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Church at Home

Learning from Another Model

“I came to Christ in a house church,” said Ingrid Reichard at a recent Town Hall meeting sponsored by the MB Churches of Canada. “I was discipled in that setting for the first two years of my faith journey. Since I didn’t grow up in the church, I didn’t go to Sunday school; I thought house churches were normal.”

Of course, in many settings, house churches are normal. The Book of Acts describes the Early Church as a house church movement. In fact, it was not until three hundred years after Pentecost that church buildings started to appear. Even today, in many countries around the world, house churches are the norm. As well, throughout history, many of the Church’s revivals survived and thrived as believers met in homes. Gradually, as the Gospel spread around the world and was incarnated into more and more cultural contexts, other models of church soon became prevalent. 

As Director of the MB’s National Faith and Life Team, Reichard hosted the Town Hall meeting and clarified that it was not a question of right or wrong models, but rather of being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of different models. “When I finally came into a big church,” she said, “I was blown away by bulletins, bands, and all the chairs facing in one direction. All of that was overwhelming. Now I love a well-organized big church, but I also know the many benefits of the house church.”

Reichard reminded listeners of how COVID-19 has challenged the Church and prompted us to re-think our gatherings. Prior to the pandemic, of course, many of us were accustomed to weekly church services in the hundreds. But those gatherings are no longer happening, at least not for the time being. As big churches adjust to this new reality, many are encouraging home-based alternatives and small group initiatives. 

“As churches continue to navigate restrictions,” Reichard posed, “perhaps the house church model could offer insight into how we should think not only about our gatherings but about our overall disciple-making mission.” 

Reichard’s conversation partner for the Town Hall meeting was Derek Parenteau, Multiply missionary among First Nations people in Ontario, Canada. 

Parenteau shared compelling insights from his own journey among indigenous peoples. “When we first started, we had all kinds of thoughts about what it would look like to plant a church. But someone told us to take it slow and pray. I noticed that every reservation had a church building on it that was empty. If it was being used at all, it was serving one or two people and the minister was coming from outside of the community. I thought there must be a better way.”

Parenteau started studying the methods of missionaries around the world and he discovered that the house church model was being used very effectively in places like China and India. He turned to the Scriptures and came to a simple realization: “Maybe house churches weren’t the consolation prize, a Plan B or any kind of downgrade, but that they actually had some major benefits in terms of both evangelism and discipleship.”

Derek and his wife, Tiffani, started gathering their First Nations friends together in homes, mostly non-believers at first. Then people started coming to faith in Jesus and they invited their family and friends into the group. “It was a very powerful experience,” said Derek, “to see whole households come to faith. It changed my life and changed my family’s life.”

In the Town Hall meeting, Reichard acknowledged that many churchgoers in North America probably had no experience with house churches. She was open about common misconceptions: “Maybe we think it’s for those who are bucking the system, or for those who can’t afford a meeting space, so meeting in a home is a second option until they can grow up and become a real church.” 

However, for both Reichard and Parenteau, the house church model had offered a vibrant and powerful experience of authentic spiritual community and
mission effectiveness. 

Reichard shared beautifully about her husband’s transformative experience: “After I came to Christ, my husband wanted to come with me to the house church. It was so obvious that he was not a believer just by the questions he asked. But there was so much grace for him. He received so much love and encouragement that he inevitably came to Christ. That community created the most natural highway to Jesus.” 

Parenteau added, “Sometimes we forget how hard it is for an outsider to walk into our larger church gatherings. Since our North American culture is less and less Christian, the cultural gap for a non-believer is huge. It’s easier for them to walk into someone’s home and share a meal. It’s much more casual, less structured, so the cultural leap is far less.” 

In terms of discipleship, the smaller size of the house church is certainly one of the clearest advantages to life-on-life learning. “In that setting, it’s hard to fake it. As a leader, you’re modeling what it looks like to be a parent, because your kids are there. You’re modeling your marriage because your spouse is there. Everything is on display for everyone. Everyone can see what obedience to Jesus looks like for you in everyday life.”

“Our group was about twenty-five people,” Reichard said, “and we got together twice a week: on Sundays for worship and on Wednesdays for Bible study. We sat in a circle and different people lead. There was always sharing, always food, and usually kids crawling all over the place. There was some teaching, and there was lots of singing. In the group I belonged to, most of the people were from Jamaica, so our singing was phenomenal.” 

“Every group is unique,” reminded Parenteau. “But most groups have time for studying the Bible, sharing testimonies, praying for each other, and worshiping together. It’s usually very personal and very interactive.”

“In our bigger churches,” Reicher shared forthrightly, “sometimes we get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the stage. We get used to the professionalism. When you meet in homes, it’s just couches and chairs and an open Bible. That’s all you need.” 

“Simple and intimate,” Parenteau concluded about house churches. “There’s depth to relationships and it makes room for everyone to get involved. Everyone can contribute something, whether it’s teaching, serving food, caring for kids, or reading Scripture. Everyone is known. Everyone belongs.”

Both Reichard and Parenteau emphasized that they were not recommending one model over another. They simply wanted to remind people that, during these times of restrictions, we can perhaps adapt our structures and learn from a model that has been historically and internationally very fruitful.

For the full video recording of the conversation between Reichard and Parenteau, including more about leadership development and outreach, and some engaging question-and- answer with other listeners, watch here.

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