everyone should be able to share what they have learnt or received during their quiet time through the week.”
He calls this a buffet of spiritual food where teachings are shared and understood as a group. This means that they are also able to proceed with church even without a main preacher.
And as far as worship goes, members of house churches are accustomed to stripped-down sessions. After all, they don’t have the manpower or space to have a full band or lighting effects.
“Sometimes we just worship God with the help of a YouTube video,” Joey says.
Members are also used to negotiating tensions because unlike in a big church, there is no other service timing to attend and no other cell groups to switch to.
“No one gets to hide,” he points out. “The person who offended you will sit in the same circle as you.
“If spouses fight, especially before the session, the group will know because we can sense it. And we openly address it if the time is appropriate.
“Our imperfections, flaws, shortcomings and lack of patience are made very plain for all to see. But we learn to obey God’s word by forgiving one another and remaining in fervent love.”
A POSSIBLE NEW NORMAL
So much of what we knew about church has changed since the start of 2020. How well are we coping without a physical church building?
Let’s not forget that, historically, Christianity started off in house churches (Colossians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5).
While this is not a call for us to leave our churches, it’s important for us to know that house churches could become the new normal again if there comes a time when we can’t meet corporately in large groups anymore.
Will our faith still thrive under such circumstances?
THINK + TALK
- How has your relationship with God been in this period of church disruption? Has your faith been strengthened or weakened?
- Are you finding it hard to worship God in the new normal? How can you worship God in ways other than singing?
- In the absence of large corporate gatherings, how authentic is your sharing in a small-group setting?