What is a House Church or Simple Church?

Despite their underground or inconspicuous nature early on, house churches have been gaining a lot of attention in recent years. While some people might think that house church or simple church is just another religious phenomenon that will inevitably die out sooner or later, we believe that the house or simple church is actually a restoration of the church to God’s original intent in the New Testament.

bible reading and discussion at a house church meeting in Pateros

To answer the question “what is a house or simple church” we first need to grasp what God intends the church to be. This can be difficult since the tendency for many is to look at church in the New Testament through the lenses of contemporary Christian culture that recognizes church primarily as a formal institution. For many people it takes courage to question and grapple with their assumptions and definitions of “church” in our day and age.

A starting point is the New Testament definition of church — the Greek word “ekklesia” which refers to those who were “called out” for an assembly or meeting. Here we can infer that church is simply a group of people — people who are followers of Jesus. Robert Fitts suggests that we begin with the simplest possible definition of church: two or three people gathered in Christ’s name from Matthew 18:20:

What Is a Church? If we take away all the non-essentials, we would have Jesus and at least two people who have come together in His name. Two people, who have been born again, meeting together anywhere, at anytime, with Jesus in the midst, is church at its most basic, most informal level.

house church meeting of foreign students in the U.S.Nowhere in the New Testament will you find church referring to a building or meeting (in many instances we read about “the church that met at the house of _____”). It is simply a group of people who follow Christ. People back then would probably be puzzled if you talked about “going to church,” because for them they are the church, the people of God. Furthermore, the New Testament portrays the church as a family — “God’s household” (I Timothy 3:15). It is no coincidence then that the first churches typically met in the homes of believers (Acts 16:40; Acts 20:8; Romans 16:3-5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).

The New Testament church can be defined as a group of two or more disciples or followers of Jesus who gather together to encourage one another, to build each other up (1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:24-25) and to go and seek to make other disciples for Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20). Church is a group of disciples of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In their gathering and going these were all that were needed. It was that simple!

The New Testament church is therefore a simple church, devoid of the many external trappings and complexities of the contemporary traditional or institutional church. It is so simple that ordinary Christians empowered by the Holy Spirit can start, lead and multiply churches — simply by discipling others who will in turn disciple still many others, esp. in their family and friendship circles. Today’s house or simple church is a return to this kind of church.

over dinner at a house church meeting of students

The New Testament church is an organic church. It happens when the Gospel seed is planted and the church emerges naturally and organically as disciples of Jesus gather under the Spirit’s initiative and power to encourage one another and to build each other up. There is no forcing people to gather, no mechanistic organizational structure involved. The early gatherings in Acts 2 — when believers met everyday in their homes — were not organized meetings but people who were so caught up in each other that they just had to be with each other as often as they could. Today’s simple church is likewise an organic church in that it focuses not on formal meetings but on relationships with God and with each other — relationships that are allowed to grow naturally in the power of the Spirit.

young people at a Pateros house church meetingThe term house church might be misleading as it implies a gathering in a building. (This term came from the observation made earlier that the early churches in the New Testament met mostly in the houses of believers). At Stargrass Coalition we have decided to keep the term — because it is easily the most biblical and the most recognizable name for the kind of churches we are forming — and make it synonymous with the terms simple church and organic church. However, when we say house church we are referring to more than just a gathering at a house. For us at Stargrass, today’s house church is a movement.

The New Testament church was a movement, not an organization. We have already seen that the church is simply a group of Jesus followers. Now whenever and wherever the Spirit took His people there was the church! Today’s house church happens not just at home but wherever God’s people are — in the neighborhood, in the workplace, in cafes, in farms, in schools. Wherever God’s people gather for encouragement and equipping and wherever they may be scattered to be witnesses (with words, works and wonders) for Christ — there is the church! That kind of church cannot be contained within an organized structure. It cannot revolve around a building or an event, nor can it be contained within a specific place or time. God’s church — His people — will always explode outwardly by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Once we have defined what the house, simple or organic church is we can more easily answer the question how that kind of church might be expressed (and there are a multitude of expressions of house church). Often, the reverse usually happens. People unconsciously skirt this fundamental issue and ask questions like “what do you do when you meet as a house church,” “how do you ‘worship,'” or the more sanguinary, “what about giving or tithing?” Our preconceived ideas and cultural assumptions about church can act as blinders to a proper understanding of how church is defined in the New Testament. But once we get past these assumptions we can then begin to answer the question of how church is expressed.

Read more about house churches.