One of the more interesting media questions I fielded in recent days came from a reporter writing about house churches. She wanted to know why anyone still goes to a traditional church, and especially a megachurch, given her understanding (which I think is a misperception) that too many traditional churches and megachurches are largely a “spectator sport” as she called it.
I’ve done some research on house churches, writing a chapter on them in Eleven Innovations in the Local Church: How Today’s Leaders Can Learn, Discern, and Move into the Future, Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. Regal, June 2007, 286 pages. ISBN 978-0830737864.
I told the reporter that the best house churches have a lot going for them such as caring relationships, high levels of personal involvement, flexibility, and low overhead costs. They help their members grasp a vision for “being” the church in all they do. Downsides include a lack of long-term stability in that most house churches don’t last more than a year or two, too few reproduce themselves, and the group often has no accountability to others who might help if things go south doctrinally, morally or otherwise.
The best traditional churches have most of the strengths of a house church through a vibrant system of small groups, plus strengths that a house church lacks, from long-term stability to specialized groups like a youth group or a special class for children with disabilities. Many traditional churches can provide certain bridges to the unchurched or the uncertain that a house church, by its nature, might not be able to offer. Many traditional churches have a level of electricity, excitement, joy and momentum that a house church, limited by its smaller size, simply cannot generate.
Some churches today try to bless both expressions: both those members who want to meet only as house churches, and those members who appreciate all-church gatherings with their breakout small groups. One example at the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, are “house churches” where groups meet in homes to worship together in the tradition of the early church.
The reporter asked about megachurches in particular. Their number continues to grow. Of the roughly 55 million Protestants who attended church last weekend, almost 10% went to a megachurch – one of the roughly 1,400 U.S. churches with an attendance of 2,000 or more on a typical weekend, adults and children. Their involvement level is typically over 50% — that is, more than half the people who attend worship do something else as well: volunteering or participating in some capacity. That percentage can always be improved, but it cannot be described accurately as only a “spectator sport.”
em> Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation. His recent “Leadership Network” books blogs include Excellent Resources for Church-Based Grants, Do White Churches Hold Others in Cultural Captivity?and Church Merger Phenomenon Continues to Expand,”We’re Tired of Trying to Microwave Church Leaders” (1 of 3), “We’re Tired of Trying to Microwave Church Leaders” (2 of 3), “We’re Tired of Trying to Microwave Church Leaders” (3 of 3),The Christian Century on Megachurches;Religion More Important to People in Poor Countries than Rich, Gallup Says;10 Most Stressful Cities;“Multisite Is Multiplying” – and so is our report about it