Questions & Answers

What is a simple church?

‘Church’ is Christians wherever and however they gather. Gatherings are meant to be living, breathing organisms in the Body of Christ.

A home church is a lounge-room sized group of Christians who gather to be and to do everything that ‘church’ is in terms of its life and witness. Simple gatherings like this are easily multiplied as the members grow new disciples.

The ‘One Anothers’ of New Testament church life is the basis of their life together. No hierarchy, small is beautiful, relational rather than program based.

Simple - house - organic? What’s the difference?

These terms are interchangeable for our purposes. Simple church is “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Of course, gatherings can be bigger than this, but it is a joy to know that however small our gathering – Jesus is with us.

Frank Viola in his book “Reimagining Church – Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity”, writes “The church we read about in the New Testament was ‘organic’. By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy”. (p. 32). Also, see “Organic Church” by Neil Cole.

A house church is really a general term used for all these sorts of gatherings.

What’s the difference between a house church and a cell group?

A house church is a ‘stand-alone’ group or network of groups that are on a ‘level playing field’. They are independent of control of any hierarchical structure. There are home churches under denomination umbrellas, but these only work because they are encouraged by their denomination to have an independent and missional focus.

A home group attached to a traditional church, however much it seeks to be outwardly focused, inevitably must feed into the central church system. They are controlled and led by the parish/local church and its leadership. Very often they are either bible study groups or fellowship groups. Home churches are neither of these but would contain elements of both.

Cell church is different to house church in that it is normally a pyramid structure of house meetings with a hierarchical leadership system and programs. OIKOS does not believe hierarchical structures are helpful to the church and discourages such tendencies.

Aren’t house churches full of hurt, independent people?

Years ago many house churches came about due to splits in the traditional church, dominating leadership, spiritual abuse situations or traditional churches that have become involved in some non-Christian practices or theology. These home churches had to go through a time of ‘wound licking’ and to come to a place of healing and forgiveness. Some of these eventually returned to traditional church. However, many went on to see home church as a viable option in which they grew in faith and practice. These days, however, most people are involved in house church out of a conviction that this is the way church was meant to be.

Of course, home church does attract people who need and look for support and home church can be a place of hope and refuge. The home church must be wary about the possibility of becoming swamped with the needs and hurts of people. People need to be given time to offload and then to be on a journey of healing and restoration. Some of the ongoing care need not be centered on the group meeting. See our 10 Series booklet ‘The Hurting in Home Church’.

People with an independent spirit usually don’t last too long in a home church because of the ‘one-anothering’ aspect of home church life. Someone may come into a group with a ‘Maverick’ attitude, but soon find that the group will temper them to see that we lay down our gifts before the Lord and one another. There is an inbuilt accountability in home church that brings about an ‘us’ ethos rather than someone thinking that they can find home church as a way to execute a ministry.

What do house churches believe?

People who come into house church move from a ‘church’ paradigm to that of THE KINGDOM OF GOD. They get back to what Jesus actually lived and taught. They look to the earliest Christians as examples of ways to live the Kingdom life 24/7. They see that they ‘gather to scatter’ meaning that they are to build one another for the Kingdom in their gathering and then send one another out to the world to be salt and light and to make disciples. Kingdom living is ‘whole of life’, not just an hour on Sunday.

They study Scripture together, listening to God and to one another. They don’t teach a body of doctrine that everyone must adhere to, but trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth.

Each Christian is responsible for their own spiritual growth. One of the difficulties home churches can face is that of having members who are used to being told what to believe from pulpits and look to the home church to provide the same.

How do I find (or start) a house church?

OIKOS Australia observes a strict privacy policy, and because of that, we do not publish a directory of home churches. However, you may find assistance by clicking on to your State on the map on the OIKOS Home Page. The Regional Team members will be happy to assist you where they can.

If you don't know of a group in your area, starting a simple church is … well, probably simpler than you think.

Start with two or three friends - have a meal together, and share your vision. Plan to encourage one another, share your lives, pray together to seek God's way forward to be and to do what He wants for you as a gathering and for the community around you. It's as simple as that!

Scan through all the sections of the OIKOS website which provide background and resources about home church, as well as view some of our helpful articles under channels.

Contact us about a Seminar in your part of the world.

Access our free downloads to find lots to help you, including Children and Teens, Disability Matters, Legal Issues that affect home churches and lots more.

Become a Subscriber and receive the quarterly OIKOS E-News, or start getting our quarterly magazine.

How do we include the children and youth?

It is important for a home church to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance as to what God wants in the involvement of the children and teens in your group. All children are different. Every home church is unique. Home churches are generally resistant to setting up separate children's programs such as a Sunday School situation, but rather encourage children to participate in every aspect of the life and witness of the church. There is no ' junior Holy Spirit' and children grow amazingly in spiritual maturity in home church.

Home churches encourage every member participation. This includes young people and children. Young people can be encouraged to take part in the decision-making, reading and sharing their insights in the Scriptures, lead in music or in any other way according to their gifts. Their views and gifts need to be respected and encouraged by the group. There are many people who have grown up in a home church. We often find that children and young people who belong to a home church mature in their faith early.

The ideal is that a network of home churches can combine for special youth activities. Less than ideal, but often happening, is that young people in a home church also attend a local youth group in their community.

Click here for further ideas about children in home church

For excellent Resources for Children's participation:

  • 'Shouting in the Temple' by Lorna Jenkins. If you have difficulty finding this, contact us.
  • 'Heirs Together: Establishing Intergenerational Church' by Daphne Kirk. She is involved in cell church, but many of her ideas are helpful in the home church
  • 'Worship in Small Groups' by Yvonne Morey (Partner in OIKOS) Has lots of fresh approaches to worship in the home church.

David Nott is OIKOS advisor for Youth and Children's work and mission in and through simple church. He is Manager of Youth Services with Youth for Christ in Warragul, Victoria and is happy to speak to anyone seeking answers to such questions as 'What do we do with our youth/children in our group?' 'How can we as a simple/home church effectively start to reach young people in our community?' David can be reached on 0409 211 358

Should I leave my present fellowship?

This is not a ‘must’ and there are home churches that have members who also attend a traditional church. However, it doesn’t work very well for the member or the home church. The way of being church is totally different in each, and the member usually finds their focus is divided. People who straddle both tend to be a distraction for the home church because comparisons are often articulated, the member is absent from time to time because of loyalties to the other group.

If a person is a member of a home church, it is usually because they see this way of church as being the biblical way – round not pyramid shaped, one-anothering church life, flexible, outwardly focused. Why would someone sit in a pew in a local church as well?

Should I be ‘under a covering'?

People will tell you this, meaning that you should be under an organisation, an apostle, or a leader, in order that you don't go off the track! Read Stuart Gramenz's e-book "I've Got You Covered". We believe Jesus Christ is the covering for His church and no other is needed! However, it is healthy for house churches to network on a friendship basis to encourage and to inspire one another

What about Ephesians 4 ‘five-fold’ ministries?

“….he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,…….” OIKOS encourages people in home churches to recognise and encourage the gifts of one another knowing that they are God-given for the building of the church. There are two points we stress –

  1. Recognise the anointing and don’t do appointing! In other words, we don’t appoint people to positions, but rather enable and bless the gifts we see emerging and evidenced in people’s lives. These gifts are seen as grassroots (from the ground up) rather than appointed by some church authority.
  2. Perhaps it is better to use verbs rather than nouns in relation to the ministry gifts.

There are those who are keen to find a ministry and see the house church movement as their great opportunity and some of these will even call themselves ‘apostles’ or ‘prophets’ or ‘teachers’. Be wary!

See Stuart Gramenz “End-Time Apostles – Genuine & False”.

Won't small groups go off the track?

Because home churches meet on the basis of a relationship with the Lord Jesus and with one another, and not around a body of doctrine or a teacher or ‘teaching’, they are usually healthy and balanced. If the worst happens and a group does get bogged down in some side track, then they aren’t taking hundreds of people with them! It is more likely that wrong teaching will come from pulpits and, dare I say it, bible colleges, rather than among a small gathering of Christians who are seeking the truth by ‘chewing’ over God’s word.

What about leadership?

Jesus said He would build His church. He is the leader of any church gathering. All other leadership comes under His. The symbol of good leadership is a bowl and a towel! Jesus’s example in John 13:5 is followed by his injunction that we wash one another’s feet.

In a home church different people in the group lead in different ways and according to their gifts. Leadership is usually, and best, shared in a group. Someone may have a particular gift such as music and someone else may be able to discern what is needed at a particular time in the group or have a special calling such as intercessory prayer or hospitality. Someone may have had bible college training and be equipped to assist the group to understand background facts as the group shares in bible study. There may be a ‘Dad’ or ‘Mum’ in the group who has a pastoral, caring role. All these do not mean that any one of them is THE leader, but rather provide leadership in different ways and different times according to the needs of the group under the Lord’s headship. Luke 22:24-30. Philippians 2:5-11.

What about women in home church?

Galatians 3:26-29. Home church is not hierarchical. We don’t set anyone up, male or female, as THE leader or THE teacher. All lead in various ways and all teach/learn in ways that are accountable one to another. The ‘women issue’ in traditional church doesn’t exist in home church.

In the Bible we read of Jesus’s attitude to women and his ready acceptance of their ministries to him. We read of Priscilla and Aquilla as home church leaders with Priscilla often mentioned first (Acts 18:18). Junias was a woman apostle (Romans 16:7). Home churches often look to the early church for example and inspiration and we see women fulfilling valuable ministry in myriads of ways.

For a full treatment see “A Woman’s Place – House Churches in Earliest Christianity” by Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. Macdonald.

What about worship in home church?

Traditional church often sees worship as singing choruses or providing liturgy. Home churches may or may not sing together (most do in some way), and some may use a form of liturgy at least on occasion, but they see worship more broadly.

They see that all their life 24/7 is lived in relationship with Jesus Christ. Within this they will work, play, sing, gripe, confess, be forgiven and forgive, travel etc etc. And all of this is brought into the life of the home church in some way or another and all is regarded as giving God His ‘worth-ship’ as we seek to walk in a listening and obedient relationship with Him.

Most would see that true worship must come from the reality of what God is doing/has done and spontaneity is the usual. That doesn’t mean that home churches wouldn’t drag out a pile of hymn/chorus books and have a good sing from time to time. But to have a CD playing for people to sing to at the start of a meeting and calling it ‘worship’ because it is assumed that God requires this, is not the home church way – usually!

What do home churches do about tithing/giving?

Because home churches do not have many of the overheads of traditional churches, i.e. buildings, staff, elaborate Sunday production equipment etc., many have returned to New Testament priorities and ways of giving. For many this means going beyond tithing to a freer and more Spirit led giving.

What to do about dominating personalities in house church!

All groups sometimes face the difficulty of someone in the group dominating the conversation and taking the group over. As in any problem that arises in a group, it is a group problem and not an individual one. If allowed to go on unchecked, the quiet personalities in the group don’t get an opportunity to participate, some may drop out of the group, or eventually the group may implode.

What do we do when our group gets too big?

Often the size of a group depends on the number of children involved. A group growing beyond 12 to 15 adults is becoming too large. Relationships are less likely to allow for trust and loyalty to develop, sharing may only involve the more vocal members and be more shallow, groups will emerge within groups, and then some will slide out of the group altogether.

We are careful about our terminology! We don’t ‘split a group, but seek to plant another group around new enquirers with one or two of the existing group meeting with them for a time. It is helpful then for the two groups (and however many others there may be in a network), to come together for informal gatherings and also occasional celebrations with singing, testimonies etc.

What legal matters should we be aware of?

There are a number of legal issues relating to children and meetings that all churches need to be conversant with. We cover these in an article found here.