6. Examining the architectural remains of that house adds color to our understanding of Paul’s criticism of the manner in which the Corinthians were attempting to celebrate the Eucharist. New leaders should be continually trained from within to go out and start new works. In larger homes, they could have seated as many as 150. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher. One known ancient home that hosted a church was the Lullingstone Villa in Kent, England (built during the Roman occupation). 7. Continually teach the men to be the leaders in their homes and the church. Further, a wall had been removed between adjoining rooms creating a 714-square-foot area. So we should not think that home churches are any more "biblical" in … The Catechism describes the Church as “the family of God” (§ 1655). Several aspects of women's everyday existence are investigated, including the lives of wives, widows, women with children, female slaves, women as patrons, household leaders, and teachers. . Size plays an important role in this. . The sacredness of these places did not arise from their architecture, it resided in the presence of those gathered — the assembling of the local Body of Christ — and in what they had gathered together to receive, the Body of Christ in the signs of bread and wine. In early Christianity, there were no church buildings. The home should have a large assembly room and ample off-street parking. Build reproduction into the DNA of the church. Under the radar of the Roman Empire, God used the early house churches to evangelize, make disciples, and transform the world. Church hostess Lydia was a prosperous businesswoman who sold expensive purple fabric and could afford servants (Ac 16:14). William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London: John Murray, 1875), 430. Consequently, Christians are to relate to each other as members of a family (1Ti 5:1-2; Ro 16:13). The real influence in the room is not the teacher but peer pressure. “Small Churches Struggle to Grow Because of the People They Attract,” Barna.org, accessed September 01, 2016. What does that mean for us? Many times that is the way the early church would have met. . 5. 4. At the far end of the atrium was the business office. [I wrote a blog series explaining the marks of a biblical church.] When one pastor of a church composed of home-school families was asked if his church had a youth pastor, he replied it had not one but twenty youth pastors—each family’s father. The epistles of the New Testament written to churches were all written to congregations that met in homes. There are no professionals in charge; they often have no leaders. What psychological impact might the size of a church meeting have on the actual meeting and people themselves? There seems little doubt that these informal gatherings of small groups of believers had great influence in preserving the simplicity and purity of early Christianity.”, Seminary professor Ronald Sider, in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, wrote, “The early church was able to defy the decadent values of Roman civilization precisely because it experienced the reality of Christian fellowship in a mighty way . How would the number of people involved impact a church’s ability to have a participatory meeting or to achieve congregational consensus? The Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper was originally celebrated weekly as a full, fellowship meal. In a real Eucharist, they would recognize and respect each other as the Body of Christ. 5; 2 Cor. Worst yet, many parents drop their children off at a church youth program as sort of a reform school, hoping for a miracle. E-mail exchange, May 8, 2013. Some worry that house churches don’t have all the marks of a biblical church. We need to think small in a really big way! Sacred Scripture has provided us with a map of God’s footsteps: in recording the mighty deeds of God, specific places have been named as the settings in which God’s plan for our salvation gradually unfolded. The apostles’ belief concerning the function of the church was naturally expressed in the form the church took on in the first century, and this would certainly include size considerations. A helpful resource is Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church Field Guide by Wilson & Ferguson (Exponential Resources, 2015). They were so effective that Christianity eventually became the dominant religion. What are we to do with the fact that the early church met mostly in homes? By By Clifford M. YearyAssociate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study. In keeping with the New Testament example, the ideal size for a congregation might be the same number of people that would fit into a first-century Roman villa (which, by the way, is more than will fit in a typical modern home). Since New Testament churches met almost exclusively in private homes, the typical congregation was relatively small. As first-century congregations grew, they did not erect bigger and bigger buildings. House Church and Mission will stand as one of the most important studies on the First Century church. The Church should be associated with mutual encouragement, accountability, relationships, community and maintaining church discipline. “Why Do Newly Planted Churches Grow Faster Than Older Churches?”, rmdc.org, accessed September 1, 2016. . Large crowds are great for special praise concerts, seminars or evangelism, but the weekly church gathering is to be about something more—mutual edification, accountability, encouraging one another, the fellowship of the Holy Meal, strengthening relationships, building consensus, etc. Instead of getting bigger and bigger, purpose to maintain the New Testament example of Roman-villa-sized churches. The Matthew 18 restoration process detailed by Jesus clearly assumes more than just “us four and no more.” There was a single congregation meeting in Corinth at the time Paul wrote; counting the various people using their spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14 adds up to a healthy number of believers. It is a design axiom that form follows function. For example, Aquila and Prisca held church meetings in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19). Most non-Catholic faith groups within the Protestant wing of Christianity accept the former beliefs. Instead, they multiplied, constantly training leaders and sending out groups to start new fellowships. Acts 2:42 - And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of … Discussion Questions God’s people are thus seen as part of God’s household (Ep 2:19, Ga 6:10). ‘House churches’ offer return to in-person worship by following practice of early Christians. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Saint Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002), 180. House churches are legitimate. Philemon, wealthy enough to own a slave, hosted a church in his home (Phlm 2b). Catholic Prayers, Practices and Devotions. ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2217 There were no more people in any one congregation than would fit into a wealthy person’s home (in the atrium, courtyard, or large living area). Written before any of the Gospels, it is the earliest known written tradition concerning the Last Supper. A loving, family-like atmosphere is more easily developed. Kingdom minded older congregations may be willing to let you use their building after their services are over. How would the number of people involved impact a church’s ability to have a participatory meeting or to achieve congregational consensus? How can this be overcome? Today, in China, many Catholics have banded together to worship in their houses as clergy loyal to the pope are denied the opportunity to celebrate Eucharist in physical churches. Starting a house church cannot be just a good idea; it must be a Godidea. They are called brothers and sisters (Phm 2, Ro 16:2). Paul then describes for them the tradition he received concerning the Last Supper as the foundation for the celebration of Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). The early church, of course, did not always fully live out the New Testament vision of the body of Christ. Church discipline takes on genuine significance. How big the budget is? Official Website of theCatholic Diocese of Little Rock. Eucharist was celebrated by the Church — that is, the Body of Christ — assembled together in private homes. Further, in a large congregation, the pastor necessarily functions more like the CEO of a corporation or, worse yet, like a king over his own kingdom. . One known ancient home that hosted a church was the. This was probably because of the large size of the home and the financial ability of the host to provide much of the food for the love feast. However, the larger the fellowship, the more difficult it becomes to maintain relationships and lines of communication. What advantages for growth and reproduction might house churches have over fellowships that have to build church houses? The impluvium had been tiled over and benches were added around the walls. We desperately need new settings and structures for watching over one another in love.”. Early house churches were able to support qualified widows and elders, which would have required more than just a handful of believers (1Ti 5:3-16). What might Christians today learn from the experience of house church in Corinth? Ute E. Eisen, Women Officeholders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies (Liturgical Press, 2000) Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church … And when a brother or sister fell into sin, the others gently restored the straying person (Mt. Small churches align very much in size with apostolic churches that met in Roman villas. However, what happens when they marry and have children? Train up new leaders from within. The legacy of a faithful small church will outlast a larger, entertainment-oriented congregation. Since New Testament churches met almost exclusively in private homes, the typical congregation was relatively small. As first-century congregations grew, they did not erect bigger and bigger buildings. W.H. Participatory worship fits smaller settings better and the things shared are much more meaningful. The inter-personal relationships described in the New Testament work best in situations where everyone knows each other. The pastors become inaccessible. It is not a cure-all panacea for the many ills in the church today; however it is the start of a conversation that may—with God’s help—lead to much-needed reform.”. 2; 2 Jn. Worst yet, many parents drop their children off at a church youth program as sort of a reform school, hoping for a miracle. Jesus went from 5000 down to 12 in one sermon. Worship was generally conducted in the atrium, or central courtyard of the house.”, The early church continued this practice of home meetings for hundreds of years after the New Testament was completed. Having a plurality of pastors in a church is unlikely in too small a setting (Acts 14:23). What importance do you see in Paul’s teaching that we who gather together in Christ’s name are the actual Church, rather than the building in which we gather? The early Christian community started as a house church. On the other hand, Barna’s study found that singles under 35 were more open to attending small churches. 2; 2 Jn. Proverbs 22:15, 13:20. The most common explanation for the existence of early house churches was the pressure of persecution, similar to the situation existing today in China or Iran. The real influence in the room is not the teacher but peer pressure. 6. Acts 17:6. Building consensus of the whole congregation was important in decision making. Special thanks to Stephen David of Hyderabad, India for significant contributions to this section. Roman villas doubled as centers for commerce. Achieving consensus is possible in a church where everyone knows each other, loves each other, bears with one another, is patient with one another and is committed to each other. One challenge in worshiping in a home today lies in the fact that modern homes are often far different from first-century Roman villas. Though it is a simple step, without prayer and God's leading, we invite trouble. House churches have not altogether disappeared, either, even within Catholicism. Of course not. How did New Testament churches grow numerically yet still meet in private homes? From it we learn of the centrality of the Eucharist to the traditions Paul taught as well as much about early Christian communities. Acts 1:13, 15, 2:1-2. Are we to believe that having smaller congregations was a purely incidental aspect of the blueprint for church life or was it purposeful? Don’t rule out the possibility of meeting in someone’s home—under the right circumstances it can still be a viable option (see our book for more about modern house churches). If you feel that you are called to start a house church, gather a few like-minded people together and begin to pray so that you can receive a strategy from God. Acts 16:40, 20:20, Romans 16:3-5a, 16:23, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1-2b, James 2:3. The size should be just right; not too big and not too small (neither mega nor micro). Jerome Murphy-O’Connor measured six homes in Pompeii and Ephesus and found the average atrium size to be 797 square feet. In the previous chapters, small churches were encouraged to play to their relational strengths by incorporating some of the practices of first-century house churches. Roman villas featured large areas in which the church could gather, such as the atrium. It was not unusual for strangers to be in and out of a home. There are both advantage and disadvantages to small churches. When church meetings in Roman villa atriums were replaced by meetings in much larger basilicas, participatory worship was replaced by scripted, stage performance type services. When one member suffered, they all suffered. David Watson, I Believe in the Church (Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978), 121. According to Fuller seminary professor Robert Banks, “Even the meetings of the ‘whole church’ were small enough for a relatively intimate relationship to develop between the members.” A hallway between them led into the home’s atrium. Early church meetings centered on the Lord’s Table were tremendous times of fellowship, community, and encouragement. Hence, a successful small church leader is one who is faithful to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” It does not matter if your church never gets larger as long as one is faithful in God’s household. Many thriving small churches focus on reaching home-school families. Out of the theological truth that God’s children are family arises many church practice issues, such as the size of a congregation that best facilities our functioning as God’s family. Graydon F. Synder, Church Life Before Constantine (Macon, GA:  Mercer University Press, 1991), 166. house church.         The early church continued this practice of home meetings for hundreds of years after the New Testament was completed. Acts records 120 believers assembled in the upper room of a house. The argument that the early church was forced to meet within homes because of persecution will not stand for the following reasons: (1) Persecution of Christians was not as intense and widespread as is commonly assumed. The sisters and brothers were available to each other, liable for each other and accountable to each other. Why Do Newly Planted Churches Grow Faster Than Older Churches?”. Other Christian groups choose to meet in houses when they are in the early phases of church growth because a house is the most affordable option for the small group to meet until the number of people attending the group is sufficient to warrant moving to a commercial location such as a church building. Hence, a successful small church leader is one who is faithful to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” It does not matter if your church never gets larger as long as one is faithful in God’s household. Referred to as house churches today, in their own time, these Christians would have thought of themselves as the Church and the place where they assembled as someone’s house. 12:26). . Because children are foolish, putting them all together in a school classroom may be a recipe for spiritual and social disaster. In early Christianity, there were no church buildings. Beyond the business office was an even large,r semi-covered, completely enclosed courtyard. Synder, 70. When one rejoiced, they all rejoiced (1 Cor. The home should have a large assembly room and ample off-street parking. 7. 2:5-11; Gal. Some couples who leave a small church upon having children will return after their children are grown. Perhaps some congregations were large and therefore met in big buildings, but this is an argument from silence. Gehring's research is invaluable in explaining the context of the house church to the worship and spread of the Christian faith in it's first years. The practical reality of the priesthood of the believer was lost until the Reformation. Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing, 1984), 422-423. While it cannot be said for certain that every church met in a home, it is a fact that when a meeting place is specified in Scripture, it is in a home. By David Paulsen. Smaller churches can best foster the simplicity, vitality, intimacy and purity that God desires for His Church. 3. A church also met in the home of Philemon (Philemon 1:2). House churches in the early church. The many “one another” exhortations of Scripture can be more realistically lived out. When a person or church experienced economic trouble, the others shared without reservation. Some argue that Roman villa sized churches were characteristic of the church in its infancy, but not in its maturity.         How many people were involved in an early house church? On the other hand, Barna’s study found that singles under 35 were more open to attending small churches. Out of the theological truth that God’s children are family arises many church practice issues, such as the size of a congregation that best facilities our functioning as God’s family. However, the larger the fellowship, the more difficult it becomes to maintain relationships and lines of communication. Since New Testament churches met almost exclusively in private homes, the typical congregation was relatively small. 2. A church met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla, a couple employed in the evidently lucrative first-century trade of tent-making (Ac 18:1-3). Posted Sep 10, 2020. Apart from home-schoolers, expect an exodus to a larger church with a first-rate children’s program. After suffering several national defeats by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and the Babylonians in 587 BCE, their prophets claimed that Go… Participatory Worship: Early church meetings were clearly participatory. Smaller churches can best foster the simplicity, vitality, intimacy and purity that God desires for His Church. . Therefore, the church grew and expanded as a largely Gentile community from 49 to 54 A.D. Listen to Our Talk on Strategic Size Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. 10. Nominal Christianity is harbored as it becomes easy to get lost in the crowd. Learn Practical Tips on Ministering in Smaller Churches “Unearthing the Christian Building”, Dura-Europos: Excavating Antiquity (Yale University Art Gallery), 2. Though it began as a private house, after renovation all domestic use ceased, and the building became property of the church. Beyond the business office was an even large,r semi-covered, completely enclosed courtyard. Don’t rule out the possibility of meeting in someone’s home—under the right circumstances it can still be a viable option (see our book for more about modern house churches). Someone needs to minister to singles and empty nesters; small churches are in an excellent position to do so. Scripture indicates that the early church met in the private homes of its more affluent members. In the West, the perceived disadvantages of small churches are mostly cultural. Large crowds are great for special praise concerts, seminars or evangelism, but the weekly church gathering is to be about something more—mutual edification, accountability, encouraging one another, the fellowship of the Holy Meal, strengthening relationships, building consensus, etc. Impressive children’s ministries mean little to them. There were tragic lapses. 6. There seems little doubt that these informal gatherings of small groups of believers had great influence in preserving the simplicity and purity of early Christianity.” Meeting in a smaller setting would have a practical effect on one’s church life. How many people attend a church? The Church as Family: An overarching significance of the New Testament church lies in its theology of community. What can be done? It will likely create a contagious excitement that will cause numerical growth as well. Rather than in a funeral-like atmosphere, the Lord’s Supper was reverently celebrated in anticipation of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb. Are we to believe that having smaller congregations was a purely incidental aspect of the blueprint for church life or was it purposeful? Based on archeological findings in Corinth, it is very unlikely that Paul is addressing a Church of more than 50 people. New churches grow faster than larger ones. The early church, of course, did not always fully live out the New Testament vision of the body of Christ. As the home was the domain of women, women took a leading role in many aspects of the early church. Though house churches were at the opposite end of the spectrum from modern mega-churches, it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking. The real influence in the room is not the teacher but peer pressure. What psychological impact might the size of a church meeting have on the actual meeting and people themselves? God used these house churches to turn the Roman world upside down (Ac 17:6). Special thanks to Stephen David of Hyderabad, India for significant contributions to this section. Reformed scholar William Hendriksen said, “since in the first and second centuries church buildings in the sense in which we think of them today were not yet in existence, families would hold services in their own homes.”, According to Anglican priest and evangelist David Watson, “For the first two centuries, the church met in small groups in the homes of its members, apart from special gatherings in public lecture halls or market places, where people could come together in much larger numbers. The size should be just right; not too big and not too small (neither mega nor micro). 5. Many house churches have f… A raised area was added at the front (for a podium?). Each local church is to be like a family; one of the most common things families do is eat together. Having a plurality of pastors in a church is unlikely in too small a setting (Acts 14:23). During the first several centuries of Christianity, the church was centered on the home. They also probably had more of an Asian mindset to crowding than we do in the West; there may have been 150 people in an early house church. Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Historical Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), 41-42. A home-school family’s thinking is often based on such truths as, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child” and “the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Because children are foolish, putting them all together in a school classroom may be a recipe for spiritual and social disaster. While the Eucharist is no longer celebrated in the context of a meal, what are some occasions when your local church feasts together that are an important part of parish life? J. D. Douglas, ed. The early house churches met in the mostly-covered atrium area of the house. Joel Comiskey, writing in Christianity Today, described what the early church was like. Look into renting an apartment clubhouse, dance academy, storefront, school cafeteria or community center. Furthermore, there were typically multiple generations of family living under the same roof. Acts records 120 believers assembled in the upper room of a house. Kingdom minded older congregations may be willing to let you use their building after their services are over. 7. Walls between adjoining rooms off the atrium could be removed to create a big open area. . God used these house churches to turn the Roman world upside down (Ac 17:6). Biblical gardens reveal God's plans for us, Both war, peace found in biblical valleys, Rivers, streams of Bible flow with new life, Jesus brought good news to ancient villages, God's plan is the original 'urban renewal', © Copyright 2021 Diocese of Little Rock The others would be relegated to the atrium, a room that was open to the elements from above and where they would be seated on the floor. Enough believers were able to gather in the villas to make disciples, manifest a variety of spiritual gifts, have multiple people with the same gift, support widows and orphans, have a plurality of elders and financially support qualified pastor-teachers (who were thus freed to be devoted to in-depth teaching and leadership). Smaller, Spirit-filled congregations are, arguably, part of a much larger divine design. Disciple making is more personal and natural. 8. But the network of tiny house churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire did experience their oneness in Christ so vividly that they were able to defy and eventually conquer a powerful, pagan civilization. The inter-personal relationships described in the New Testament work best in situations where everyone knows each other. Graydon Snyder of Chicago Theological Seminary observed that “the New Testament Church began as a small group house church (Col. 4:15), and it remained so until the middle or end of the third century. It was sporadic and did not necessarily affect all the churches at the same time. Multiplication: Small churches have great potential for growth through multiplication. Kingdom minded older congregations may be willing to let you use their building after their services are over. Lane Dennis, ed. Resource Allocation: Charles Price, late Director of Missions for the San Antonio Baptist Association, lamented that the typical cost to start a new church in North America is an astounding two million dollars. Apart from home-schoolers, expect an exodus to a larger church with a first-rate children’s program. Gaius, a man with the means to generously support missionaries (3Jn 1-5), had a home big enough to host the sizable Corinthian congregation (Ro 16:23). It could, according to the Yale archaeologists who excavated it, seat 65 to 70 people. , thank God for the building of consensus congregations may be a recipe for spiritual and social disaster archeological in! City of Rome, however, the church should be continually trained from within go... 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