Dear Praying Friends:
A heavy burden
A few weeks ago, I visited a large American church which was about to cut staff because of insufficient funds. One major reason: Their huge mortgage. A Chinese congregation I visited recently was about to decide whether to acquire property being sold by a defunct American church. Some members opposed the move, fearing that the purchase would exceed their resources. Indeed, conflict over buying, building, and budgeting for buildings may have split more churches than any other issue. In China, some large networks of unregistered churches have erected huge, costly, and elaborate structures, only to see them torn down by the government.
A “simple” solution?
Both the Bible and church history point towards another way of “doing” church. Wherever the Gospel has spread the fastest and taken deepest root, believers have met primarily in homes. There is no record of Christians meeting in buildings specifically designed for worship for the first few hundred years of early church history. (You may want to look at this article: http://www.seedsowers.com/firstchaps/churchyoung.html). The first believers in Jerusalem met from house to house (Acts 2:46), and Paul refers frequently to home-based churches (Romans 16:5, 19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2). In China, the number of Christians has exploded in recent decades, with most of that increase coming from home-based meetings.
Advantages of home-based churches
Home-based churches enjoy a number of advantages of those tied to a “church” building. These include: - Cost. Meeting in the home of a believer avoids the immense cost of buying (or building) and then maintaining a large building. The money saved could go into salaries for pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and other church workers, as well as widows, orphans, and others in need. - Flexibility. As the church grows, or as members move away, venues for meetings can be altered easily. If persecution arises, smaller units are harder to attack than concentrated ones. - Size. Home-based meetings are necessarily “small.” Even a very large house cannot accommodate more than about 100 people, which is still a small enough number for relationships of love we see in the New Testament. Smaller congregations can engage more easily in the “one another” activities that are so prominent in the New Testament. (Romans 12:10-15; 1 Corinthians 11:33; 12:25; Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 10:24; James 5:16; 1 Peter 4:9-11). Imagine a Lord’s Day gathering that actually followed Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:27-22; 14:26-33, and see whether it could take place in a large room filled with hundreds of people. - Pastoral care. It’s hard to get “lost” in a home-based group. People know each other well enough to notice an uncustomary absence or sad expression. They also feel more comfortable to share their burdens with each other. - Evangelism. Many non-believers who won’t enter a religious building feel quite comfortable in a home. Family members who wouldn’t attend a typical church can hardly avoid hearing what goes on in their own home, or see the love between Christians. - Leader development. It takes both time and money to prepare a man to preach to, and lead, a large congregation, The head of a household, or an elder chosen from among the group, can be trained more quickly to teach a Bible lesson to people whom he knows. - Body life. Each believer can exercise his or her spiritual gift much more easily in a home-based group than in a larger congregation based in a special building. Almost naturally, people’s needs are known and met by members of the congregation.
Of course, traditional church buildings provide some benefits, and house churches are not without problems, as both the New Testament and recent Chinese church developments attest. We shall deal with these in coming letters.
For now, however, please pray that - Dori and I can support leaders of home groups here and be faithful in praying for leaders of home-based churches in China. - Home church leaders will be encouraged and led by the Spirit. - Building-based churches will make home groups a priority. Yours in the Father’s love, Wright