House Churches & Missions

By David Allis

One of the common questions raised regarding house churches relates to their involvement in ‘mission’.  What can a (little) house church do, that is effective in its local community and for overseas mission?  This question often comes from the perspective that larger churches have more resources, and hence can be more effective in ‘mission’ eg a large church could afford to totally fund a large team of indigenous church planters in India.

However, organised churches are much more expensive to run than house churches, and hence house churches potentially have much more resource available for ‘mission’.  The recent Time Magazine article on house churches quoted 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.”

These figures seem generous to ‘standard’ churches ….. many  ‘standard’ churches I have seen consume much more than 75% of their budget internally, and few house churches would even spend 10% internally.  In addition, if you factor in the ‘value’ of all the volunteer work required for an organised church to function, the actually running cost would be very high, with a miniscule amount going outside the church for ‘mission, or to help the poor.

As mega churches continue to emerge, some people hope that they will bring some cost efficiencies that will help increase what is going outside the church.  Unfortunately, the consensus is that as churches get larger, they actually get more expensive (per person) to operate, because they need to increase their quality, provide a much broader range of ‘services etc.  Occasionally I hear proud reports that mega church WXY gave lots of money to some wonderful cause (or saw lots of people ‘saved) …. I usually do some simple maths on this to work out the giving (or salvations) per member of the mega church, and always seem to find that the ‘achievement’ per member is great, but nothing remarkable … in fact I know house churches that ‘achieve’ far more than this per ‘member’.

I recall a Management course I attended years ago … they gave the example of a Government office building, and asked us to imagine it containing 1000 government employees with all the means of external communication cut off – they suggested that these 1000 people would generate enough work just organizing themselves, that they could be fully busy without generating any ‘output’.  I immediately pictured the church …. In a typical ‘organised’ church, the majority of time, energy and finance can be consumed just keeping the ‘organisation’ running, with little or no external ‘output’ …. it was a scary & sobering epiphany.

Talking with a local church minister recently, he remarked how he would love to have his church (about 150 people) sponsor a micro-enterprise bank in Asia (costing about $5,000 pa for 2 years) – unfortunately they had just taken an offering for other purposes, and some of their elders were opposed to the idea, but he hoped to get the church to ‘buy’ into it.  In contrast, I know of a house church where just one family have personally sponsored a micro-enterprise bank, just through giving the same amount as they were previously giving (tithing) to the organised church they were in.

I was fascinated to come across stories about a large church in Arlington, Texas – Mission Arlington – which is having huge impact in the local community.  “Today Mission Arlington is ……….. nearly 4,000 in attendance) serving over 10,000 people a week in the Arlington Texas community with food, furniture, medical and dental care, school transportation, child and adult day care, counseling, etc. What can Jesus do for a community? The people of Arlington know. Every year hundreds of people come to Christ through this transformational ministry. Lives are being touched. Lives are being changed. The church should and can make a huge difference in a community. (from Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation by Eric Swanson).  This sounds amazing …. And what is even more amazing is that Mission Arlington is a house church movement of nearly 250 community house churches (I removed these words from the quote above).  Check outhttp://www.missionarlington.org/

So what can a house church do, that is effective in its local community and for overseas mission? I am convinced that if the people in a house church remain committed to a life of generous giving and commitment to building God’s kingdomlocally and internationally, they can achieve wonderful things