There are plenty of “things you poor sad people in the institutional churches have to cope with that we enlightened bodies in the house churches are free from” articles out there. (oh, look, here’s another one, including the obligatory snipe at “Churchianity”. Urgh.) I’m not really a big fan of that; I love the Church, whatever model of church it may be; I think no part of the Church can say that it’s the best part of the Church; and I think we work best when we work together. So here are some things I really appreciate.
- The ability to organize. There are just some things you can do with a thousand people that you can’t do with ten. There are some things you can do with a massive denomination or set of denominations that you can’t do with a small church - like, for instance, reduce poverty. Small churches can certainly make a small difference; but big churches can make a big difference. Brian Maclaren put it well:
I think when people talk about their frustration with “organized religion,” I don’t think the problem is being organized. Rather, just as you suggest, they’re concerned about religion that organizes an “us” against “them.” If our religious communities better organized against destruction of the planet, for service to and for and with people suffering in poverty, and for pre-emptive peace-making, I think more and more folks would be drawn to rather than away from “organized religion.”
- Resources for care. How do you help the needy, unstable and poor in spirit when they come along and take over your meetings with their problems and are disruptive and violent when you don’t let them take over? Just one dominant and needy person can monopolize a small group. But that’s OK, surely, and of course you let them take over, because after all the church is meant to be about serving the least.
Mmmhmm. You try that for a couple of months, see how it works out for you, and at the end, you tell me whether they’re better off with you, or better off with a bigger church which has teams with actual experience and expertise ministering to the neediest members of the community.
- Diversity. I have to be careful here because there’s no obvious guarantee that a big church will be more socially and ethnically diverse than a small one, and I’ve stood in front of enough pure white middle-class churches to know this. But I also know that like attracts like; if someone comes to your small group and they’re the only person who isn’t white, or isn’t in their thirties, or isn’t middle class, then no matter how lovely you are - and I’m sure you’re very lovely - it’s harder for them to fit in than it is to a larger gathering where they’re simply statistically more likely to find someone like them. And growing and respecting church diversity is pretty much what all of the epistles are about.
- A shared history. House churches stand in the gloriously Protestant tradition of cutting yourself off from your roots and trying to do something new yourself, while at the same time appropriating everything in Christian history that seems to support your cause. There’s a difference between belonging to a heritage and borrowing a heritage, and I’d rather belong.
- Children. Ah yes. I know that house church advocates tell me that there’s absolutely no problem with children in house churches. Do you know why one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to house churches remains “what about the children?” It’s because people, including those inside the house churches, find this really hard. Roger in that post says
I believe there is potential in the House Church for far better results.
I agree about the potential. I do agree. Everything works perfectly in theory. But in practice, right now, the institutional churches are kicking your backsides on this one.