Cutting the Cord: Are Megachurches Birthing the House Church Movement?

In recent months the conversation on Out of Ur has explored why increasing numbers of Christians are opting to pursue Christ apart from a local church. The discussion began with Kevin Miller’s review of George Barna’s new book, Revolution. And, similar themes were addressed by Dave Terpstra in his post on why the spiritually mature leave the church. Church leaders; however, are no longer the only ones interested in this issue. Time Magazine ran a story on March 6 titled “There’s No Pulpit Like Home” discussing the changes occurring in American Christianity and the rise of house churches.

Interestingly, the authors suggest it may be the megachurch advocacy of small groups that has fueled the house church trend:

[The megachurch] is made possible by hundreds of smaller “cell groups” that meet off-nights and provide a humanly scaled framework for scriptural exploration, spiritual mentoring and emotional support. Now, however, some experts look at [small groups]–spreading in parts of Colorado, Southern California, Texas and probably elsewhere–and muse, What if the cell groups decided to lose the mother church?

The Time article also explore the ideas of George Barna’s book, Revolution, including Barna’s beliefe that in 20 years “only about one-third of the population” will rely on conventional congregations for the spiritual development. To balance this radical forecast Time spoke with Jeffery Mahan from the Iliff School of Theology who agrees that a significant shift is happening in the American church, although it may not be as dramatic as Barna suggests.

American participation in formal church has risen and fallen throughout history, he notes, and after a prolonged post–World War II upswell, big-building Christianity may be exhaling again in favor of informal arrangements.

The “big-building Christianity” that Mahan refers to was another intriguing aspect of the article. It seems the mega-facilities the modern church has used to attract “seekers” may no longer be a draw for spiritually hungry Americans. The grassroots activism of house churches combined with their minimal institutional overhead may prove enticing to a new generation of socially active Christians.

Golden Gate Seminary’s Karr reckons that building and staff consume 75% of a standard church’s budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine “if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful.”

All of this makes me wonder–is the house church movement a reaction against the megachurch, or the logical outcome of the megachurch?

In the end the significance of the Time article may not be found in its content, but in the existence of the article itself. The American evangelical church’s cultural and political influence can no longer be denied, and as a result the secular media is paying attention to church trends that once only intrigued pastors and denominational leaders. This much is certain, whatever direction the church takes in the years ahead (mega or mini) we’ll have plenty of secular scrutinizers documenting our journey.

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