Home Meetings: The Key to Lasting Church Growth

Article review: “The Apostolic Strategy of House Churches for Mission Today,” by Rad Zdero, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, 2011, 346-353.In this hugely-significant article, the author shows that home-based churches are the biblical way for vital and sustainable church growth. He begins boldly: “Ever since church and state were merged in the early fourth century, we have inherited a ‘cathedral church’ model. It is characterized by the five myths of a special person running a special service in a special building on a special day for a special fee. Yet, it is complex, ineffective, expensive, and unbiblical.” He then proceeds to substantiate the case for home meetings as simple, effective, inexpensive, and biblical, beginning with the last. “The shape of apostolic strategy” was as follows: 1. Traveling apostles initiated new congregations by spreading the Gospel. 2. They integrated new believers into household churches, which “were no larger than thirty due to the physical limitations of first-century Mediterranean homes. Many were probably only the size of Jesus’ circle of twelve.” 3. “To ensure the ongoing health and vitality of the first-century house-hold churches, the function of ‘instruct’ was practically implemented through the form of elders.” They were “local, unpaid, co-equal leaders in each group,” alternately called “elders,” “bishops,” “pastors,” who oversaw the life of each congregation. 4. “To be faithful to a theology of unity among first-century believers, the function of ‘interlink’ was practically implemented through the form of ‘geographic networks” in each city who were guided by a “team of local leaders.” These networks were united by the apostles’ visits and letters. 5. “The apostles viewed their strategies for church function and form as divinely authoritative, not optional.” This explosive statement is backed up by solid exegesis, supported by references to a number of careful studies. Having showed that this strategy is biblical, Zdero points out how effective it has been throughout church history, again with references to several historical studies. He also cites the modern examples of growth in China, India, the United States, and other nations around the world. He concludes that “first century apostolic strategies maximized the effectiveness of church functions by minimizing the complexity of church forms as a house church movement,” and then quoting from a church historian who claimed that this pattern was meant to be “permanent” and that “departure from this pattern has had disastrous consequences, and all revival and restoration have been due to some return to the pattern and principles in the Scriptures.” At a time when unregistered churches in China are moving more and more towards the “cathedral” model, sometimes in direct conflict with the government, the implications of this article for the church in China are obvious. We read of more and more overworked pastors; more expensive buildings; concentration of power in the hands of a few, coupled with decreased participation in congregational life by ordinary believers and a decline in spiritual vitality. Perhaps it is time to re-consider the biblical pattern. G. Wright Doyle