What do you do if you have just moved into an area where you know very few people (transferred by your job etc) and you desire to find folks who are doing simple, organic, house church (i.e. “SOH” church for short*)? This is a question I get often since I live in a very transient area. The answer most folks get, in which I agree, is; “Start a group in your house!” But what if you don’t know anyone? What do you do?
The church in its “SOH” expressions are normally built on relationships. It is not attractional, you don’t post any signs in your yard or billboards on the highway. It is not built around a personality or a doctrine. It is not built around “what can it offer me”, but around Jesus. Those who know one another begin to gather together to celebrate and learn from the Holy Spirit as each shares what God is doing in their lives and how they are growing to maturity. As they gather together, practicing 1 Corinthians 14:26, discipleship happens, thus church happens and Jesus is revealed to rule.
This is why when you move into an area and want find a “SOH” church – you can’t find one unless there happens to be someone at your new job who is in one or your neighbor happens to be a part of one. If there are no immediate connections, the task becomes very difficult. If you are willing to start one who do you invite? No one knows you. You are new to the area, and using your job as a place to invite from may not be prudent for a new employee. There may be a network of “SOH” churches in the region that can assist you. Every region should have some loosely formed network, but we will save that subject to another time.
So what do you do? Many have given up and began looking for IC churches (Institutional, traditional, attractional churches) that at least could serve as a place of inspiration and building relationships in order to foster ekklesia. But this rarely happens for a newcomer. There are too many “hoops” to jump through in order to gain trust. If you come as merely an observer and to not commit to membership, you will remain on the outside and even suspect if you want to invite folks to your house for fellowship around Jesus.
Another factor is trying to find believers who are champions for “SOH” church that are not bitter, angry, anti “anything but church the way we do it”. You can quickly get poisoned by the rhetoric and the negative experiences that others have had. So what do you do? If you are an evangelist, it’s no problem, just go sow some seed and invite them over to your house and watch them grow! But not all of us are as gifted in that area.
Is there a definitive easy step by step process for those who find themselves looking for “SOH” church? No, I don’t think so. What it is going to take? I regretfully say, a lot of time. As you begin to make friendships with lovers of the Lord and those who may be seekers (men and women of peace – see Luke 10) there may be some of those who would love to come over and have a meal together. Then let church happen as the Lord leads. If nothing happens – that’s ok, keep bringing folks together, sharing your faith and love. Hospitality is the key. Practice hospitality so that your home becomes a place of fellowship. (See this helpful article by Katie Driver at Thoughts From A Backseat Driver for more info on hospitality, as well as many other valuable, practical articles.). Also, begin to pray together as a family trusting God to reveal to you those who are already becoming part of your life that would be interested in fellowshipping together around the Lord’s table at your house.
For those of you who are part of a “SOH” church, and someone asks you if they can visit your church, don’t be so quick to judge and tell them to go start their own. Be a source of encouragement, nurture and discipleship. First find out if they are new to the area. Serve them and help them through the process. Provide much needed fellowship. Moving to a new location can be very lonely, they don’t need someone to load them with another burden of adjusting; they just want a safe place to enjoy Jesus and his family. If they are not new to the area, ask them why they would like to be part of “SOH” church. Help them out of any bitterness or anger they may have towards traditional churches. Lead them through the process of having a gathering at their house or the house of a friend. Then stand back and let the Lord build His church.
Any other ideas, helpful hints?