‘House Church’ Revisited

The original vision for MainStreet was centered around the “house to house” fellowship described in the Book of Acts. The more formal nature of a Sunday service in a church building was to be viewed as secondary. We dreamed of a number of house groups popping up all over the town, with gracious hosts reaching out to families in their respective neighborhoods, inviting more and more people to come experience real and loving fellowship with a higher purpose. Our gatherings would be modeled after the house fellowship described in Acts 2 and 4 where we read:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had… God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”

We originally entertained the idea of meeting weekly for House Church and gathering the entire community only once a month for Sunday worship celebration. That monthly worship gathering (in a school, or some other rented space) would essentially be about celebrating all of the rich, life-changing ministry we were experiencing in living rooms all month long. This bold vision was very biblical but also turned out to be a hard sell in our culture. We spun our tires for 18 months, casting this vision and trying to get people to buy into it. 

Remember when we began, it was just Keri and I and a handful of folks excited to launch a new church together. As much as we tried to get folks to embrace the biblical idea that our house fellowship was legit church, people tended to feel like we hadn’t accomplished anything until we started gathering for Sunday worship services. Since we was more committed to building community than rigidly holding to a particular model or vision for church, we eventually moved ahead and launched Sunday worship services at the Gillespie Center in January 2012. Even now, I look back with mixed feelings at the newspaper article with the headline A Church Is Born! I knew we had been “doing church” for 18 months already, and the only thing that was born that day was another “worship service.”  

Don’t get me wrong: I love worship. I love preaching weekly sermons. I love our Sunday School ministry that is planting seeds and growing young faith. I love the assembling together of the entire church each week—the coffee conversations, handshakes, public reading of Scripture, singing and putting people’s musical gifts into service, and the sharing of the sacrament of Holy Communion. I also know its good to have a public place of worship if you want to attract new visitors looking for a church. This was the main reason we felt compelled to start worshiping weekly. Even though House Church gatherings are thoroughly biblical, it is still a new and quite strange idea to many folks interested in dipping their toes back into the waters of faith and returning to church. So, we currently cherish our Sunday worship rhythm and have no intentions to stop gathering on Sundays anytime soon. 

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However, I would like to revisit the beautiful New Testament vision of House Church gatherings from Acts 2, and push more deeply into that experience this spring as we gathering in our home 2x/month. The first thing to make clear is that House Church will be similar to but not the same thing as  MainStreet Lifegroup gatherings. We will do many of the same things, but we want to cultivate a more intentional, spiritual and worshipful atmosphere. Without squelching the casualness of Lifegroups at the Berg’s, we want to bring a bit more focus and spiritual intensity to House Church gatherings. Let me unpack some of the changes or new elements to expect.

1. Guided Conversations during Meal Time. We will sometimes provide guided questions or topics for conversation as we gather around tables for food and fellowship. This will usually be a simple prompt such as, “Where did you see God at work this week?” or “Share your favorite road trip memory?” We want to cherish our conversations with fellow-believers, not squandering these precious moments talking about baseball or the weather. 

2. Ministry of the Saints. We are all ministers in the family of Christ, and the church leaders are not supposed to do all the ministry but rather “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). While Sunday worship tends to feature the pastor’s teaching and the worship team’s music, the House Church setting is where we all can bring a word of insight or encouragement, a Scripture that spoke to us recently, a personal testimony or “God-sighting,” and so on (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26). This will mean more active participation and sharing, and less dependence on the host/leader for directing the conversation. This “unscripted” ministry time may end up trumping our planned teaching topic for the night, as we want to follow the Spirit’s leading more than keeping to any human plans. 

3. Breaking Bread (Eucharist). Early Christians seemed to have celebrated the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, as often as they met together. It was the centerpiece and high point of every gathering. Many Protestant traditions have tended to diminish the role of the Eucharist, pushing the altar aside, and making the pulpit (sermon) the main focus of worship. MainStreet falls into this tradition as well, celebrating Communion only about once a month (12 times a year). (Factoring in irregular church attendance, some folks only receive the sacrament a few times a year, a lamentable fact.) We want to make the Eucharist a much more significant part of our life and faith at MainStreet. We hope to break bread every time we gather for House Church. 

4. Teaching Time & Break-Out Discussions. Our teaching time will take various forms, sometimes very similar to Lifegroups in the past— RightNow video series, Bible studies, etc. On evenings when we have quite a large group, we may break off into smaller groups at the end for more intimate discussion and prayer time. 

A TYPICAL HOUSE CHURCH FORMAT

6:30 – Fellowship Meal & Guided Conversations (please try not to be late)

7:00 – Ministry of the Saints (words, promptings, God-sightings, etc.)

7:30 – Breaking Bread (Holy Communion)

7:35 – Teaching & Learning Time

8:10 – Break-Out Discussion and/or Prayer

8:30 – Dismiss

We are kicking off our first few House Church gatherings by learning from Francis Chan’s Letters to the Churches (Video Series). In his book by the same title, he is calling believers back to a more simple and devoted Christian lifestyle. He also shares his compelling story of how he rediscovered the pure nature of church during his time in Asia where underground House Churches were the only option. He is now  leading a network of House Churches in the San Francisco area, and doing a lot of the things I (Jeremy) have often wanted to try at MainStreet. 

We hope you will give House Church a try this spring. Come with an open mind, and also a willingness to actively contribute to our fellowship. God’s Spirit is alive and active in every believer, and my prayer is that God will use these gatherings to empower us to be more active in our faith as we gather not only to be filled and ministered to by the pastor or leaders; but to offer ourselves and our gifts in service to His Body and our church family. 

“When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26).

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