Mega Church vs Home Church
House churches develop personal and intimate faith atmosphere
Belonging to a local church is essential to Christian life. It is impossible to read the Bible and not come to that conclusion. The importance of the Church is echoed throughout the entire New Testament. Constant fellowship with other believers and service as a church body is a necessity for those in Christ.
More and more, megachurches are emerging as the church of choice for Christians to attend. It makes sense — if that many people are going, they must be doing something right.
Right? Not necessarily.
Part of the reason the megachurch is so attractive is its appeal to “casual” Christians. Large churches boast large numbers, but often offer minimal discipleship.
According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the largest megachurch in the United States boasts 16,800 seats. However, attendance numbers do not always tell the truth in regard to how much a church is doing to make a positive impact for true Christianity.
This is not to say all or even most megachurches are bad. Thousands of people gathering in one place to hear about Jesus is a great thing. I have met pastors of megachurches, and they were some of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met. Some megachurches can be used to deceive, but most are pastored and run by men of God who are following his plan for them.
Still, for most Christians, small, intimate churches probably provide the best environment for personal growth. Not just churches of 200 or 300 people, but churches that are even smaller — house churches.
This may be a foreign concept to many Christians who have grown up in sanctuaries that could hold more than five of their houses. A house church is a small gathering of believers that functions as a church, usually meeting is one of the member’s actual houses — pretty self-explanatory. Bigger churches will usually employ this concept and assign members to “small groups” in order to promote more intimate growth.
Why the need for the middle man though? Is meeting on Sunday mornings with 200 or 12,000 people better than meeting with 12 people? Jesus spoke to thousands on occasion, but he spent the majority of his time with the 12 people most dedicated to following him.
The church is not supposed to be a place to just visit on Sundays. It is supposed to be a functioning body that supports itself and the community. When fewer people are involved, that becomes an easier task. Discipleship among a small group of believers is also monumentally easier than among a larger group. Picture a large church, like a cafeteria — diners do not really offer much of a selection. But, in a house church, members are able to choose the spiritual menu.
As someone who has been a part of both types of churches, I felt a greater sense of belonging in a house church than in a bigger church. I saw myself grow faster and produce more fruit than I ever had before.
That may not be the case for everyone, but to those who have never been involved in a house church and who feel their faith stagnating, the personal attention and family environment of a house church may be just what they need to get out of their spiritual valley.
Large churches carry platform to impact and engage culture
Every Sunday, thousands of people flood the aisles of metropolitan arenas, ready to sing the latest chart-topping worship songs. The lights dim, the drummer counts down, the guitarist strums the first note and the church service begins.
Los Angeles has just gained one such arena. Brian Houston, lead pastor of Hillsong Church in Australia, announced the L.A. church plant in the summer of 2013, and this past summer, Hillsong Los Angeles opened its doors.
“People don’t even want to stand in line to go to a club, and they’re standing in line to hear a message and go to church,” one Hillsong churchgoer said in a video on the new church’s website.
The greater Church — “the body of Christ” — that Jesus described throughout his earthly ministry is a diverse and unique organism. From two or three to 2,000 or 3,000, the number of members is not what makes a church. However, numbers do affect the breadth of the church’s outreach. Larger churches can often hammer a deeper dent into pop culture, simply due to size.
Megachurches have the ability to infiltrate large societies in ways that are historically not associated with the evangelical movement. Oftentimes, smaller churches — a historic staple of the Evangelical Church in America — are not able to influence like larger congregations, due to finance, platform and prominence.
“There’s no question there’s a real current of evangelical enamorment with cities,” Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, wrote of Hillsong in a Christianity Today editorial. “Evangelicals have been a rural people historically, and cities were the places sin was. But cities are also where the people are.”
This is not to say smaller churches and house churches cannot influence, because they can and do. It is not that certain churches fulfill certain commands — evangelism and discipleship — and others do not. The Church accomplishes its goals in different ways.
Often, it seems the megachurch gets a bad reputation just for being big. But does that criticism really have any merit?
Los Angeles and New York City, the two cities in the U.S. hosting Hillsong church plants, are not often cited as model Christian cities. L.A. has an above average number of people that hold to no faith and a below-average number of people claiming to be born-again Christians, according to the Barna Group.
For many of these people, a megachurch might be the only shot the evangelical community has to attract them to the Church. According to the Barna Group, 15 percent of Los Angeles’ Christian population attend a megachurch — 5 percent higher than the national average.
Megachurches simply have the capability to engage more, give more and influence more. In fact, 72 percent of megachurches have partnered with other churches on missions work, author and researcher Scott Thumma recorded in his book, “Beyond Megachurch Myths.” Because of the nature of a large church, a missional focus is oftentimes a necessity.
While Sunday school is transitioning into a thing of the past for many millennials in the L.A. area, small-group meetings are a mainstay for the West Coast city’s Christian community, according to the Barna Group.
For the megachurch, fostering deep pastor-member relationships often proves difficult, so reliance on small group gatherings is crucial. While the higher leadership of the church remains focused on influencing culture and the community, the small group is where connections are made and networking happens.
“Megachurches are motivated and aggressive about planting new churches,” Phil Cooke, a prolific writer and speaker, said. “Throughout inner cities, suburbs, remote locations and more, megachurches are raising up new congregations in amazing numbers.”
For large churches, the platform, prominence and provision is there. Before criticizing the megachurch movement, consider this mandate from David in Psalm 96: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”
From megachurch to house church, the declaration of the gospel to all peoples must be the centerpiece. Instead of jumping to criticism, we should move to celebration. We have reason to rejoice in our diversity. Because, regardless of preference, the body of Christ is the hope of the world.
TICHENOR is the sports editor
GOINS-PHILLIPS is the opinion editor