House Churches: Dos and Don’ts

House Churches: Dos and Don’ts

I spent ten years on the journey, seeking to disciple those Jesus drew from our neighbourhood, discipling my own children as they watched and caught the vision of our journey and anyone who came to our home church via meal invitations, social settings and relationship building. It was a great journey until my wife endured a four year cancer journey and we had to put it all on hold. We learned so much about true Christianity, the ministry of Jesus and the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit. The highlight was attending the inaugural world house church conference in New Delhi back in 2009. In four days we got a glimpse of what God is doing globally. It is staggering! Now it is time to pass on some of the wisdom we built up so you can avoid the traps we fell into…

1. Leaving Christendom

Unfortunately the journey from traditional church to underground/home/discipling church is a difficult one for those steeped in the practices of Christendom like I was. It took us about three years to understand the difference. That is why I am writing this essay on the problem so others could understand the different mindset needed to make the transition. It is not a matter of just shrinking the church. It is placing the great commission at the centre of everything you do and creating whatever structure around that that helps facilitate that mission. In the west, mission has followed structure, Jesus did the opposite; structure followed mission. It’s that simple. Once you “get” the mission the rest will fall into place as you wait on the Holy Spirit.

If you can make the jump you will see a whole new world of spiritual growth and numerical growth open up. But you will have to model what you want others to do. You have to master the skills of discipling and multiplying disciples. That is the only type of leadership there is in simple church. Oratory and theological knowledge, doctrinal high horses and positions of power are out. Waiting on God, mirroring the life of Jesus, dying to self, having a passion for souls and serving are in. The Holy Spirit will be in control, not you. Before going any further please read this essay on the rise and fall of the Christendom worldview. It describes where we went wrong in history to get the western model of church.

Now analyse what you have been taught by the modern western church. Does it fit the Christendom or New Testament model? For a more in-depth study of the flow of Christianity through history go to the history tab in my website and read through each century of world history. You will see the slow decline out of New Testament Christianity into Christendom, then recently a flow back into New Testament Christianity around the world! Especially read the two last essays on what unfolded in the 20th Century and is now unfolding in the 21st century:

Many in the non-western world church leadership have re-discovered the New Testament model simply because persecution stops them from using the Christendom model. The result has sped up numerical growth around the world and enabled church leaders to create structures that combine their culture and their mission. Try to think through what model of church would best suit your local culture and mould your structures around that. Done!

2. What to look for in leaders

Typically a home church leader is one who has a passion for souls, has tapped into the heart of Jesus and wants to see Him planted in the hearts of others. If you want to transition to a house church model, seek out these people in your church and begin to train them. In the house church movement it is those who walk closest to Jesus who naturally rise up to positions of leadership, not those who are trained intellectually in Bible Colleges. Evidence from around the world suggests the majority of these leaders will be women as they are real networkers, servants and relational!

Begin to find out what everyone in your church’s spiritual gifts are and encourage them to use those gifts in the worksite and at home, on the street, anywhere. Invade the secular space of your city!

All home church movements must have strong spiritual dynamics within the marriage and family of those running them. Remember Paul’s letters to Timothy on the qualifications of leadership, so much of it was about leading your home well.

Another thing with house church is that people, including leaders, who have been hiding significant character flaws they do not want God to deal with won’t be able to hide in the smaller environment. House church deals with the sanctification of our lives much more thoroughly than larger church does. Leaders spend much more time building godly character than imparting theological knowledge. The result is a bride of Christ that is much more appealing to the wider community.

3. Food & Family!

When we met for house church we nearly always had a meal together. The result was that it was rare not to have a non-Christian present. Hey, who knocks back an offer to come to dinner! It is a great evangelisation tool, and it was central to the ritual of early Christianity that Jesus passed on in the communion meal. He was a master at knowing what would build community. At one dinner we were having once I looked around and there were conversations going off all over the house with people being encouraged, prayed for, built in their faith and loved. At that moment God spoke to me and said, “This is what I want Church to be, a spiritual extended family gathering.”

We also did a lot of Bible study to increase the biblical literacy of our group, which was woeful to begin with. I tried to incorporate Neil Cole’s system (see notes below) but my group was too lazy to do it. I soooo wish I had persisted and pushed them to get there as it would have been transformative. What we did learn is that you do not need any other resource outside the Bible itself, it has all the wisdom you need.

Kids fit into the whole house church scene much easier than traditional church as it is in the home, around meals, with an extended family of sorts. They watch and copy what they see, so if they see the significant adults in their life praying for the sick, reaching out to others, discipling neighbours etc, then they will begin to do the same. That was one of the delightful things we saw in our own children, they brought their friends to Jesus as well.

Super important is the issue of which comes first, discipling or house church? You cannot just shrink the church into a mini-church service in a house. It doesn’t work. Have dinner, argue, discuss, pray for each other, open up your hearts, share problems, vision together for unsaved loved ones and how to grow and duplicate the group, encourage budding leaders to have a go. But try not to preach, it is a killer. It is needed sometimes but not as a habit. Lead by discussion and probing questions. That’s what Jesus did with the group of 12 he was discipling.

Jesus set the perfect example with his house church, they ate together, did life together, became a family, argued, had their characters challenged and refined, watched the master do amazing things, and it lasted three years. That three year time frame by the way is about the limit of how long a house church should last, by then you should have raised up leadership and  duplicated, if not earlier. The whole purpose is growth, not stability. Build that into the DNA at the beginning of the movement or it will stall quickly.

4. Listening to God

Plan, but at the end of the day, let the Holy Spirit lead each meeting, and the vision for the group. Pray for wisdom, words of knowledge, healings, prophecies, encourage all the spiritual gifts in these meetings, especially encourage people to learn to hear Gods voice. To that end here is a great resource and a testimony to the power of the teachings in this website. This is where we learnt to hear God’s voice. This guy, Stuart Grimenz is an Aussie and had a big church and healing ministry. Then God spoke to him and said “do you want a big church or a massive movement?” so he left it all behind, became a chaplain at a jail and made a deal with God. He was not going to do any ministry there that he was not told to do by God himself. The result was 400 prisoners saved in four years. I even met one of them! Anyway here is the link, with a testimony:

http://www.spiritled.com.au/ 

Jacob Phiri is the leader of a house church network in Zambia which has grown from around 40 members to 25,000 in just a few short years. 

“I have taught in various Bible Colleges for 17 years, I regret that I instructed my students in things that don’t work in ministry today. My emphasis was on theology. But after studying with Spirit Led Academy, I have realized the most important thing in ministry is a deep relationship with God. My ministry has taken a new positive turn of imparting this knowledge to so many people. Because people have seen the difference it has made in my life, I have several men and women asking for this course to be introduced in many African countries, especially Congo D.R, Malawi, Angola and Burundi. Mary Wakuruzinza, the first lady, the wife of the President of Burundi is taking this course and she is now doing her final subject.” 

This is the sort of training that will change a nation. The amazing this is that Jesus modelled this for us all through the New Testament but somehow we have defaulted back to knowledge about God instead of knowing him deeply and doing his will, like Jesus did. Learning to hear God’s voice and teaching others to do the same is THE FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT task of a house church leader, as you can see from the testimony above. As branches, we must be connected to the vine. I am still a learner in this department, and always will be.

5. Other Website Resources

On my website, (www.setfreeseminars.com) there are a number of essays under the “discipleship” tab that would be good to look at. They catalogue a lot of points we learned in our journey from Christendom to discipleship such as prayer, mission, understanding the harvest, healing the sick etc. One essay highlights the prayers Jesus asked us to pray continually for the harvest. Another tab that is full of amazing teaching that is having a big impact on India is the tab that says Victor Choudrie. This is a digital version of his book I bought at that first world house church conference in India back in 2009. Victor is the spiritual grandfather of a mass movement of Hindus into Gods kingdom that has now grown to somewhere between 5-10 million in just over 25 years. Many of the leaders in India, because illiteracy is a big issue, simply teach their people through this book, and then start again when finished! There are many very powerful and solid teachings in these notes that are culturally and spiritually transformative.

The first thing the Indians teach a new believer is to prayer-walk their neighbourhood on a regular basis asking God to expand the kingdom in that area. Most of their leaders are women. They also told me the majority of new believers were coming in through healings and miracles, since Hindus were very resistance to a message-only gospel approach, even here in Australia where I live it is fast becoming like that as well.

6. Neil Cole

At that conference in India we saw that non-western church leaders were bringing hundreds of thousands of souls into the kingdom, while westerners were bringing in just a few, with the exception of one man, Neil Cole. Here is his website.

I have read some of his books. He started out as a Christendom style pastor and began to push further into Jesus, eventually branching out into evangelism and discipling, but with a difference. His movement is now the largest in the western world, numbering who-knows how many as it is untraceable. But it is in the tens of thousands or more. They meet in groups of a maximum of four, reading 5-8 chapters of scripture per day, every day, up-skilling rapidly in their knowledge of God. Then they quickly split/duplicate if a fifth person comes along. The first saved becoming the other leader. Their larger group meetings are always missional, reaching out to a local “Goth” hangout etc. All the time the goal is souls and discipling. His book Cultivating a Life for God explains his journey really well. It may not work for everyone, but it has certainly worked well in the USA. He is the only western church leader I would bother learning from as he has the runs on the board.

Another thing we heard over and over again at the conference in India was the sad story that house church leader after house church leader initially tried to shrink the Christendom church into a house church, but it always failed. Then, after seeking God, they just began to go out and win people to the Lord and disciple the ones and twos. They said their thriving house church movements grew out of the individual discipling process. It did not happen the other way round. They had to get the DNA and purpose right before the structure followed. This is the essence of what Neil Cole discovered as well. It makes sense since Jesus said to go out and make disciples, not start churches. In addition, it is hard to recreate the DNA for discipleship in a traditional Christendom believer, but it comes completely natural to a brand new believer as their world is a series of networked relationships that they can leverage to spread the gospel. Christendom believers have, by default lost most of these relationships and only move among other believers.

That’s probably enough for now! You are on a great journey. You do not need to do more theological studies, but lots of Holy Spirit training. Simple men and women turned the world upside down simply because they had met Jesus and were transformed by it.

So that’s a lot of what we have learnt on our journey. God bless.

 

 

 

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THE GREATEST DECADE IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY HAS ARRIVED

INTRODUCTION

Out of roughly 200 decades since Jesus launched the Christian faith, the decade from 2020-2030 is going to see by far the largest harvest of all. The following essay unpacks this reality with a snapshot of what is happening inside a new and fast growing branch of Christianity. Global Christianity is about to change forever, and the coming decade will be seen one day by historians as the tipping point when this change took centre stage.

After a three century burst of early church growth, for the next millennium western Christianity was largely associated with the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. Then came the Reformation which brought us back to a Biblical theology. We are now at the beginning of the second Reformation that is bringing the global Church back to its original Biblical structure.

This new branch of Christianity often goes under the names of Disciple Making Movements or Church Planting Movements (DMM/CPM). These commonly used terms reflect the missional heart of this new Reformation. Most western Christians will not have heard very much about DMM/CPM movements as they are largely outside the western world, outside western denomination systems, outside traditional theological training colleges, outside visible religious buildings and they lack high profile leaders. Most DMM/CPM movements have to deliberately keep a low profile because they are often found inside hostile host cultures.

DMM/CPM’s are not an entirely new phenomenon. In fact the very first DMM/CPM was initiated by Jesus himself and was copied by the early church in the Book of Acts. Sadly, Jesus’ model of kingdom growth through rapid multiplication of strong and obedient disciples and simple churches fell out of favour when Christianity settled down as another religion several hundred years after Christ’s resurrection.

If you carefully read chapter’s 3-10 of the book of Luke you can see Jesus’ own DMM/CPM being birthed, growing and then exploding over three years in the fertile hills of Galilee. Jesus first launched his ministry, evangelised and gathered followers (Luke 4). Then he called out from among those followers a small group of 12 men for intense leadership training (Luke 6). They watched and learned. Then Jesus sent them out to obediently duplicate what he had done (Luke 9). Later, they in turn trained another 70 or so others in the same skills. These second tier leaders were then asked to find even more disciples and potential leaders (persons of peace) in every village in Galilee, and to train them in the way they themselves had been trained (Luke 10). Thus a sizable movement was birthed with several hundred leaders trained up who would lay the foundation of the coming spiritual harvest after Jesus rose from the dead and gave them the Great Commission.

Only an understanding of this very first DMM/CPM explains why tens of thousands flocked to hear Jesus teach, and why there were 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Jesus had saturated Galilee with the Gospel and had trained enough leaders for the future harvest! These leaders knew exactly what the Great Commission meant, and what to do after the day the Holy Spirit was poured out. The book of Acts records DMM/CPM’s beginning to multiply around the Roman world, with Acts 13-14 being a good example. Outside the book of Acts, history also records many other DMM/CPM’s springing up all over the known world through the work of these very first church leaders.

Modern DMM/CPM’s are simply a return to the New Testament way of obeying the commands and the Great Commission of Jesus. They therefore work in any and every cultural setting. Over the last thirty years a rapidly increasing number of Christian leaders around the world have discovered Jesus’s original model in the scriptures and have begun to implement these practical methods of discipleship.

These DMM/CPM’s are not theological academic programs. They are a spiritual and social revolution based on real world obedience. The timing of the rise of this DMM/CPM revolution coincides with a radical shift in evangelical Christianity away from the western world to the global south where we now find 4/5ths of all the world’s 600 million evangelical believers. Over the next decade the exponential increase in new and energetic DMM/CPM movements will begin to change the course of entire nations, which was the original intent of Matthew 28:19.

HOW MOVEMENTS ARE MEASURED

The International Missions Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States has taken on the responsibility for closely monitoring the growth of all existing and emerging DMM/CPM movements. Justin Long, who previously worked on the World Christian Encyclopaedia, is in charge of this task. In fact, the inspiration for this essay came from a recent IMB Missions Frontiers Magazine article titled 1% of the World: A Macro-analysis of 1,369 Movements to Christ that was written by Justin himself. The IMB coordinates with 1,600 western and non-western mission organisations to compile its statistics. This collaboration has spawned two training networks called 24:14 Multiplying Movements Together and Finishing the Task or GAP4FTT. The latter is currently chaired by American mega-church leader Rick Warren.

All field data and the various reports coming into the IMB database are vetted and double checked. The data is then deliberately kept vague so it does not identify individual movements within a specific country as many governments are openly hostile to what is happening in their jurisdictions. The IMB therefore presents data regionally instead of nationally. For more detail on how DMM/CPM movements are measured please click here.

All DMM/CPM Movements are tracked according to a seven level scale. Level one represents an individual or small group just starting out on the DMM journey with one generation of new disciples or simple churches. Level two has daughter churches of the original church. At level three there shouldn’t be just a single line of three generations of daughter churches but multiple streams of third generation daughter churches. None of these first three levels are yet classified as a fully-fledged DMM/CPM movement.

Only level four is classified as a fully-fledged DMM/CPM movement as that is the point at which the movement is basically unstoppable. Think of level four as started by a fictitious church planter who trains 6 disciples who each then train 6 more disciples, who each then train 6 more disciples, who then each train 6 more disciples (6 x 6 x 6 x 6). At this point there would be four generations, roughly 1,300 disciples and approximately 100 simple churches or relational networks of disciples. Level four may take years to get to, but is often the ignition point for future rapid growth. Going deep into obedience before going wide in numbers was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and is also the heart of all successful DMM/CPM’s.

Movements at levels five, six and seven represent DMM/CPM’s that are having regional and national influence. An example of a movement at level seven would be the Bhojpuri movement in North India, now numbering 15 million disciples, hundreds of thousands of simple churches and fostering new movements across India and other countries. Despite its enormous size, the Bhojpuri movement is still growing rapidly because all DMM/CPM movements are like trees; they grow from the tips of the branches, not the trunk. If a movement faithfully copies the methods Jesus taught us then the spiritual DNA will be strong and there is theoretically no limit to growth.

THE DATA AS AT SEPTEMBER 2020

Data Point Numbers
Total disciples in all movements 76,900,000
% of the world now in all movements              1%
Global proto-movements levels 1-3          4,589
Global mature movements levels 4-7          1,369
Known movements that have shut down               18
Average people per movement        56,000
Number of simple churches   4,800,000
Average believers per simple church               16
Languages engaged          2,188
Countries without active movements               74
   
Asian Movements (52m people)  
Central Asia               45
East Asia               51
South Asia             208
Southeast Asia             154
West Asia             224
   
African Movements (11m people)  
East Africa             155
Middle Africa               71
North Africa             111
Southern Africa               14
West Africa             140
   
Europe (2.6m people)  
Eastern Europe               42
Northern Europe               16
Southern Europe               33
Western Europe               27
   
North America (0.5 million people)               31
   
South America (1 million people)  
Caribbean                 5
Central America                 4
South America                 6
   
Oceania (0.07 million people)                 6
   
Disciples From Religious Backgrounds  
Cultural Christians   1,800,000
Ethno-religious   1,700,000
Islam 29,600,000
Hinduism 30,500,000
Non-religious   1,700,700
Judaism    <100,000
Buddhism   2,400,000
   

 

Justin Long points out that all the figures in the table above are deliberately conservative so as to avoid exaggeration. Below are some interesting points that elaborate on the raw data above:

  1. Praise point: One percent of the world’s population is now involved in a rapidly growing DMM/CPM movement!
  2. Prayer point: Out of 229 countries, 113 still have no level four movements and 74 don’t even have anyone known to be trying to start a movement. There is still a long way to go.
  3. The large number of movements in Asia and Africa is a product of time. This is where the first movements started and have therefore multiplied the most. What has happened there is coming to all other regions of the world given enough time!
  4. The total number of simple churches in DMM/CPM movements now exceeds the number of traditional church congregations in all other global Christian traditions.
  5. These new simple churches are growing exponentially.
  6. Most DMM movements are currently in the size range of 1,000 to 10,000 people. The very large movements in India pull the average up to the number 56,000 you saw in the table above.
  7. Only a handful of movements are larger than one million. However, that will change this decade as others grow through level four toward level seven.
  8. Most movements outside the Middle East are in rural areas. More and more of these rural movements are now intentionally engaging people in cities and seeing fruit.
  9. Most movements in the Middle Eastern Islamic countries are in the cities.
  10. Some movements are now starting to deliberately plant new movements in unreached regions and unreached people groups, and this is expected to lead to even more growth.
  11. Most fast-growing movements are in countries where there are very few Christians and therefore no western cultural baggage.
  12. The future of Christianity inside the Hindu world is very exciting.
  13. Likewise for Islam. Almost 500 of the 1,369 movements are inside the Muslim world or on the borderlands of the Muslim world.

REGIONAL SNAPSHOT

Asia: DMM/CPM movements are at their most advanced in India, where the oldest and largest movements are concentrated. We are beginning to witness a watershed movement of Hindus into Christianity. Respected Indian DMM/CPM leaders have been very busy training new movement leaders all over the world and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. A single movement in Bangladesh stopped counting Muslim Background Believer baptisms after 1 million, however Pakistan still needs to see a breakthrough. Indonesia is another hotspot for growth. There are also a surprisingly large number of movements (224) inside Muslim West Asia. And then there is China, where evangelical Christianity has grown from 2.7 million in 1975 to over 100 million in 2020, with an unknown number in DMM/CPM movements.

Africa: The Muslim strongholds of North and West Africa are now a hotbed of new DMM/CPM movements with at least 250 being active. The far south of Africa, where traditional Christianity is strong, is yet to embrace the new paradigm to any significant degree. The Sahel borderlands between the Muslim north and the Christian south are where we are seeing many new movements being birthed. East Africa is another interface between Christianity and Islam so it is encouraging to see at least 155 movements active in this area with many more starting out.

Europe: Given its history of fossilised Christian tradition, the DMM/CPM numbers for Europe are very encouraging. However, most of Europe’s movements are among the newer immigrant people groups and the Roma peoples. Very few of these movements are large; most are a few thousand disciples. All operate very much under the radar. They total about 1/3 of one percent of Europe’s population of 742 million.

The America’s

Most of the North American movements are also very small groups among diaspora peoples. However, there are growing movements among Anglo-Saxon Americans with one mega-church in Lubbock, Texas, already having disbanded so it can focus on DMM/CPM. As a consequence, the DMM/CPM vision is now catching on with traditional church leaders. There are only six known movements in Central and South America as most of the exciting growth on that continent is currently inside existing Pentecostal church structures. The Communist country of Cuba is the exception, as it has seen strong growth in both types of church structures.

LOOKING TOWARD 2030

So what can we expect to see in the next ten years? Using current trends as a guide this is what will probably happen:

According to Operation World, approximately 8% of the world’s people are now born again evangelical Christian believers, with 1/8 of that figure inside rapidly growing DMM/CPM movements. In the decade ahead expect to see over 10-12% of the world inside the Kingdom of God by 2030 with the bulk of that growth coming from that the DMM/CPM movements. Thus a ratio of 1/8 will shrink to at least 1/3. This growth will represent an additional 200-300 million new disciples.

We currently see churches multiplying, but whole movements are not yet multiplying. We will see the first signs of exponential growth of whole movements in the next five years as more and more existing and experienced movements start new movements in unreached areas, and many of the emerging proto-movements reach level four.

South Asia has 52 million people in a myriad of DMM/CPM’s. This number could easily grow to 100-150 million by 2030. Most will be in India, which should be 10-15% Christian by 2030. This would represent the largest spiritual harvest in the history of Christianity and a monumental shift in the religious landscape of this rising 21st Century superpower.

The number of movements inside or on the edge of Islam is a phenomenal 500 or so. This number should be 1,000-1,500 by 2030. This would represent another 50-100 million new MBB disciples of Christ and the replanting of our faith to its original heartland. The great harvest inside Islam has begun after 1,400 years of waiting.

Currently there is little visible activity in the western world; the Americas, Europe and Oceania. These regions are 1-2 decades behind the rest of the world in DMM/CPM growth. The next decade should see the adoption of DMM/CPM as a viable and valuable tool in the re-evangelism of these post-Christian and now spiritually hostile regions. There is a growing hunger for change within the western church. Those that have bravely started movements are seeing some success, however, it is still early days and there is much cultural baggage to overcome.

Until the turn of the century North and West Africa were seen as a graveyard for traditional missions. However, this is a deeply spiritual region where Islam sits on top of a myriad of occult practices. DMM/CPM is the perfect vehicle for penetrating this darkness and this explains the surprisingly large number of new movements popping up across the region. Expect to hear great things in the decade ahead from this region with tens of millions more coming to Christ.

There are some 3,200 proto-movements in the process of getting started. None of the believers in these movements are included in the numbers above! Most will progress to fully-fledged level four movements this decade and perhaps 10,000 more proto-movements will take their place in the formation stage by the end of the decade. This is the power of exponential growth.

CONCLUSION

Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that his gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Again he said in Matthew 28:19 that we were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He expects us to get the job done. Only by using the blueprint he gave us can this task have any chance of being fulfilled in a world of nearly 8 billion people that grows by just over 80 million each year.

What we have seen so far in the growth of global DMM/CPM movements is just the beginning of the fulfilment of our master’s command. The last two decades have been stunning. The next decade will be breath-taking. We can only imagine what could happen in the six decades beyond that to the end of the century!

Lord, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea 

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