If the house church is so great, why aren't there more of them?
Excellent reflections, Ted. I find myself agreeing with your observations. Our house church experience has also been the highlight of our church journey. I would add that a handful of people "doubled up" by attending both a traditional church and our house church. They appreciated the deeper level of interaction and relationship that the house church afforded. I do think that the teaching in a house church could be as good as in a traditional church if that was the goal, which in our case I'd say it wasn't. The social needs of the young people definitely became a big factor as the years went by. I suspect, too, that many simply don't prefer the deeper level of relationship and accountability that a house church implies. Anonymity facilitates the kind of "freedom" that our culture values.
All the church growth movement needed was two proof-of-concept churches (Saddleback and Willow Creek) and then the model was set: everyone wanted to be like them. But this was a syncretism (not contextualization!) with consumeristic and hyper-individualistic US culture. So we continue to see the Walmartization of American Christianity: there are fewer churches with more and more people in them, and people in bigger churches give less and serve less and grow less. This is contributing to the decline of Evangelicalism. How many more studies do we need?
Recently, both Tim Keller and Russell Moore have proposed helpful solutions about moving on from patriarchy and right-wing politics. That is indeed helpful. But the idol of religious consumerism is still present and only adequately dealt with by an ecclesiology that is NOT predicated on non-discipleship. Alan Hirsch has pointed this out. Everyone wants to get to movement but no one is willing to pay the price. We need to challenge the pastor-centric and sermon-centric church models that make discipleship optional. CPMs in the Global South provide a great conversation partner, but our social structure is different and so translation is needed. I think New Thing and Tampa Underground and Kansas City Underground are working towards a new proof of concept that will put the biblical focus back on disciple-making/discipleship and a refounding/restructuring of the Church upon the Lordship of Jesus. It doesn't need to be house church but it can be microchurch.
Another good post on this topic, Ted. Thank you for doing so much here and in MD to nurture such conversations!
Probably like you, I've asked a lot of questions, listened to podcasts, gone to Zoom meetings, etc, about whether a DMM is happening in the US. I hear rumors, but like you, I can't get a solid confirmation on one occurring in any community in the US.
My wife and I participate in a house church while we are temporarily in the US. We don't feel comfortable in a traditional church setting for a variety of reasons. But, I agree with all of your points.
As I look at the cultural chasm between Boomers and Gen X on one hand and the fairly significant gap between them and Millennials and Gen Z on the other hand, I wonder if a 3rd space that is not a traditional church would be welcome by younger people. Given the rise of the "nones" (and the related rise of deconstruction w/in Evangelical youth), the historic and ongoing abuse of people in institutional settings including the church, and the very high percentages of non-Caucasian representation among Millennials, and Gen Zers, would a different model be more appealing to these subgroups with significant demographic realities than it is to older white folks like you and me?
I'm not suggesting that house or simple churches that meet in non-institutional third spaces will become the majority choice for Ms and Gen Zers, but perhaps they will be more appealing than they are to people currently in their late 40s, 50, 60, and 70s. Perhaps our traditional churches can explore supporting different forms that might have connections to a traditional church but might be more inviting and appealing to at least some of the Ms and Gen Zers. Perhaps some healthy, hybrids could develop. There have been some efforts in this regard already, so this is not a new idea, but one that perhaps will develop as a response to the more post-modern realities of diffuse identity politics, distrust of institutions, and a post-Covid transitory culture that desires for something more than a "house" church but something not quite so rigid and hierarchical as a traditional, somewhat institutional model. May God's empire come and may forms and spaces develop that can hold His imperial rule in ways that help younger people to flourish, thrive, and multiply.