A new survey by George Barna, as always, gives pastors and laity alike plenty of food for thought. The evangelical pollster concludes that Christians find their experiences of house churches more satisfying than conventional churches.
We’ll leave for the moment the issue of how terribly American it is to care about how “satisfying” any church experience is. Let’s look at the highlights of the study:
— Two-thirds of house church attenders (68%) were “completely satisfied” with the leadership of their church, compared to only half of those attending a conventional church (49%).
— Two-thirds of the house church adherents (66%) were “completely satisfied” with the faith commitment of the people involved in their gathering. In contrast, only four out of ten people attending a conventional church (40%) were similarly satisfied with the faith commitment of the people in their congregation.
— Three out of five house church adults (61%) were “completely satisfied” with the level of community and personal connectedness they experience, compared to only two out of five adults who are involved in a conventional church (41%).
— A majority of those in a house (59%) said they were “completely satisfied” with the spiritual depth they experience in their house church setting. In contrast, a minority of the adults involved in a conventional church were “completely satisfied” (46%).
— The typical house church involves 20 people who meet every week for about two hours. Almost 40% change the format from meeting to meeting. Only about 40% of regular house church attenders rely exclusively upon a house church as their primary “church” experience.
— Interestingly, just one out of five conventionally-churched adults dismissed the house church approach as unbiblical.
But culture, not theology, is the biggest obstacle to the growth of house churches, Barna said.
“The main deterrent to house church growth is that most people are spiritually complacent; they are not looking to upgrade their spiritual experience,” Barna noted. “We found that most conventional church goers have no desire to help improve their congregation’s ministry, nor do they feel a need to increase their personal spiritual responsibility.”
To me, complacency isn’t exactly a cultural issue. “Upgrading their spiritual experience” – now that’s a cultural issue.
In the Two-Thirds World, where the Church is growing hand over fist, house churches are more the norm than the exception. Without the high overhead of specialized facilities and professional leadership, house churches can focus whatever resources they have on growth.
People who wonder why house churches haven’t caught on in the United States certainly should consider the complacency Barna mentions. Many, if not most, “Christians” in this country are in bondage to the consumer culture. They are, at best, church shoppers whose primary interest is in the services a congregation provides. That’s one of the great dangers in the mega-church movement.
At worst, those “Christians” are mere club members who were never born again, or they are one-time believers who turned their backs on Christ’s redemptive mission.
Advertising that the house church experience is more “satisfying” than the conventional church may persuade some people to give house church a try. But those aren’t the kind of people a house church needs (or a conventional church, for that matter). You might as well get the local funeral home to loan you some of their stiffs. You can fill the living room with them, but that’s no more a church than what’s going on down at First Denominational.
Authentic house churches will grow among people who realize that it’s not about them but about giving Creator God the honor he deserves. House churches will become a force in US society when we realize that buildings and salaries can be obstacles to church growth. They will thrive, as Barna notes, among people whose lives have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, whose hearts blaze with a passion to see friends and neighbors rescued from dead-end destinies. (But then, conventional churches also thrive under such circumstances, don’t they?)
Barna seems to believe that conventional churches are dead. The news of that death, as the old saw goes, has been greatly exaggerated. But many of us pray for the day a church-planting movement breaks out in North America, a mighty wave of redemption that sweeps from house to house.
It may not happen, however, until we get past empty, entertaining consumer religion and discover our deep, desperate need for the Savior.
What will it take to make us so desperate?