The last post on why you can no longer ignore the emerging house church movement generated a few comments regarding the actual size of the movement and how it is estimated. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I realize the movement is difficult to see, as I have written about before. The article was written by Wolfgang Simson who was one of the key people at last weeks Global House Church Summit in Delhi, attended by 200 participants from 40 countries.
What about those numbers? Is it really that big? Who did the research? Wolfgang and I have chatted on email and he yesterday he wrote down some thoughts which I will blog here. Bold fonts were added by me.
Another Six Pack of House Churches
by Wolfgang Simson
Many underestimate the number of house churches greatly because of a limiting box they could be put into. There are not only those nice, easily counteable house churches (hc’s) out there, some of whom even have web sites! In addition to organized house churches, some of them resourced by 5-fold ministries, there are at least six more groups:
1 Off-the-grid house churches that intentionally do not want to be known, listed or be on anybody’s radar. We find out about them by accident or through opinion polling or sampling, the kind of research George Barna does.
These OoCC (out of Church Christians) gatherings contain a lot of the God-yes-church-no crowd out there.
2 Business groups, either house churches within a company or those connecting folks in the business world. This number is huge but hard to track as many business folks believe it’s nobodies business whether they hang out with witches, freemasons or create or join their by invitations-only organic churches for support.
3 More and more traditional churches are changing their home groups or even transitioning their whole lot into house churches; some, in order to avoid misunderstanding and tension, intentionally misname their emerging or fully functioning house churches as “home groups” or even “cells.”
4 Inside the Roman Catholic culture (I said culture, not church) there is a surprisingly large amount of “small, little churches” that are intentionally set up to cut out the middle layer of clergy and directly connect the people with Jesus & the Bible. Behind this are some born again bishops and cardinals; actually, it goes right up to the top. Again, this development is far larger than most think. But only because it happens in an un-protestant environment does not invalidate it.
5 It is not only the Anglican Church that develops “small missional communities”, but many more denominations do that. Amongst them big ones like the Assemblies of God in certain areas of the world.
6 Insider movements. A staggering amount of under-the-radar-house churches are emerging within religious megablocks, the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, the New Agers and even within certain cults. But they choose to stay within their religious culture for effectiveness and to build bridges of God. One of my friends is a former Hindu priest, fully painted up and in his safran dress, who now very effectively plants house churches amongst Brahmins in India. If “proper” Christians would meet him, they’d probably shower him with tracts…
7 There is a seventh version of hc’s out there that I do not bring up here intentionally because it kind of messes with the idea of a sixpack. It would be media-birthed house churches, initiated by TV, radio or folks like a friend of mine who became a guru and coach in a (huge!) online gamer community… So for sixpack reasons I would not mention it, but this actually might have the potential to become the biggest initiative of all: a facebookable, twitterable digital spawning of hc’s that emerge – but not stay – on the web.
If you would press me for numbers, I would say that it’s an iceberg situation out there: 5% visible and countable hc’s, 95% invisible, under the water.
To misquote Patrick Johnstone: The (house) church (movement) is bigger than you think! (I think Patrick would like that…). This development is so huge it would deserve a specific global research. I have a whole research project in my drawer called “The church you never knew”, but it would require some serious funds for logistics and compilation, similar to the Natural Church Development research my friend Christian Schwarz did some time ago.