J.D. Payne has done a study of house churches, specifically those that he calls “missional house churches.” Many interesting tidbits are found in this study. For example…
Payne identifies four types of people who are typically involved in house churches. I think looking at these categories of people can be very informative and provoke some excellent conversations about our own simple/house churches.
1. Anti-Establishment Christians
Payne describes this type of believer as having separatist attitudes whose primary identity comes from being “not” like the others. He quotes Andrew Jones who describes a house church he visited: “A group of disgruntles whose happiness came from the fact they met on Thursday and not Sunday. In a living room and not a sanctuary. On a sofa and not a pew… And yet in all their freedom they managed only to move the church service from a building to a house.”
Payne predicts that the number of anti-established church believers (those whose primary identity comes from this) will continue to grow. He questions whether this group will have any actual positive impact on the kingdom of God.
2. New-Experience Christians
This group is typical of the consumerism that pervades our culture as they are simply seeking out “the latest and greatest spiritual experience.” Of course, when the next promise of spiritual experience comes along, they will move along to the next better thing. “Many of these people will remain involved in house church life only until another novel experience captures their attention.”
3. Hurting Christians
“Many believers who have had significant involvement in traditional church life have been wounded psychologically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually, or physically, and many times a combination of these areas. Many have been hurt by other Christians and have ‘given up’ on the established church. Some see house churches as the answer to their problems, and many house churches see themselves primarily as a place for such hurting believers. As many believers turn to house churches for therapeutic reasons, house churches will continue to increase.”
My own long-term experience with these type of church communities (traditional and non-traditional) is that it can be very difficult for them to avoid taking on enabling roles and provide a too-comfortable place for hurting Christians to continue to hurt.
4. Missional Christians and New Believers
Payne’s final category fits into the purpose of his book: to encourage house churches to be missional. His hope is that house churches will tap into their incredible potential to be salt and light throughout the world. He says Christians who fall into this category “are not satisfied with and… do not desire transfer growth. Not only do they know the commands of the Lord, but they also go to the fields that are ripe for the harvest… They will be on mission for Christ in their Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
Payne envisions these types of churches reaching new believers who follow the same pattern, paving the way for movements of reproducing Christians and house churches.
These categories may not be so clear cut. Obviously hurting Christians can, even while walking through healing, have a wonderful missional impact on others. New-experience Christians can “grow up” and find a new level of mature living for Christ in the world. Nevertheless, I think it can be instructive to evaluate where our groups or gatherings are at and where we would like to see them.