Some Legal and Practical Matters Affecting Home Churches

OIKOS Australia Inc. takes no responsibility for decisions made by home churches or individuals based on the following comments. They are to be taken as suggestions only.

We believe that biblical ‘oikos’ gatherings of Christians are safe and biblically legitimate in the 21st century just as they were in the first three centuries of the church. Many missional groups that gather ‘under the radar’ and move from house to house, maintaining a low profile, experience freedom from the restrictions that public liability and incorporation impose. Groups that come under ‘coverings’ or become incorporated or publicly announced in any way become exposed to legal responsibilities and liabilities. In the days ahead it may be necessary for home churches to disentangle from governmental controls. We need to be sensitive about this. You might like further information about some of these matters.

Covering or Not?

The idea that everyone must come under a ‘covering’ meaning a pastor/minister of a traditional church, is unbiblical and downright erroneous. This teaching comes from a spirit of control. We believe that Jesus Christ is the ‘covering’ for the church, and no other is needed. We encourage home churches to be autonomous and in relationship with other home churches in their region to encourage, bless and ‘cross fertilise’ ideas and re- sources. We are talking about a ‘level playing field’. ‘Covering’ easily leads to ‘smothering’! OIKOS is NOT a ‘covering’ for any home church.

Read ‘Who is Your Covering’ by Frank Viola or ‘I’ve Got you Covered’ by Stuart Garmenz

Incorporation or Not?

It is hard to imagine why home churches should become incorporated. The main reason for incorporation is to make a group or organisation accountable to the government for money received and distributed and therefore to be credible in the eyes of the public. If that is not an issue, then other reasons may need to be investigated carefully - such as if someone in the group wants to be given status with a Government or religious body to receive some benefit. Do you need a ‘special’ name? ‘No! Those who ‘hangout’ at Mike’s house’ will do. It is hard not to fall back into old patterns of ‘looking like church’ from which we came. We want to avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’s traditional church by becoming mini-traditional church in a lounge room. ‘Honey, I shrunk the church’!

Insurance or Not?

‘Check the house insurance is our suggestion. Having Christian friends drop round from time to time is no different to any other occasions when friends or family visit. However,if a group is publicly announced as a regular group meeting in a particular home, that group may not only need public liability insurance, but also meet local requirements for public meetings - health regulations, Occupational Health and Safety rules and so on. Public Liability insurance is expensive. OHS rules are demanding. The best way is to move around to various homes of the members - ‘house to house’ in biblical fashion. If meeting in the one place, check the house insurance, and keep your meetings ‘under the radar’.

For further information:

Children in Home Church

Because home churches are a growing phenomenon and more people are becoming involved, it is important to realise that home churches are just as exposed to some of the hazards that traditional churches and indeed any other groups may encounter when it comes to the protection of children. We believe that home/simple churches that stay as small groups, and that see themselves as extended family groups, are in a safe place for many reasons. However, home/simple churches can be open to all sorts of people becoming involved, and in the climate where children as well as adults are aware of the possibilities of accusation as well as litigation, we need to exercise wisdom and have safeguards in place that lesson possible difficulties.

OIKOS recommends that:

  1. Children stay within the meeting with their parent
  2. Where children’s activities are presented in a separate space to that of the adults’ meeting
    • two adults to be with the children for the safety and protection of all concerned – and that if the adults are not the parents of the children, or they are also working with children not their own, that those adults have WWCCs (see web sites below)
    • doors to that meeting are able be kept open – and that there be easy access for parents to their children andvice versa.

Parents are to be aware of who is looking after their children and in what circumstances. Parents are encouraged to be alert to their children’s protection needs as they would be in any other situation and it be made very clear in the group that parents within the group are responsible for their own children’s protection, safety and behaviour, and that the responsibility for the protection, safety and behaviour of the children is not that of the home/simple church although the other members of the grup may support and assist parents in many ways.

If the group is publicly announced in any formal or informal way, then not only do the recommended safeguards above need to be observed, but by law, those working with children are possibly needing to apply for a ‘Working With Children Card’. A current VIT card that teachers have can suffice in place of the WWCC.

To investigate this further:

Local Bylaws

Most municipalities have laws that do not permit the conduct of regular public meetings or businesses in private premises without certain stringent requirements being in place. Usually these laws are not enforced unless there are complaints by neighbours. For home churches, the obvious complaints could come from insensitive parking of cars or noise. OIKOS always advises the following -

  • That home churches move around the homes oftheir members in turn if possible
  • Meet at a home that provides lots of off street car parking
  • Car pooling amongst members to minimise the number of cars needing to be parked
  • Park a distance away from the venue where there is safe parking without creating problems for other people
  • Keep noise to a minimum especially late at night or for long periods
  • Make friends with your neighbours and hopefully lead them to make friends with the Lord and to be a part of what God is doing amongst you.