A combination of controversy and denominational action seems to be increasing the presence and influence of home churches. Charismamagazine (June) reports that the house church movement is “exploding across North America.”
Pollster George Barna is cited as estimating that eight to nine percent–22 million to 24 million people–are now involved in some form of house church. Whether or not those figures are inflated, it does seem that house churches have recently gained new evangelical acceptance. As Southern California author James Jacobsen notes, “Twenty years ago anybody outside a traditional congregation was highly suspect. I think there is much more freedom for people today.”
Much of the credit for the new visibility of house churches goes to Barna himself. Barna’s study, which found a large number of what he called “revolutionaries” dissatisfied with traditional churches, publicized a little noticed movement and created a controversy, particularly when the pollster himself dropped out of his own congregation and became involved in a house church. To considerable criticism, Barna has taken off his pollster’s hat to become a fervent advocate of the alternative church movement.
At the same time, conservative denominations such as the Free Methodists, Grace Brethren, and the Assemblies of God are either warming to house churches or are actively involved. The efforts of Grace Brethren missionaries in Southern California have sparked the creation of more than 700 house groups worldwide. House church organizers say the online environment is “propelling the movement forward at breakneck speed.” Among the traits of the new house churches are greater acceptance of women in leadership than in traditional congregations, charismatic-evangelical interchange and bridge-building, and a greater willingness of pastors to start house churches as extensions of their own congregations.
(Charisma, 106 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)