House churches gain ground

Some Americans have chosen to worship in small, informal gatherings instead of attending traditional churches. Called “house churches,” “simple churches” or “organic churches,” they are a modern attempt to recapture the spirit of the first-century church, when small groups of Christians gathered in each other’s homes and each person – male or female – contributed to worship. Today’s house churches are generally regular gatherings of fewer than 20 people meeting in a member’s home, or sometimes a local theater or bar during off hours. They are peer-led and have at least one belief in common: Where two or more are gathered in his name, there is church.

While house churches have long been a part of the underground worship scene in countries without freedom of religion, their numbers appear to be growing in the United States. By how much, it’s not clear. A June 2009 Barna Report says that in a typical month, 10 percent of U.S. adults attended house churches – up from one percent in 1996 – and that 70 million U.S. adults have had some experience with a house church. Some say that’s too high, but worship attendance has always been difficult to count, and the informal nature of house churches makes it even harder.


Why it matters

House churches are a part of the post-modern trend in Christian worship that is marked by the breaking down and re-imagining of traditional forms of worship. The house church movement – and the broader emerging church movement – has the potential to reshape the mainstream way of doing church.

Questions for reporters

  • Why is the house church movement growing?
  • What attracts people to house churches?
  • What is the response of leaders of traditional churches to house churches?
  • What kind of internal structures do house church members construct to protect themselves?
  • What does the future of the house church movement look like?

House / simple church organizations on the web


National sources

  • John K. White

    John K. White is a political science professor and fellow at the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

  • Brian D. McLaren

    Brian D. McLaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Burtonsville, Md., is a central figure in the movement. He is a lightning rod among emerging thinkers because of his interest in the intersection of faith and progressive politics. His many books on the subject include the popular A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network, 2001). His latest book is A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN (Emergent/YS/Zondervan, 2004). He is on the board of Sojourners.

  • Todd M. Johnson

    Todd M. Johnson is director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. The rise of Pentecostalism has been a major focus of the program. He is also an expert on international religious demography and he edits the World Christian Database and is co-editor of the World Religion Database.

  • Wayne Jacobsen

    Wayne Jacobsen is founder and president of BridgeBuilders, based in Moorpark, Calif. He co-drafted the Common Ground guidelines. Read Jacobsen’s June 2006 report about the process of creating an anti-harassment policy in Marshalltown, Iowa, public schools.

  • George Barna

    George Barna is directing leader of The Barna Group, an evangelical research company in Ventura, Calif. He is author of nearly 50 books and over 100 articles. He is a popular speaker at ministry conferences around the world and has taught at Pepperdine and Biola Universities and several seminaries.

  • L. Michael White

    L. Michael White is a professor in classics and religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also director of the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins. He is an expert on house churches in the first century.  He is also a frequent media commentator on biblical archaeology and appeared in the PBS series From Jesus to Christ.

  • Dan Hubbell

    Dan Hubbell is a member of a house church in Winnsboro, Texas, near Dallas. He also runs a house church support website called Church Restoration and has helped plant house churches in the U.S. and four foreign countries, including China. He says China has experienced the largest boom in house churches, with more than 100 million people meeting in house churches.

  • Tony Dale

    Tony and Felicity Dale are the authors of Simply Church (Karis Publishing, 2002). Both the Dales helped launch, a support network for house churches. Tony agrees with George Barna’s theory that the current move toward house churches is a “third reformation” of Christianity. The Dales live in Austin, Texas.

  • Neil Cole

    Neil Cole is a church starter and pastor, and founder and executive director of Church Multiplication Associates, which has helped start more than 700 churches in 32 states and 23 nations. He is the author of Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (Jossey-Bass, 2005). He describes how to plant churches in nontraditional places – bars, neighborhoods, etc.

  • Paul Byerly

    Paul and Lori Byerly publish House2House, a webzine for home church planters and members. They also conduct seminars and workshops on home churches. They are based in Manchaca, Texas.

    Contact: 512-282-2322.
  • Bill Tenny-Brittian

    Bill Tenny-Brittian writes for the House Church Network Association. He says people say they join house churches for reasons of intimacy, the ability to participate more fully and the level of discipleship opportunities.

  • Frank Viola

    Frank Viola is the founder of Present Testimony Ministry and the author of several books on house churches. He lives in Gainesville, Fla.

  • Robert Fitts

    Robert Fitts is a church planter and author of The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity (Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001). He lives in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

  • Dan Mayhew

    Dan Mayhew is the editor of Church@Home Newsletter and a member of Summit Fellowships, a support network of house churches in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash. He is based in Portland, Ore., and writes a blog.

    He foresees a stream of house churches that will mimic the traditional approach to church by becoming centralized and market-driven, and he predicts a “new set of Christian celebrities” that will come out of house churches.

  • D. Allan Karr

    D. Allan Karr is director of the Nehemiah Project in church planting, a joint venture of the North American Mission Board and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is an associate professor of church planting. He lives in Denver.

    He told Time magazine that he estimates that three out of 10 churches founded today are simple churches and that their odds of survival are better than for the other seven.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

In the South

In the Midwest

In the West

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