The latest issue of TIME magazine includes the article, "There's No Pulpit Like Home." This article notes the increasing trend of house churches in America. It includes a summary of the contemporary shift from megachurch to house church:
Since the 1990s, the ascendant mode of conservative American faith has been the megachurch. It gathers thousands, or even tens of thousands, for entertaining if sometimes undemanding services amid family-friendly amenities. It is made possible by hundreds of smaller "cell groups" that meet off-nights and provide a humanly scaled framework for scriptural exploration, spiritual mentoring and emotional support. Now, however, some experts look at groups like Jeanine Pynes'--spreading in parts of Colorado, Southern California, Texas and probably elsewhere--and muse, What if the cell groups decided to lose the mother church?
The entire article is interesting. In general, I think the house church movement correctly identifies the problems and dangers of megachurches. I also have no problem with churches meeting in homes. At the same time, elements of this shift are concerning. When describing one house church meeting, the article reports:
The meeting could be a sidebar gathering of almost any church in the country but for a ceramic vessel of red wine on the dinner table--offered in communion. Because the dinner, it turns out, is no mere Bible study, 12-step meeting or other pendant to Sunday service at a Denver megachurch. It is the service. There is no pastor, choir or sermon--just six believers and Jesus among them, closer than their breath.
No pastor or proclamation of the Word of God through a sermon? While this may sound experientially enriching to some, it is simply not a church. A church is more than a group of Christians that gather together to worship God. There must be a biblical ecclesiology, with leadership, shepherding, etc.
I am also concerned about small house churches. Not because I believe churches must be large, but because a house church can become little more than a family get-together. Too much fragmentation is a dangerous thing.
I appreciate the caveat provided by Dr. Thom Rainer:
Critics fret that small, pastorless groups can become doctrinally or even socially unmoored. Thom Rainer, a Southern Baptist who has written extensively on church growth, says, "I have no problem with where a church meets, [but] I do think that there are some house churches that, in their desire to move in different directions, have perhaps moved from biblical accountability." In extreme circumstances home churches dominated by magnetic but unorthodox leaders can shade over the line into cults.
Exactly. Must all churches be megachurches? No. Must all churches have buildings? No. The issue is not where a church meets. The question is whether or not a church actually exists.