Why Does America Seem to Have a House Church Aversion?

More for Wednesday Thoughts and Prayers

With the great advance of the gospel in the rest of the world through house churches, why is it that the American Church seems to be so slow to pick up on the trend? It is hard to find a more pragmatic people than citizens of the USA, so why haven’t we latched on to this “effective” strategy for propagating the gospel?

Ted Esler over at http://Esler.org has a great post on why Americans seem to have an aversion to house churches. Really a good and encouraging site. Ted is the the executive vice president of Pioneers USA, one of the fastest growing mission movements in the USA. In his post he mentions five reasons and discusses each in a short paragraph:

  1. Safety.
  2. The Joiner Factor (“Safety, Part 2”)
  3. Tradition.
  4. Inoculation.
  5. Teaching

Go over and read what he has to say. Then come back and read my additional five reasons here. I say come back here because Ted hasn’t posted my comment yet and I have expanded on what I wrote over there in my comments below.

I think Ted Esler has some good and helpful thoughts here. But lets be more reflectively honest as well. Many of you know that I am working on the planting of a cluster of house churches in the Mundelein/Vernon Hills area of Northern Illinois.  [Update: since this post I have entrusted that work to others in order to accept a call to a rural multi-site church that is open to the concept of house churches.] So I am not an anti-house church guy. But I do think that if we are going to be honest there are other factors involved in why Americans seem to have an aversion to house churches as they are presently moving forward on the American landscape.

  1. The “Put-Off” Factor —Some Christians are put off by what the perceive to be an overly critical attitude toward what Ted calls “brick churches.” If house church proponents want to truly start a movement they will have to graduate from what some perceive as their adolescent insistence that “we do it better then the traditional church”. We need to talk about what we are doing in the house church movement more in terms of call and celebration and less in terms of comparison and critique.
  2. The “No Missional Thrust” Factor –Some don’t see any missional thrust in the current house church movement. There are exceptions, but many house churches are filled with believers who just like things small (for good reasons). Truly missional leaders analyzing what many house church actually do, hear a lot of talk, a lot of good theory, but in the end many house churches are equally irrelevant to gospel transformation of neighborhoods.
  3. The Lack of a “Wow” Factor —Americans, as a people, as a generality, like things big. Compared to the rest of the world, all Americans are Texans. What wows us is big, instant big, and bigger. House churches seem too small to be significant to the American psyche. This is not a Christian thing. This is an American thing. Many non-Christians see no transformative difference between themselves and their “brick church” or “house church” neighbors. Why try it if it doesn’t produce anything different? Why try it if there is no “wow” to the transformation of individuals.
  4. The “Doesn’t Fit the Culture” Factor —Most places that are experiencing rapid growth in “house churches” are also totalitarian cultures or government structures (China, Korea, etc.). Either the government or the culture suppresses large assemblies of people, or large assemblies of people around the gospel narrative. In the West, freedom and affluence make it possible, perhaps not as productive as we would like to think, but possible to build churches, schools, colleges etc. This weights a culture against certain forms.
  5. The Individualist Nature of the West Factor –Western culture is so individualistic that house churches intimidate the average American. They expose the individual too quickly as opposed to the anonymity of the larger group setting. 

With what I have written, some may wonder why I am planting a cluster of house churches. But that, my friends, is another topic.

8 thoughts on “Why Does America Seem to Have a House Church Aversion?

  1. Hi Marty,

    I look forward to your next post on your choice to plant a cluster of house churches…
    I tried to reply your post on my blog, but my email to your hotmail address didn’t go through. Here is the current update to where thing stand…

    Wow, it’s been a long process to recast the vision for the church. We will have our last service at the current location this coming Sunday and we will begin at the new location on 7/4. It is ironic that the date we chose to start at a new location is Independence Day (unintentional). We will hold Sunday services at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Buffalo Grove.

    About three months ago, I told two of the 1st generation Koreans from the 1st gen church that I would love for them and their church to bless us as we move out. At that time such expectation was only a dream. However, it became a reality this past Sunday at a meeting with the leaders from the 1st gen church. Within an hour and half, the meeting went from 1 gen leaders expressing their profound sadness, doubts, hurts and even betrayal over us moving out, to their decision to bless us and commit to pray for us although they don’t fully understand all the reasons and process behind our decision to move out. The meeting ended with me and another leader from CMC hugging 1st gen leaders with tears. I really believe this is the testimony to how much God wants to help us to become missional church for his glory.

    For the next two weeks, we will be busy cleaning out the current location and getting ready for the new location. I think people feel insecure if this transition, this change is going to work out. I have been encouraging people to believe in God’s vision to call us out to make us a witnessing community. I’ve challenged some to envision each of us leading one person to Jesus and discipling that person this year. This will require some serious revival of our apathetic, discouraged, and fearful hearts to falling in love with God, to love him and love people with passion. This will require faith in God. If anyone can transform an ethnic church that’s been sterile for too long to a community church that reproduces is God, right? I’ve been encouraged by the message from Isaiah about God who renews and revives his chosen to be effective witnesses, his servants (Isaiah 43:10).

    At least at this moment, when I am confronted by the insecurities and doubts of my people about the future of the church, I don’t feel overwhelmed, nor discouraged, instead I am excited to see how God who has called us out will transform us. Well, that’s me now, but, I am sure I will have my moments when I will be shaken. I am so glad that God has placed you in my life. His timing is so perfect. God burdens you to raise up church planters to expand God’s kingdom and here I am desperately wanting to be used by God to help a group of Korean Americans experience the joy of being a witnessing community beyond their ethnicity.

    Looking forward to see you and the rest in July…


    1. Steve,

      Praying for you through this difficult but exciting time. The road is going to be rough that doesn’t mean it is not appointed of God. It will be important that you maintain lines of communication with the mother church and that you pray for them and remind them that you (plural) are what you are partly because of their long investment in your lives. Honor them well and the wounds will heal.

      It is a pleasure to invest in your life brother. I’m humbled by the opportunity.



    1. Love your sense of humor brother. Good comment. Though I don’t want to presume to know the heart of man next to me in worship who may worship in a different way than me.


  2. you already hit on most of my additions. I was definitly going to mention the lack of the “wow” factor. There certainly is nothing impressive about our house church or the people in it! lol….

    when I tell people about our house church the first thought that comes to their mind is a living room with a pulpit and rows of chairs set up. when I tell them about how every person is sharing, participating and sharing life together it just doesn’t register. Most people trying to start house churches without actually having been a part of one might find it quite difficult because of the slow moving, deep work the Lord does with these groups. You can’t hide behind ministry training, education or past experience. It simply goes back to raw relationship with Jesus, shared with others. Others who I discuss our church with want to know “where we meet” (where is your building?) or “how many people do you have?”. Another one is “who is the pastor? or “what covering are you under?”

    my answers don’t even seem to phase others sometimes. That’s why I think to focus on the lost or stray sheep is a good way to grow house churches, but at the same time having a good foundation of believers that feel the call to the same values.


  3. Is it possible that fear is another factor? It is much easier to see provision through a congregation of 65 than through planting a house church of 5.

    That doesn’t even speak to the point that one could make that many in the physical church would view the pastorate as a profession as much as a calling.

    My personal feeling is that much of the Christianity we see in the US is cultural religion (from the very religious to the pew warmer.) But God is building his church, and it’s a glorious, spotless bride, filled with the Spirit and overcoming the evil one through love in word and deed.

    Keep pressing on Marty!


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