No place like home for some Christians

  • The Washington Post
  • Friday, June 16, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

WASHINGTON – After Sunday dinner at Joe Rodgers’ Rockville, Md., home, guests adjourn to the living room for church.

In his makeshift chapel, wooden kitchen stools and a floral print couch act as pews, a portable keyboard substitutes for an organ and the host, an electronics technician by day, serves as pastor.

But just as there is no formal name or dress code for this church, there is no sermon or pastor-led prayer. When it came time to bow their heads on a recent May evening, each of the 10 adults in attendance had something to contribute: One man prayed for success with his new fitness program; another sought guidance as he prepared for his upcoming marriage.

The worshipers have different faith backgrounds, including evangelical, Episcopalian and Catholic. What they share is a dissatisfaction with traditional church services.

“You can’t ask questions in most churches. You might make an appointment with the pastor, get in his daybook for a quick lunch,” said Rodgers, 50.

Apparently a growing number of Christians around the country are moving to home churches – both as a way to create personal connections in the age of the megachurch and as a return to the blueprint of the Christian church spelled out in the New Testament, which describes Jesus and the apostles teaching small groups in people’s homes.

Estimates vary widely for a movement that is by design informal and decentralized, but the consensus among home-churchers is that they are part of a growing trend.

George Barna, a religion pollster, estimates that since 2000, more than 20 million Americans have begun exploring alternative forms of worship, including home churches, workplace ministries and online faith communities. Barna based that figure on surveys of the religious practices and attitudes of American adults he has conducted over the past 25 years.

“These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church,” said Barna, who became a home-churcher last year.

The Orlando, Fla.-based Dawn Ministries places the number of home churches in the United States in the tens of thousands, based partly on the size of online directories and attendance at home-church conferences.

Home churches are usually nondenominational and consist of a dozen or so friends or family members who often meet without an ordained pastor.

They have historically proliferated in countries with repressive regimes. In China, millions of people have converted to Christianity in unauthorized home churches over the past half-century. But the United States has seen only intermittent swells of activity.

The free-form style of fellowship got a boost in this country during the 1960s and 1970s with the hippie Jesus Movement and the Charismatic Renewal, a worldwide movement best known for embracing speaking in tongues and other emotional expressions of faith. Those movements downplayed hierarchy and emphasized broad participation.

The more recent rise of home churches has been facilitated by the Internet, said John White, a Denver-based coordinator for Dawn Ministries, one of several organizations that helps plant new home churches.

White said that when he tired of the “endless” church administration meetings and quit his job as a Presbyterian minister to start a home church eight years ago, it was difficult to find anyone to join. Now he has an e-mail list of more than 800 people nationwide who receive his postings about practical issues of home churching – addressing such matters as how to organize child-friendly services, how to handle tithing, and what to do if the church gets too big.

With more access to religious information online, people are realizing they don’t have to rely on a pastor with an advanced degree to lead them, White said. Instead, they can learn how to create an alternative in a few steps. The result is an overall “flattening of the church,” White said.

This is in keeping with God’s plan to have a “kingdom of priests” in which everyone participates in his or her religious life, he said.

Critics of the home-church movement warn that by meeting only in small groups with lay leaders, Christians could become disconnected and stray from orthodox beliefs.

“We human beings are prone to error; we need each other,” said Scott Kisker, an associate professor of evangelism at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

He said that even the early home-based churches were connected through the apostles and that “many books of the New Testament are letters from the apostles calling churches to more faithful doctrine.”

Talk to us

More in Life

This family is no match for a German-made knife. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Any way you slice it, that bread knife is dangerous

Their old bread knife was too dull. The new one is too sharp, apparently.

Marc Price
Yes, that’s Skippy: Alex P. Keaton’s pal to do stand-up in Everett

Marc Price, who appeared on 54 episodes of “Family Ties” in the 1980s, to do a set at Tony V’s Garage on Feb. 9.

Preparing for the natural end of our lives

Most of us don’t want to talk about death. But we need to be prepared for the inevitable.

The European Parliament in Brussels charts the course of Europe.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Politics, good living and peeing in Brussels

The Belgian capital’s rich brew of food and culture pleasantly surprises those who stop.

AeroMexico canceled her flight, but she wants a refund, not a credit

AeroMexico cancels Patrizia Azzellini’s flight and offers her a ticket credit, but she’d prefer a refund. Who’s right?

Everett Home Depot worker Jeffrey Raven Leonard, 52, holds a certificate that names him a Kentucky Colonel, an honor from the governor of Kentucky. He received the award, given to 4,000 to 5,000 people annually, for getting the word out about a hiring program for veterans at Home Depot. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
This Kentucky Colonel works at Home Depot, not a fried chicken stand

Jeffrey Raven Leonard, 52, of Everett, joins thousands of other colonels honored for good deeds by the governor of Kentucky.

Gin Blossoms
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Tickets are on sale now for the Gin Blossoms gig in Tulalip. A variety of local music, from rock to classical, can be heard this weekend in Everett.

2023 Toyota Highlander (Toyota)
2023 Toyota Highlander

The 2023 Lexus IS 500 F SPORT Premium is as good as it gets for a luxury sports sedan at a mid-grade price.

The GPP for tomorrow is Hamamelis mollis, commonly called Chinese witch hazel, the image credit goes to Great Plant Picks
Great Plant Pick: Chinese witch hazel

It’s the most fragrant of all witch hazels and worth growing for that characteristic alone.

Most Read