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.
I can appreciate the diversity of groups that Wolfgang is talking about here. However, in our estimates of 350 hc in NZ (Phil Edwards) to 500 max hc in NZ (me), we are including #1 off the radar hc (that we get occasional glimpses of in the periphery of our vision) & #2 business groups. There isn’t much evidence (IMHO) of #4-6 in NZ.
If #3 is taken to include (?all?) cell groups in organised churches, & #7 is taken to mean people who stay at home watching christian tv programs, then the 6000 hc in NZ might be believeable (but also equally irrelevant).
I’m sure Wolfgang & others intend more by hc than ‘just’ a cell group that is part of an organised church, or ‘just’ someone at home watching christian tv. And I’m sure that those producing this report are well intentioned and believe what they are suggesting. And I agree that there is a wide variety of hc & other organic groups of believers gathering together – far more than are visible or are listed anywhere.
BUT …. 6000 hc in NZ is very difficult to believe (unless normal church cell groups are included) – twice the number of organised churches in NZ …. so this would imply that in the suburb I have lived for years, as well as the approx 8 organised churches, we should expect there to be 16 hc (in various forms) ….. difficult to believe. Actually there are towns in NZ where we struggle to find any sign of any hc….. so if they do exist, they must be so far below the radar they are hobbits 🙂
But … maybe I’ve missed what the latest definition of a hc is ?????
Thanks David. Where would the “believers who don’t belong” uncovered in NZ by Alan Jamieson fit in your estimates? I am thinking here of spirited exchanges and a churchless faith.
I don’t see much of that happening here in belgium at all… I don’t even know if the house churches I know here (like the one from Frank Ernst) are really ’emerging’, and there are not much of them here. But there’s not much emerging here at all right now. Maybe ideas, but not house churches or other (non-)structures… We don’t even seem to have real emerging churches in this country… And I know we need it so much… sigh…
As I’m currently discussing this exact issue with Wolfgang, I will copy you in my response, as a contribution to this discussion. I’m a colleague of Andrew in the DAWN European Network and one of the facilitators of http://www.simplechurch.eu. We are currently working on a status report on simple church planting in Europe, based on a ‘quality and quantity survey’ among 70 sc/hc networks. The report will be published in early January.
MY RESPONSE TO WOLFGANG:
As these 70 are the networks (excluding single house churches) that we are relationally aware of and in touch with, an open question is still how we can realistically estimate the total for Europe. In the ‘narrow definition’ we used, your suggested 10,000 seems quite optimistic to me.
As a general observation your six/seven points are certainly valid, though I suspect that for the European situation multiplying the researched number by 20 is still too optimistic. We included some networks in these categories in our research.
1. The OCCC: Barna didn’t research Europe. Are you aware of research institutions (maybe government-related) that have reliable indications for the number of house churches in Europe?
2. Many of these business small groups are quite organized (CBMC, ICCC, etc.), so are trackable.
3. For research purposes one has to draw a line somewhere or you end up nowhere. If you include every small group or cell (which as such I have no problem with), you get a different picture, but most church-related small groups are not considered ‘church in itself’, nor are these very missional.
4. I’m aware of some groups in the RC context, but would be interested in RC contacts who could validate this statement.
5. I’m aware of this. The evangelical movement within the Protestant Church does the same. However, these groups are often either part of the church small group set-up or prayer groups. The missional orientation of these groups is limited.
6. Aware of this, but less relevant for Europe.
7. Of course there are many special interest communities on the web, but do you know concrete examples of communities that also function as a house church?
Oh, one more thing: the iceberg picture is certainly valid. There’s more under the surface than what we see, so we have to take that into account. But with most icebergs on average 15% is above the water, and 85% under the water (a factor 6). It’s not 5%/95% (a factor 20).
One way to approach this is based on the wisdom of crowds: ask 20 well-informed and well-connected people in NZ or Europe to come up with an estimation of house churches in their country or continent, and that average is probably quite realistic.
How Many People Really Attend a House Church? Barna Study Finds It Depends on the Definition http://bit.ly/53cqMe
If one was to count ‘organised house churches’ in NZ we would have alot less then 350 in number. If we count along the lines of the ‘six pack’ (and I think we should) 350 to an absolute maximum of 500 would be still correct not 6000.
There are a lot of people like me who are interested in the numbers, and how well the Church is doing around the place. And there have been various groups trying their hand and various kinds of head-counts.
I wonder whether a distributed open source thing is a good way do do it. “but it would require some serious funds for logistics and compilation”, says Wolfgang, but it may not depending on whom you give it to.
i thouht emerging church was post-counting?
The ‘believers who don’t belong’ or churchless-christian population in NZ seems quite large. A Massey university study of about 1300 NZers a couple of years ago (a statsitcially valid random sample) gave these approx numbers for NZ – out of every 6 people, 1 is active in a church (about 18%, which ties in with other surveys over the past 20 years), another 1 is linked to a church but inactive (typically attached to mainstreem or oder churches I presume), 2 are ex-church people (ie have had a link to a church in the past), and 2 are un-churched (no previous church links).
These last 2 groups are interesting – only 1/3 of NZers are ‘unchurched’ …. a smaller % than most ministers in NZ would predict. Also 1/3 of NZers are ex-church (in some way or another) …. I guess these are the ones found in Alan Jamiesons study.
So overall, for every active church member (iwe they say they attend church at least 1x per month), there is another inactive member, 2 ex-church people, & 2 un-churched people.
Obviously more detailed study would be valuable …. but the result is fscinating …. particularly the high proportion that are ex-church (presumably some are still pursuing their faith, & others aren’t)
just cause someone is jacked off with their church, so they stay home on sunday…that does not make them a house church.
It appears to me that the whole house church movement is losing momentum, not gaining it, especially here in Aust.
The few house churches I knew of, have now closed…it appeared the conflicts were magnified in the smaller setting, and once the funding from more established churches had run out, they could no longer support themselves.
I think that possible smaller emerging communities are discovering that mission is hard, no matter what context you are in.
Heres another thought. Many of the pioneers of the movement are now at a different stage in their life, the childrens stage, and discovering that what they want for their families is quite different to what they thought they wanted.
Maybe a different model is the one I see being taken up, rebirthing a church out of an older one, with the older ones blessing.
The hc ‘movement’ in NZ isn’t really moving either. Hc start & stop …. I don’t know anyone in NZ who would suggest that the hc ‘movement’ in NZ is gaining any momentum.
Many people might hope that it increase, and believe that it should …. but there seems no sign of change (either increase or decrease).
There are a lot of ex-church christians in NZ who aren’t meeting with other christians in any semi-organised hc type of way … maybe they have been too burnt out by the high-cost, high-demand versions of organised church.
so…if thats true David, whats the problem?
the church – asking too much, trying to be too much.
the person – selfish..not taking up their cross…wanting to consume?
both are an issue in my mind…what to do..give up?
no way! 🙂
Mark. I agree. Wrong paradigm –
disempowerment of people,
elevation of ministers,
consumer-based messages (come to jesus & you will get …)
focus on church services rather than serving the community,
focus on ‘getting into heaven’ rather than life change here & now
When you have power & money … you inevitably get problems.
But – sadly – some (or many) people seem to get burnt out & unfortunately give up – rather than trying to create viable alternatives that are kingdom-of-god orientated.
discussion, no action
deconstruction, no construction
academic discussion, no earthly use
no real diversity
no one who is not part of the church scene really knows who they are…no do they care
My question to Wolfgang and others in the house churches is how the children (from zero to teenaged) learn about God in house churches. We meet in homes midweek but also get together on Sundays as a whole group hiring a community centre. During the adult meeting a few of us (on a rota basis) take the children out and do a traditional Sunday school (based on scripture union material). Midweek the children usually only get involved in a social level and deep discussions happen after they have gone to bed. Although some of the older kids do have their own home group. If we were to move to home groups say every other week on Sundays my fear is that the children wouldn’t really be catered for. They might go and play in another room or sit through an adult discussion that might find boring. I would love to know what house churches do to include the children. Any thoughts?
I have been part of a few discussions regarding the inclusion of children and young people within a group of friends recently.
Firstly, it is apparent that the issue is an important one.
Discussions needed to be carefully led as to avoid either becoming too idealistic or getting bogged down in practical details.
Ultimately though it comes down to commitment. A commitment to value children and young people, and to support them. So the learning and encouragement can come as families and friends share food, or from a trusted babysitter reading your child bedtime stories, and so on. And a discipline not to rest on structures that routinely separate children from adults; judging each case as to whether the topic is suitable for the participants. Though I do find it hard to think of many subjects that I would discuss in a group but not in front of children.
You might be right about EC … maybe it is the wrong paradigm … but the traditional church has a 2000 year track-record & the record isn’t good (some good bits & many disasters & areas unaddressed). We live in a world were 30,000 die from starvation & prevnatble diseases daily, and the church has enough financial resource to elimate extreme poverty, yet it does virtually nothing about it.
I’m no expert on EC – but it is early days & may be transitioning to a more valid expression of the kingdom of God …. time will tell.
Certainly in NZ, none of these 3 forms of church is growing significantly – traditional church, ec or hc. When we first started hc, someone asked “What if it doesn’t work?” My wife wisely replied “you can either have the expensive version of church that doesn’t work, or the cheap version of church that doesn’t work”. We’ve pesonally chosen the cheap but highly flexible & relational & (for us) missional version of church – it originated from us asking ourselves “If we were missionaries to our community, what would we do?”
Some thoughts re children
– the primary place for teaching & encouraging spirituality in children is in the home
– hc gatherings can be child-centred (but it is difficult to cater for both children & adults at the same time)
– the primary purpose for gathering as a church (IMHO) is for mutual encouragement. Children gathering in this environment can encourage each other, and can also be encouraged by other adults. (Children love having other adults who know them well)
– adults can be rostered to do an activity with the children (if a hc church meets weekly, then it is little sacrifice for a parent to be with the kids once every month or two)
– an alternative is to pay a local christian teenager or adult to teach the kids (this ‘teacher’ can go to their own church in an evening if they wish)
We personally left a highly programmed church (where I was one of the ministers) & started a hc about 5 years ago, with our 6 children aged 1-16. Our kids (now 7-22) are still all involved in the hc & enjoy it, and are glad we made the change. However, they have been ‘runied’ and would find it difficult to become passive pew-sitters in an organised sermon-centred church again. They love the discussion & interaction we have,
It just happens I have finished a new research to count the # of Christians in Christ’s, i.e. Jesus Himself, church. I’ve found some interesting results.
Christ is head of all whom make Him home. One Head for one body, the question now, is: are you in the body? Ah, now I see you, hey arm it’s me the leg. 🙂
DA, in my view, if it works, thats whats important.
By if it works, I mean….people coming to Christ.
I agree about social justice, but actually in this area, I see the more ‘traditional’ church doing far more than Ec…look at the massive influence Rick W & Bill H is having. Not just through their own churches, but others…
I believe in a mobilised missional body of people…working together for the advancement of the kingdom, however the form takes.
But to be frank…reserve judgment on the EC? I have been doing that for a fairly decent length of time now…and have not seen a lot of fruit…just discussion. But…I hope and pray the kingdom is advancing in all different ways and expressions, and wherever God is working, we celebrate it.
I agree that what works is important – people coming to Christ as disciples whse lives are transformed in such a way that they make an amazing difference in the world today. (Rather than getting ‘saved’ so they can go to heaven … while still living a life on earth that is little different from their neighbours – we have diluted the gospel & turned into a get-into-heaven-free thing).
I agree that the traditional church is doing more with ‘social justice’ … but if you compare the finanical resource & people resource & years of potential activity … the ec must only be 0.0000something % of the traditional church. Also, in the early years, it would be understandable for the ec to need to focus on figuring out who/what it is … the traditional churches have had hundreds of years to do that already.
I don’t think we need to ‘judge’ ec … it probably needs a few more decades to emerge into whatever it might be.
Re the supposed massive influence of Rick W & Bill H …. you might know a lot more than me … but I’m not convinced that they’re having a massive effect (at least in comparison to the resources in their ’empires’). they are lovely people, and it is great that they have both helped make the ‘social’ side of christianity acceptable or important to some churches … but if you look at what proportion of their budget & time & people resource goes into it, I think it is still relatively small, particularly if you include the $$$$ generated by their book & program sales as well – I would be surprised if more than 10% of their total incomes went to the social work things.
Overall, the traditional church is immensely rich. And also christians are personally even richer. We have the wealth in our churches, and/or in our personal lives to stop millions of unnecessary deaths each year due to starvation & illness … yet the ‘christian culture’ we have inherited from our traditional churches puts all this as very low priority (particularly in comparison to good sound systems in churches & our personal comfortable lifestyles)
I reckon we are all hypocrites David…and we could all do more.
My point is that because of the style and influence they have, Ricks and Bills can do more…the power of a mobilied community, rather than a diverse group.
Btw, everyone thinks they are balanced, we cant all be right!
Mark – I didn’t say they were hypocrites. Yes – we could all do more.
I do think that the ‘poor’ etc has become one of the latest fads for mega-churches – but I don’t think it goes very deep …. they possibly give from their excess & know that it will grow their congregations.
I said “I reckon’….and I do. Cause none of us are perfect.
But I think your statement about churches only doing it to grow their church is pretty cynical…but thats just my view.
Hi Mark. I didn’t say “only doing it to …” I’m sure they have a variety of motivations, as we all do
I would value a bit more interaction on the numbers and how to research simple and emerging expressions of church. Anyone?
Nice discussion going on here.
ABout the estimates of Wolfgang: Without knowing I estimated the same amount of house churches for Europe.
But I’m an optimist – or at least that’s what Marc says…
I think it’s hard to find out how many house churches there are, because many of them are overlapping, so 1 person could be part of more than 1 small church.
1. What trikes me though, is that I hear more and more people who have started something like a small church or group, and many of the groups I know aren’t (well) organized, and don’t want themselves to be known as a house church to the world, so I agree on point 1.
You stated that many of these business small groups are quite organized.
I think especially those groups that are organized will show up at the top of the iceberg, so this doesn’t necessarily implicate that most of them are quite organized; it implicates that the ones we know are quite organized.
VERY interesting. And I hope he’s right. I hope that house churches like this are on the rise, and wouldn’t it be a ‘God thing’ if I couldn’t get my grubby little internet paws all over ’em. I just know that, from my Baptist & Pentecostal days on up, we Christians loooove to inflate the numbers. I’m not saying that Wolfgang is doing this intentionally *at all* – I’ve got nuthin’ but respect for his work and experience. So…very cool. I’ll be looking forward to an increasingly house churchy future. : )
@Douwe: It’s very likely that there are also business groups under the surface, but for a fair estimation we would need some indicators.
The funny thing is that when I answered the ‘wisdom of crowds’ question, I also estimated 500 groups in the Netherlands and 10,000 in Europe. So I might even end up saying: Wolfgang was right. Or maybe Wolfgang was too pessimistic. 😉
It helps to break it down to the local level. In the Netherlands we have 441 local communities with on average 37,602 inhabitants. Knowing the local situation, I think it’s very likely that a community of 42,000 inhabitants (like De Bilt) has at least one house church. Utrecht with a population of 300,000 certainly has more than eight groups, because I know at least eight myself. Probably you would find four house churches in De Bilt. So the total for the Netherlands could also be 1,600… But this is north-west Europe. I think it’s lower in south and east Europe.
Who did the research? When and how did they do it? Where can we get all the results? Anybody knows?
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