A lot of people have asked us why we meet in homes. It’s easy to understand why Christians who are being persecuted do this — if they met publicly, they’d be attacked or arrested. But why would anyone choose to meet in homes in a country where there are other, more convenient options?
It is surprising to some that we do not believe that homes are the only legitimate place for a church to meet. It is true that the early church often met in homes (Philemon 1:2 for example), and we are following that pattern. But a pattern is not necessarily a commandment, even if it is found in the Bible. The Bible contains both patterns and commands, and it is very important that we not make either one into the other. Nothing in scripture requires Christians to meet in a certain type of building.
So again, why meet in homes? To understand our reasons, consider the question, “Why does the church meet at all?” Of course, there are multiple answers to that question. But we maintain that the primary purpose of our weekly fellowship meetings is for mutual edification of believers to the glory of God (Eph. 4:11-12, 1 Cor. 14:26, Rom. 14:19). So, the reason our fellowship has chosen to hold these meetings in homes is that we have found the home to be a more effective environment in achieving that goal. Having said this, it should be pointed out that meeting in homes is not as effective (in fact, it is sometimes completely ineffective) at achieving other goals that many people have for church meetings, or church meeting locations. It’s inconvenient in many ways, and completely lacking in the kind of impressive atmosphere that a beautiful, costly building can provide. Meeting in homes can be difficult! But it can also be a very good environment for the “mutual edification” that is our goal.
In many churches today, a large part of the congregation on Sunday morning is composed of spectators – people who approach the weekly church meeting as they might attend a concert. They come as consumers, expecting to be entertained and catered to. If they expect to contribute anything at all to the meeting they might expect to give money to the offering, or maybe just greetings and smiles to their friends. People with this attitude don’t expect God to use them to minister anything significant to anyone. And while they themselves might leave the service feeling that they have personally been edified, it’s not really “mutual edification” because they have not contributed anything. In fact, they may not even be given the opportunity to contribute anything, because in many churches paid professionals handle almost all the ministry. In contrast to this, consider some of the benefits of meeting in homes.
1. It Encourages Participation. God does not speak exclusively to pastors and teachers. He speaks by the Holy Spirit to all of His people (1 Cor. 2:12-13, John 16:13), and equips them to minister to the body in various capacities (1 Cor. 12:6-11). If we want our meetings to reflect this truth, they must be less like a professionally catered meal and more like a pot-luck supper. In other words, our meetings need to be open enough that ordinary people who hear from the Lord or who have been gifted to serve the body can participate and share what the Lord lays upon their hearts. Holding smaller meetings in homes encourages this kind of broad participation. Obviously, the larger a meeting is, the less opportunity each person has to participate. Also, the atmosphere of a sanctuary or auditorium naturally creates the sense in the ministers that they are performing for an audience of strangers. A home living room naturally has a safer, more relaxed atmosphere. Instead of performing for strangers, it lends itself to the sense that we are ministering to (and receiving ministry from) our family in the Lord. The following points may help to answer questions about how this works.
Not everyone is a teacher. To encourage everyone to participate is not to say that everyone is gifted or called to be a teacher, a prophet, or a worship musician. Even those gifted in these areas must be mature enough in their walk with God to bring a true and timely message to the body.
… but everyone can bring something. At some point, everyone can bring a testimony of what God is teaching them or what He is doing in their life. Everyone can express gratitude and worship for the gifts of God. Everyone can express their needs and receive prayer and encouragement, or be the one to bring the prayer and encouragement to a brother or sister in need.
What if someone brings something bad? Obviously, if you open the floor for participation, that is going to happen at some point. That’s why the church has elders. One of their jobs is to lovingly correct error. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
2. It Encourages Reality. All of us, without exception, struggle at times with sin and fear and doubt as we follow the Lord. Unfortunately, many Christians are too ashamed to admit such things, particularly when they’re at church. So they put on a smile and pretend that nothing is wrong, which just feeds the perception that everyone at church has it all together, and nobody is struggling. Unfortunately, when we project this false image to the church, it makes it much less likely that others will share their struggles. It’s humiliating to feel that I’m the only flawed individual in a crowd of perfect angels! So the deception feeds itself and shame isolates everyone from each other.
We believe that a church fellowship meeting should work against this kind of pretense, and toward an atmosphere of openness where brothers and sisters in Christ are able to be real with each other. The biggest enemy of real openness is the fear of man. In general, this means that the larger a group becomes, the more people are strangers to one another, and the less likely it is that they will overcome their fear and be real with each other. The same thing applies as meetings become more formal, or more performance-oriented. The real man gets buried under the mask of formality and polished performance. An image has to be maintained. Everyone’s expectations are set high, and everyone feels it. This is counterproductive. If we’re trying to meet real needs of real people in our meetings, we don’t need the pressure to perform flawlessly. Very few people will show their real needs under such conditions, and this limits the amount of real ministry that can be accomplished. Smaller meetings in homes can minimize these negative factors, if the hearts of the people are humble before God and one another. Obviously, people can be just as prideful, fearful, etc. in a home as in an auditorium. But if the heart is right, the atmosphere of a home goes a long way in fostering community and freeing people to express their deepest needs.
3. It Encourages Love. Jesus said that the world would know we are His people by the love we have for each other (John 13:34-35). Love should be what defines the church to the world. Unfortunately, love has a lot of cheap substitutes that we prefer for the same reason people wear costume jewelry: it looks almost as good as the real thing, but doesn’t cost us very much. But God illustrated the kind of love he was talking about in His parables (Luke 10:30-37), and ultimately in Jesus’ death for us (Romans 5:6-8). Real love, God’s love, is costly, and it’s also the only kind of love that will set God’s church apart from the world. The world already has countless varieties of imitation love. They don’t need one more from the church. Ours often isn’t as attractive as theirs anyway.
Now, one thing about real love is that it refuses to maintain a safe distance from others, not with the foolish and idealistic notion that “everything will be wonderful if we all just love,” but with the realistic understanding that there is sin in all of us and that love overcomes sin through suffering and in spite of it. For us to really love each other, we have to come close enough to be hurt. We have to be willing to invest our lives and resources in flawed people (like ourselves) who may not appreciate it, and who will sin and hurt us sometimes. This is what God did for us, through Christ. And it’s what we’re called to do for each other (John 13:34).
What does this have to do with meeting in homes? Are people automatically more loving in homes? Certainly not. There are plenty of examples of homes full of hatred rather than love. So how does meeting in a home help? The home is naturally a place of shared life. It’s a place that draws people close enough to love each other, if they are willing. There’s no guarantee that this closeness will result in real love; a tree may be planted in good soil and still die. But the home is like good soil, a conducive environment, in which real love can flourish. The rest depends on our hearts, and nothing we can do will ever make real love easy.
Much more could be said about the positive aspects of meeting in homes, and the benefits of having informal, open meetings. But this covers the fundamental reasons. If you have further questions about our meetings, please feel free to contact us.