House by House

By: Shannon Youell

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

(Synagogue:  a community house of worship) 

In my previous blog HERE I wrote that church planting can be accidental outgrowths of our right-in-the-neighbourhood missionary impulses of evangelism and discipleship.   

In the early New Testament church we find missionaries going to households where people, who were either Jewish believers or curious and/or God-fearers,1 lived. Often those would be people who lived near and around the evangelists.  Think of Jesus in Luke 10 and “people of peace” but right in your own neighbourhood/community.  There whole households heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus our Lord and Savior and were baptized.  Those ‘households’ then became the church, people who assembled to tell the stories of their faith, eat together (which included the Eucharist), learn together, pray together and share the gospel with one another and others in their community. 

This is in contrast to missionaries starting a service in an area of town that drew people to a building to participate in those same rhythms together.  That came much later.  There is no indication that the first missionaries were looking to erect a common meeting space that would be called the ‘church’, but that these localized, contextual ‘households2’ of faith were indeed the Church.  

One might argue that the ‘first’ church was comprised of those who were followers of Jesus prior to his ascension plus those added three thousand at Pentecost as countering the idea of church in households, but the reality is where did those three thousand go for daily, weekly meals, prayers and participatory worship?  At times they gathered in larger numbers around the temple in Jerusalem but the thrust of life and missionary impulse happened in these smaller ‘households of faith’ that facilitated and were leaders of this new Way.  This is where the ‘adding of numbers’ continued and expanded.  Often the period of the 1st and 2nd centuries and into the 3rd are cited as the most robust period in history for people coming to faith in Christ thus indicating that people predominantly came to faith through interpersonal relationships and the witness of seeing the lives of believers in their everyday rhythms and practices. 

In 2008 a study was done on how many Christians it took to gain 1 convert.  The study concluded that it took eighty-nine.  Eighty-nine to one is not a good ratio!  However, at the same time the author(s) looked at how many Christians to gain 1 convert it took in house churches with a missional ethos:  3:1 & 4:1 were realized in two independent studies.  That’s a large gap.  Whether that 89:1 ratio were 89 people along the path of life who influenced the 1, or a calculation of church membership over new conversions, one cannot miss the correlation that it takes far fewer relationships when people are in regular proximity and in regular social groups together.   If those same 89 where in the smaller more localized churches the extrapolated conversions would be 22.   

Personally, I don’t see the demise of larger church gatherings as a near future event – they will always have a place and purpose.  But I do see the need for followers of Jesus, especially those who have a heart for those who are not-yet-followers to discover ways to engage with them.  Though not limited to any one group, millennials in particular have left the church in stunning numbers, yet for those who have left but not rejected faith in God, they yearn for smaller, more interconnected communities of fellow sojourners.   

What does that mean for our larger gatherings?  How might we re-engage absent millennial Christians in the rhythms and practices of faith?  How can the church make the most impact in evangelism and discipleship in a post-Christendom world that though seeking spiritual conversations would not consider a church building the place to engage them?   How might our church gatherings begin to foster “community houses of worship” in actual houses again?

As churches begin to gear up for a return to meeting together, primarily in buildings other than homes, this is the prime opportunity for us to consider these and so many other questions.  Rather than the question being ‘when can we meet together again’, is the most missional question can we can be asking is ‘in what ways do we meet again?’

Let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.   

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