Why Home Churches are Filling Up

Monday, Feb. 27, 2006 By DAVID VAN BIEMA, RITA HEALY

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Yet the flexibility of simple churches is a huge plus. They can accommodate the demands of a multi-job worker, convene around the bedside of an ailing member and undertake big initiatives with dispatch, as in the case of a group in the Northwest that reportedly yearned to do social outreach but found that every member had heavy credit-card debt. An austerity campaign yielded a balance with which to help the true poor.

Indeed, house churching in itself can be an economically beneficial proposition. Golden Gate Seminary's Karr reckons that building and staff consume 75% of a standard church's budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine "if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful."

Evangelical boosters find revival everywhere. Barna says he sees house churching and practices like home schooling and workplace ministries as part of a "seminal transition that may be akin to a third spiritual awakening in the U.S." Jeffrey Mahan, academic vice president of Denver's liberal and institutionally oriented Iliff School of Theology, doesn't go that far, but he does think the trend is significant. American participation in formal church has risen and fallen throughout history, he notes, and after a prolonged post--World War II upswell, big-building Christianity may be exhaling again in favor of informal arrangements.

If so, he suggests, "I don't think the denominations need be anxious. They don't have a franchise on religion. The challenge is for people to talk about what constitutes a full and adequate religious life, to be the church together, not in a denominational sense, but in the broadest sense." Or as Jesus put it, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I."


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