A Christian researcher who monitors trends in American Christendom says house churches will continue to grow in popularity in the United States -- and that those attending the independent, non-denominational gatherings are significantly more satisfied with their overall experience than those who attend conventional churches.
The Barna Group survey of 2,008 house churches looked at several aspects of the growing "house church" trend in the United States. For example, two-thirds of house church attenders were "completely satisfied" with the leadership of their church, compared to only half of those attending a conventional church. Three out of five adults attending a house church were "completely satisfied" with the level of community and personal connectedness they experience, compared to only two out of five adults who are involved in a conventional church.
George Barna, who directed the study, says the house church movement will continue to grow throughout America -- and he explains why that will happen.
"There is an emerging group of millions and millions of people that is also rapidly growing who have come to recognize that they haven't necessarily been called simply to go to church," he observes; "they've been called to be the church." The researcher adds that as part of that journey of faith, those people are seeking out "new options" they feel will enable them to "really play out their faith in every dimension of their life."
The survey also found that many people are just beginning to get comfortable with the idea of homes being the primary place for shared faith experiences.
According to Barna, there are advantages to house churches -- among them, the opportunity to delve more deeply into the Bible. "In talking with people who have been in both [house and conventional churches], one of the things that we found is that people in house churches say there is the opportunity to focus more deeply on Scripture," he observes.
In addition to those in house churches just receiving sermons or hearing lectures, they also have opportunity to discuss spiritual issues and previous study assignments with people they are getting to know more intimately. As Barna notes, "There's a whole different dynamic to the activity there."
As far as disadvantages, Barna said it is harder for house church members to escape potential conflict with other members. Also, the survey found that many of those regularly attending a house church also attend a conventional church.
In summary, the Christian culture watcher observes that one of the deterrents to house church growth is spiritual complacency. Most people, he says, are not looking to "upgrade" their spiritual experience.
"Compared to conventional church attenders, house church adherents are much more likely to say that they have experienced faith-driven transformation, to prioritize their relationship with God, and to desire amore fulfilling community of faith," he says.
But most conventional church-goers, he found, have no desire to help improve their congregation's ministry, nor do they feel a need to increase their personal spiritual responsibility. In contrast, he says, the "intimacy" and share responsibility found in most house churches require participants to be "more serious about their faith development." And for that reason, he says, the house church experience is "not for everyone."
Among other revelations emerging from Barna's "house church" study are:
- Four out of five house churches meet every week, usually on either Wednesday or Sunday. Another 11 percent meet on a monthly basis.
- The average size of a house church is 20 people, half of whom (54%) have been participating in the group for less than three months -- which Barna says reflects the rapid growth in house church activity. Only one in five adult participants have been in their house church for three years of more.
- Typically the gatherings last for about two hours. Only a small percentage (7%) meet for less than an hour, and an almost identical percentage (9%) usually remain together for more than three hours each time they meet.
- Most house churches are "family-oriented," says Barna. Two-thirds of them have children involved in the gatherings, with the churches pretty much evenly divided between those who have the adults and children gather together and those who have them meet separately.
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