Traditional Church or Home Group?

The Question

For two years I regularly attended a small church in my town. Recently I have felt the Lord asking me to move in another direction. A married couple who are dear friends of mine, after much prayer and confirmation, have decided to start a home group. They are seeking a non-traditional fellowship. I’m thinking of attending. Do you know anyone in a home group? What do you think about this type of fellowship?

- GP from Minnesota


The Answer
Part 1: The Original Model
Part 2: Reinventing the Model
Part 3: Cautions

The Original Model (Part 1)

Even though I have some concerns that I’ll mention later, it would be hard to reject home groups out of hand because they are after all, the model for the original Christian church.

When Jesus ascended back into heaven he left behind mainly Jewish disciples. They continued to attend the Temple in Jerusalem and/or local synagogues. Even on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out “and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41), the new converts were mostly Jews from far countries.

But very quickly things began to change. The gospel began to spread to Gentiles who had no Jewish traditions. Additionally, the Jews who accepted Christ were often rejected by their own leadership and encountered persecution. They began quietly meeting in homes for fellowship and prayer. For instance when Peter was let out of prison by an angel “he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” (Acts 12:12)

Remember that the church is not a building or a denomination but is actually the people of God. Paul says in Romans 16:5, “Also greet the church that is in their house…” and in 1 Corinthians 16:19 he comments, “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Wherever God’s people meet purposefully, there the church is and there is Jesus in their midst. Please see What is the Church for more detailed information.

Of course through the centuries the Church of Jesus Christ has formalized and organized itself. Buildings are set aside and dedicated to worship. Cathedrals are built as much for God’s glory as the people who attend them. Denominations are formed. There is nothing wrong with that; it represents the tremendous growth of Christian disciples but the original was the home group.


Reinventing the Model (Part 2)

The church keeps reinventing itself for a new generation of believers. That is positive and good as long as it is the MODEL that changes (for relevancy) and not core doctrines and beliefs. The style of doing church is not as important as fulfilling the Great Commission and training new disciples of Jesus. Meeting places and times, worship styles, witnessing techniques—all of those should be open to change based on the needs of the people being served.

There are all kinds of interesting things happening to the Church now as it retools yet again for the 21st century. Home churches are popping up and so are Virtual Internet based fellowships. You mention that your friends “are seeking a non-traditional fellowship.” What does that mean? Before you make a decision about joining them you need to know.

If they grow will they eventually get a building and become a more standard style of church or will they keep splitting themselves off to form more home groups? How rooted are the leaders in orthodox Christian doctrine so they won’t slip and slide into some off-base squirrelly error? Is there accountability and proper spiritual submission? How mature are your friends spiritually? (I know they are dear friends but try to be impartial here.)

I’m sure you want to be with fellow believers in an environment that will help you grow in your walk with the Lord. You want good teaching in an atmosphere of intimacy where people know you and care about you. In short, you want what those early believers had together: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” (Acts 2:46)

It might be the perfect fit for you as long as you join for the right reasons and exercise the right cautions.


Cautions (Part 3)

You mention that you have “felt the Lord asking me to move in another direction.” It is important for you to understand the root of that sense. Mainly, you must be sure that you are not leaving the old church because of offense or any other negative reason. There are many good reasons to move on to a new church but leaving with baggage from an old church is always a bad idea.

Say you are sure you have no offense with anyone. Maybe you feel you have grown there as much as possible and that God has a new spiritual adventure for you. Now, the question is whether this new home group is the right fit for you. You must be satisfied that everything on their end is perfectly in order first. Even if it is, does God want you to join with them in their mission?

Don’t go just to support them or to help shore up their initial small numbers. If you do and God is not in it you will end up feeling stuck. You will feel you can’t leave without offending them or damaging your friendship. What if differences arise later? Are you prepared to deal with them honestly? Is your faith firm enough to recognize doctrinal error?

Don’t go just to fulfill your own emotional needs. Is the church going to outreach to unbelievers or is it going to be mostly a self contained “bless-me club”? Can you really grow spiritually or will you stagnate over time?

As you evaluate all this you might consider a half way position. Visit the home group to take its temperature over six months or so but attend other churches as well. Tell your friends honestly that you are not ready to make a full commitment yet. As time passes along, the Lord will make his choice for you clear. Once you know for sure, then you can jump in with a whole heart.

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