Recently, a variety of people have approached me to ask my opinion on the rising interest in multiplying home church models. While Francis Chan is not alone in advocating such a model, he is one of the most prominent voices pressing the agenda today. As an aside, Chan is a remarkable man whose vision and passion for the Lord challenges me to live more vibrantly for King Jesus. I’m deeply indebted to him on many levels, including the student lives I have the privilege of interacting with on a weekly basis. His transparent and passionate teachings coupled with the free resources he provides to the Christian community makes a tremendous difference. Nevertheless, I believe the absolute and idealistic nature in which his and other home church models are presented misrepresents the nature of what is happening in the New Testament.
Advocates of multiplying home church models consistently reference Acts and the Pauline Epistles. The argument is that in Acts the church was meeting in homes and Paul is speaking to churches gathered in homes. Thus, these texts are presented as the ideal for creating disciples in the modern context. Furthermore, it is often noted that Paul did not take years establishing bureaucratic structures and leadership. Rather, in quick fashion, he entrusted the church to others, and he commissioned them to pastor. The question that must be asked is whether these texts are given as prescriptive for us to follow today or descriptive of special circumstances in the establishment of the Christian Church. I believe it is the latter.
Home church models seem to take what was birthed out of necessity in the New Testament and present it as normative. Paul was persistently persecuted. At various points in his ministry, he was pressed out of multiple cities shortly after winning converts in those cities (Acts 17: 1–10). In other words, his short tenures in these locations were forced, leaving him concerned about these new converts. In the wake of his departure, people stepped up, error crept in, Paul wrote letters, and everyone seemed to improvise to a degree. There was no script. It was the kingdom of light pushing back the darkness in the face of opposition by establishing communities where the word of God could flourish and the body of Christ minister.
Not only was Paul’s short tenure and quick multiplication of leadership birthed out of necessity, but so was meeting in homes. It was common to gather in homes due to the varied problems with establishing a larger, more permanent gathering location in light of being a questionable religion under the suspicious gaze of both Roman and Jewish officials. Nevertheless, early on in history, as the church had the opportunity, they began to develop larger gatherings so they could be a body. The point in Scripture is never the location or size of the gathering, but the purpose and activity of the gather.
Certainly, nothing is wrong with following a multiplying home church model. Just be careful not to present it as a purer form of Christianity or Christian community. We must be careful not to advocate that this model is inherently more biblical because it is smaller, quicker, and in a home. Challenges exist with every approach to executing God’s command to gather in worship and make disciples of all nations. Personally, I love the beauty and practicality of Chan’s model and others. However, I must question the theological impetus behind it.