Emerging House Church Movement

Update: I just saw an excellent video of Reggie McNeal addressing the Reformed Church of America. He gives a good update on the house church movement. At least watch the first ten minutes to get a global view. Stay longer to hear why it will be really tough to go through this shift.


“They’re [the house churches] based on small-circle organizing, have little to no authoritative control, and rely on the innovation of distributed social movements. It’s this same type of organizational structure that is the secret to the success of Wikipedia and craigslist.”

Rob Mackay and Ori Brafman (The Spider and the Starfish) in an article for the Huffington Post called “Small Is the New Big in Progressive Politics” HT: Homebrewed Christianity

I said something very similar a few years ago when i discussed emergent theory and the house church movement in a post called Tiny is the New Small. Speaking of small churches, I just finished cooking a pile of crepes for the 50 people that attend our small church so we can have breakfast together early Sunday morning. Try doing that with a bigger church.

Related on Tallskinnykiwi: Tiny is the New Small, House Churches Have No Sex Appeal. Yeast and Bud Emergence, Emergent Theory and the Emergent Church

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Mary says:

    Surely if you want to do crepes for a bigger church, you could just let a few more poeople get in on the crepe making action?

  • Becky says:

    Andrew – my hunch is your church rocks because someone like you is going to attract some amazing people. Throw in some Christian crepes and it’s enough to make this Anglican go Baptist for a day. Sure beats the lousy instant coffee in a styrofoam cup (Not every church is as fair trade sensitive as you are alas.)
    But I asked an emergent church dude his take on what can be done when you have a church planter who keeps imploding not planting – his response was that you’re dealing with people under 49 so it’s not nearly as bad as what happened when Ted Haggard went under. My reply was you still have 49 people who were on the fringes already and now they’re gone. We can’t save and fix everything but my biggest concern with independent church planters is often the lack of any peer accountability at least as far as what I’ve seen the states. (I’m a writer not a pastor but I have people like you around me to make sure I don’t go too far off the rails and for that I feel blessed.)
    Craiglist recently had to undergo some security checks as they were letting in too many illegal ads for prostitution and the like and my editors at least won’t let me use Wikipedia due to its unreliability. (The emergent church section in Wikipedia is a missional mess.)

  • andrew says:

    i was one of the contributors of emerging church at wikipedia many years ago. it used to be quite accurate but got worse and worse. an enemy has done this.
    as for big church, i have believed for a long time that churches should multiply rather than bulk up. if people walked to the church near them rather than drive across town to find a church with people just like them, we would cut down on pollution and have a more heterogenous church, as well as greater commitment to the local community.

  • julie says:

    – hey, our ‘church’ is built around pancakes for breakfast too – just all the people who live in our street – size is becoming a problem though as more than 30 in our back room is just way too crowded – is your church in your house ??
    – i agree with the ‘small circle organising stuff’ – it is just difficult to find a way to feel supported in what we are doing when we sit outside the frame of big church so clearly – i guess we have to find a different way to do that in our context, but being intentionally inclusive makes us extremely unpopular in big church circles – really we are more closely linked to our neighbourhood through social enterprise and local arts innovations than we are through local churches – and in a rural scotland where spider church can very suspicious of starfish, that means we are often very low and lonely in our struggles
    – i guess i see all the similarities with emergence theory and starfish/spiders that you point out, but projects like wikipedia and craigslist provided something that could be contributed to more broadly and gave a sense of belonging and some form of shared accountability (at least initially) – we don’t seem to have found that layer of cohesion yet in emerging circles – it seems that there are still a lot of starfish out here that don’t really feel connected with others – i still struggle to imagine an effective way to nurture connection at a level beyond individual groupings like ours and with very oblique reference to tradional denominational structures – i’d be interested to know what your reflections/suggestions in this area are andrew ?

  • andrew says:

    we used to have house church when we lived in USA in teh 90’s and have done it a few times in europe. these days its a lot of communities that make up “church” for us and its way beyond the gropu that meets on sundays.
    its all very complex. like you “really we are more closely linked to our neighbourhood through social enterprise and local arts innovations than we are through local churches”
    we are very much the same. the new little church we go to most sundays (which rents a hall, not a house) is not the total sum of church at all for us but one of the anchors.
    we also try to keep connected with mainline and denominational stuff, without getting swallowed by the whale.

  • julie says:

    we are even more similar than i thought then ! peace, julie

  • Jeremy Pryor says:

    Isn’t the question of big vs. small need to begin with how the Bible (those who originated the whole “church” idea).
    Paul seemed to use the word in three contexts –
    Local church = body (1 Cor. 12)
    Regional church = discipleship training (Acts 19)
    Universal church = all Christians
    These commuter churches are an inadequate structure to live life as a crepe eating body or as a center for discipleship training.
    They’re good at creating a public worship service but where do they get the idea that this singular expression = church?
    Churches should average around 50 people because, at that size, you can meet the minimum requirements of 1 Cor. 12 body structure –
    * All parts are equally valued
    * When one part suffers all suffer (interdependence)
    * All parts are equally necessary
    This can never be true of a worship service centered “church”.
    We’ve built something that is not, nor can ever be, a body, and slapped the label “church” on it.
    A mistake we’re just beginning to wake up to.

  • andrew says:

    jeremy – many churches are 12-20 people. this number is common for house churches -thus the “tiny” word i used in my post.
    and becky, you said
    “Andrew – my hunch is your church rocks because someone like you is going to attract some amazing people.”
    thanks for the compliment, and this was probably true for the bigger churches i used to pastor a decade ago before moving into emerging church.
    your hunch is wrong. this church this morning has no pastors and no celebrities. after breakfast, we sang some songs and anyone who wanted to share stood up and said some words. i was not one of them. and then we dismissed. honestly, not one person there came because i was there.

  • Becky says:

    Andrew – I suppose I should elaborate on my hunch – you are what I would term the anti-celebrity pastor. You have a unique gift like Jonny and Karen – they describe themselves as curators who work behind the scenes so that a space is created where all can participate. And once that ethos is in place, then the gathering doesn’t mean for y’all to be present — but without that groundwork, what you described couldn’t happen. To me the success of a church is what happens when the pastor is out of town.

  • Becky says:

    I meant “doesn’t need” not “doesn’t mean” – and I use the term pastor loosely – I mean whoever is the person (or persons) who shepherded the gathering into being.

  • Mary says:

    Andrew, I think I agree sort of that churches should multiply rather than bulk up, but don’t forget that those of us that live in cities (even relatively wee ones like Edinburgh) can go to churches where well over 50 members live within a 10 minute walk of where the church meets.

  • andrew says:

    thanks mary, our first house church was in san francisco and that was very urban.
    becky – i appreciate the vote of confidence and you have described the way i approach large events that i lead (i usually do not speak at my roundtables) but in this case, this small community was started about a year before we got here by a great guy named James and we are supporting what they are doing by going along quite often (not every week) and me speaking there about every 5 weeks.

  • Becky says:

    Props to James – it gives me hope to know there are leaders like that in the church – I can only think of one church in NYC that I’ve attended where the priest (and sometimes joined with the worship band in more alt. w. settings) wasn’t front and center doing the bulk of the service. I went to a very hip house church in NYC and while the leadership is communal, the leaders use this church to promote themselves and their products. I wish more event leaders took your approach to event planning – compare the number of people planning this event to those who are speaking (http://www.ev08.org/planners.html) and it’s pretty telling (and these are also paid speaking gigs).
    Pete Rollins has a similar post about this on his blog titled “Church as Fetish.”

  • andrew says:

    ” . . one of you has a hymn . . . ” 1 Cor.
    Becky, i have seen house churches that act like traditional churches – full hierarchical structure, ordered service and sometimes even a pulpil in a living room.
    and there are small churches that dont meet in a house but they act like a house church.

  • andrew says:

    another thing we did for our roundtable events is not to pay any speaker at all. that means that it can often be a free event and because the speakers fees are zero but it also means people can meet on the same level.
    i have seen conferences fail because someone decided to pay a high profile speaker to attract more people to the confernce, then the conference fees went up to pay for the speaker (s) and then it became all about the speaker to get their moneys worth and it ended up a talking head festival again.
    nothing emerging about that.

  • Becky says:

    Andrew – On a practical note, how then do your speakers afford to pay for their flights, food, lodging, etc.? Travel costs are often an obstacle in bringing in a voices that don’t aren’t connected to an organization or have family/friends that pay for their expenses. I see this as an area where we can engage in some really creative thinking on this front.
    I know of one emergent leader who asked for 10,000 and business class travel (and of course a hotel and food) to sit in on ONE panel – he didn’t get that fee but the conference folks still booked him. Compare that to say Shane’s model of travel and it’s obvious who has their priorities in order and who is still following in the traditional road for the author/speaker/pastor. I also like Greenbelt’s method where we’re asked if we want to donate some or all of our speaking fees to help cover the cost of the festival.

  • The size of a group will probably depend on context. Culture, living room size, and persecution level will all affect a house church’s size. But we should not be driven by the optimal size or proximity parameters. We need to gather in groups small enough to for each body part to be recognized and contributing. In my experience anything beyond 12 people starts to allow for some to become passive. The main thing is that the group size needs to foster increased Jesusness of each participant and the group as a whole.

  • Steve Cramb says:

    Thanks for the video of Reggie McNeil. “The Present Future” was a key book for me, giving a framework to use with established church leaders. These videos (and I found the second night more impacting) pack so much into such a little space, with humour.

  • andrew says:

    Becky said “Andrew – On a practical note, how then do your speakers afford to pay for their flights, food, lodging, etc.? Travel costs are often an obstacle in bringing in a voices that don’t aren’t connected to an organization or have family/friends that pay for their expenses.”
    good question.
    firstly, at a roundtable, there are no “speakers” because everyone is equal.
    secondly, people save to come during the year and we often do these events at secular festivals that they would like to come to anyway (during SXSW)
    thirdly, at some of our events (epicenter in texas, 2001 for example) we raise money to fly in some leaders from third world countries who could otherwise not afford to be there. this has been the greatest expense in these events but there is no hotel or conference center so other expenses are minimal.

  • Wayne Park says:

    we’ve just “reverted” back to something akin to ‘house church’ ourselves and crepes for 50 sounds oddly familiar;
    the reference to wikipedia has been something I’ve been toying around in thought a lot with too. Web 2.0 has gone “open-source”. Does trend reflect the culture or culture reflect the trend? Either way, it might be interesting if the church (but not necessarily our theology?) went “open-source” as well…

  • larry says:

    we always pay our own way…just a thought…it is about BEING a blessing

  • Matt says:

    50 is a small church?! I don’t think I have attended a large church for a couple of decades then.

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