Why might the apostles have laid down a purposeful pattern of small churches? Kingdom minded older congregations may be willing to let you use their building after their services are over. When Claudius expelled all Jews from the city of Rome, however, only the Gentile Christians remained. Though house churches were at the opposite end of the spectrum from modern mega-churches, it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking too small. Christians Were a Fearless and Animated People, Not a Passive Church. 4. We long to see the Lord’s churches full if such growth represents people being reached with the Gospel and made into disciples. Other early churches also met in homes. What can be done? Who Were The Early Christians? 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 Church discipline takes on genuine significance. Let us strive to faithfully follow the example of Christ and the apostles in our churches and ministries today. 2 Tim. “Lullingstone Roman Villa”, English-Heritage.org.uk. Acts 17:6. 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). The Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper was originally celebrated weekly as a full, fellowship meal. Free Help Teaching Strategic Size 4. 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. The overwhelming majority of churches today, however, do not provide the context in which brothers and sisters can encourage, admonish and disciple each other. 7. 8. The practical reality of the priesthood of the believer was lost until the Reformation. Luke’s account of the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-20) bears the closest resemblance to Paul’s account. Note how Paul greeted the Christians in Corinth: “The churches of Asia send you greetings.         The early church continued this practice of home meetings for hundreds of years after the New Testament was completed. Read More However, the larger the fellowship, the more difficult it becomes to maintain relationships and lines of communication. The epistles of the New Testament written to churches were all written to congregations that met in homes. Of course not. During the first several centuries of Christianity, the church was centered on the home. Are we to believe that having smaller congregations was a purely incidental aspect of the blueprint for church life or was it purposeful? 4:19; Phm. One known ancient home that hosted a church was the Lullingstone Villa in Kent, England (built during the Roman occupation).         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 . . Some worry that house churches don’t have all the marks of a biblical church. Before Christianity was legalized in the fourth The Jerusalem Church had thousands of members meeting house to house. New leaders should be continually trained from within to go out and start new works. The ESV Study Bible notes that early Christian churches “met in homes . The early house churches met in the mostly-covered atrium area of the house. 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. How can this be overcome? Impressive children’s ministries mean little to them. In early Christianity, there were no church buildings. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor measured six homes in Pompeii and Ephesus and found the average atrium size to be 797 square feet. What are some simple steps modern families could take to make their family homes something of a house church? At the far end of the atrium was the business office. . The real influence in the room is not the teacher but peer pressure. What might Christians today learn from the experience of house church in Corinth? 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. Furthermore, there were typically multiple generations of family living under the same roof. The home should have a large assembly room and ample off-street parking. 9. House churches have not altogether disappeared, either, even within Catholicism. This is good. They are called brothers and sisters (Phm 2, Ro 16:2). House-church ministry must be birthed in prayer. We desperately need new settings and structures for watching over one another in love.” Those who have pulled their children out of both government and Christian schools are often not interested in their children being involved with Sunday school or youth groups. 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. The Revd Peter Anthony, Vicar of St Benet’s, Kentish Town in London has recorded a half-hour talk on why what we’re doing now is not a copying of the house churches of the patristic era.. View it here on You Tube.I strongly recommend this video. Impressive children’s ministries mean little to them. The real influence in the room is not the teacher but peer pressure. Christian fellowship meant unconditional availability to and unlimited liability for the other sisters and brothers—emotionally, financially and spiritually. Was Jesus’ ministry a failure? Acts records 120 believers assembled in the upper room of a house. In larger homes, they could have seated as many as 150. [I wrote a blog series explaining the marks of a biblical church.] 5. Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando estimated, “Our two church plants are going to cost us about $2,450,000 over a three-year period.” In light of these staggering figures, as your small church starts new small churches, be creative in finding places to meet that are cost efficient. It was right and natural, they argue, for each church to grow beyond the confines of a home, building larger and larger places to meet. Early churches meeting in Roman villas typically consisted of scores of people, perhaps over a hundred, but not hundreds and certainly not thousands. 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. E-mail exchange, May 8, 2013. Second, continue doing things to bring in new singles under 35. How do you feel about this? Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando estimated, “Our two church plants are going to cost us about $2,450,000 over a three-year period.”, In light of these staggering figures, as your small church starts new small churches, be creative in finding places to meet that are cost efficient. Of course not. A large auditorium of people, most of whom are relative strangers to each other, will not easily achieve these goals. First, thank God for the years you had to make disciples of these Millennials before they moved on. One known ancient home that hosted a church was the Lullingstone Villa in Kent, England (built during the Roman occupation). How big the budget is? Though Scripture never states such, it is quite likely that churches also met in tenement housing called insula and which were not nearly as large as a Roman villa. Yet even in the absence of persecution, might the apostles have intended to lay down a purposeful strategy of smaller congregations? 4. Eucharist was celebrated by the Church — that is, the Body of Christ — assembled together in private homes. We need to think small in a really big way! Participatory worship fits smaller settings better and the things shared are much more meaningful. As already seen, Scripture indicates the early church met in the homes of its wealthier members.         Scripture indicates that the early church met in the private homes of its more affluent members. In the smaller Roman villas, these areas would have seated 50-60 people. 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). Learn Practical Tips on Ministering in Smaller Churches. The problem with this is the corrupting influence children have on each other: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” It is also felt that putting children in Sunday School or a youth group takes the pressure off the parents to fulfill their God-given roles of training their own children. What constitutes a successful ministry anyway? romanticize the early church as an age of purity to which we should seek to return Spacious living rooms were often built off this courtyard. He was successful because he was faithful to what God wanted him to do. 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. What should be done in a situation where a home is simply too small to host a church meeting? The real issue is not where a church meets but how it can best do what God requires of it. Small churches align very much in size with apostolic churches that met in Roman villas. For example, Aquila and Prisca held church meetings in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19). The Jerusalem Church had thousands of members meeting house to house. The Ancient Mass in the”House Churches”was not as Informal as Many Think As you may know, the Catholic Faith was illegal in the Roman Empire prior to 313 AD, when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan permitting the Christian Faith to flourish publicly. Paul claims that during these gatherings, the fact that some were well-fed and getting drunk while others went hungry, proved that their meals failed the test of a genuine Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). Were house churches simply a response to persecution, or could they also reflect a purposeful size strategy for most effective ministry? Catholic Prayers, Practices and Devotions. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings.” Colossians 4:15, “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” One-Another Ministry: The Scriptures are full of “one another” commands. Small churches today still have the same great potential to advance God’s kingdom in the love and power of the Holy Spirit . In Social Aspects of Early Christianity (1977), A. J. Malherbe observed that up until that time “no major work has been devoted to the New Testament house church”. Each local church is to be like a family; one of the most common things families do is eat together. Ancient Rome’s battle against the early Christians was an amazing time in history—one which shaped and in many ways resembles our lives today. This is the 12th column in a 12-part series. 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. 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. Why? Through his tent making work, Paul was able to support himself and his traveling companions, some seven men at least (Acts 20:4, 34). Building consensus of the whole congregation was important in decision making. Since New Testament churches met almost exclusively in private homes, the typical congregation was relatively small. In addition, the household employed servants and their families. New churches grow faster than larger ones. Starting a house church cannot be just a good idea; it must be a Godidea. A loving, family-like atmosphere is more easily developed. Though it began as a private house, after renovation all domestic use ceased, and the building became property of the church. 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. Participatory Worship: Early church meetings were clearly participatory. Some couples who leave a small church upon having children will return after their children are grown. Church discipline takes on genuine significance. 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. Second, continue doing things to bring in new singles under 35. 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). The meeting room measured approximately 15’ x 21’. Disciple making is more personal and natural. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper as an actual faith-family meal is more natural in a smaller setting. In the West, the perceived disadvantages of small churches are mostly cultural. This would seat between 60 and 80 people. Many house churches have f… Acts 1:13, 15, 2:1-2. Congregational Consensus: The New Testament church had a plurality of clearly identified leaders (elders, pastors, overseers), yet these leaders led more by example and persuasion than by command. Many times that is the way the early church would have met. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. The church at Dura-Europos occupies a midpoint in the evolution from early house churches to the monumental buildings of the age of Constantine. Size plays an important role in this. on Saturday, 11 April 2020 at 5.17 pm by Simon Sarmiento categorised as Church of England. Why? 2; 2 Jn. What evidence is there that persecution was not the only reason the early church met in homes? 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. 7. The impluvium had been tiled over and benches were added around the walls. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. Look into renting an apartment clubhouse, dance academy, storefront, school cafeteria or community center. Today, as always, we can see God’s footsteps, if we are looking for them. Train up new leaders from within. . For all their scandalous behavior, we are grateful to have Paul’s response to the Corinthians. So we should not think that home churches are any more "biblical" in … An informal, smaller setting is an effective place for the building of consensus. It could, according to the Yale archaeologists who excavated it, seat 65 to 70 people. What advantages for growth and reproduction might house churches have over fellowships that have to build church houses? In early Christianity, there were no church buildings. There are no evidences of larger places of meeting before 300.” Again quoting Snyder, “there is no literary evidence nor archaeological indication that any such home was converted into an extant church building. These were the first churches in the world and these house churches appeared in the ancient cities of the Roman Empire around the 3rd century – early 4th century.         There are both advantage and disadvantages to small churches. 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. Paul’s Corinth,” reveals a great deal about these early house churches. It was not unusual for strangers to be in and out of a home. What is it about them that make them important? Members of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, gather in the front yard of a couple from the congregation for Sunday worship. The epistles of the New Testament written to churches were all written to congregations that met in homes. 4. This custom of … . 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. 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. It was not unusual for strangers to be in and out of a home. Listen to Our Talk on Strategic Size 10. 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. Having too many people in attendance can serve to defeat the purposes for holding a church meeting in the first place. 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. Discussion Questions 1. Throughout church history, God has used the house church strategy to draw his followers back to a simpler form of church life and mission. Continually teach the men to be the leaders in their homes and the church.         What are we to do with the fact that the early church met mostly in homes? The early church, of course, did not always fully live out the New Testament vision of the body of Christ. And when a brother or sister fell into sin, the others gently restored the straying person (Mt. Paul tells of women who were the leaders of such house churches (Apphia in Philemon 2; Prisca in I Corinthians 16:19). First, thank God for the years you had to make disciples of these Millennials before they moved on. Build reproduction into the DNA of the church. On the other hand, Barna’s study found that singles under 35 were more open to attending small churches. One of the more surprising revelations in his book is how few Christians comprised the Church in Corinth. What can be done? They are called brothers and sisters (Phm 2, Ro 16:2). . We know that it was common in the early days of the Church for the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated in the context of a larger meal that was referred to as an “agape,” or love feast (see verse 12 of Jude). The legacy of a faithful small church will outlast a larger, entertainment-oriented congregation. 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. 2 Tim. 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. Noah faithfully preached to his generation, yet only a handful were saved. “How Much Does It Cost To Start A Church?”, MissionalChallenge.com, accessed September 1, 2016. Having too many people in attendance can serve to defeat the purposes for holding a church meeting in the first place. 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). Worst yet, many parents drop their children off at a church youth program as sort of a reform school, hoping for a miracle. 5; 2 Cor. 12:26). 2500 N. Tyler St., Little Rock, AR 72207 . 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). Significantly these two centuries mark the most powerful and vigorous advance of the church, which perhaps has never seen been equaled.”         The Church as Family: An overarching significance of the New Testament church lies in its theology of community. As already seen, Scripture indicates the early church met in the homes of its wealthier members. It will likely create a contagious excitement that will cause numerical growth as well. The sisters and brothers were available to each other, liable for each other and accountable to each other. Spacious living rooms were often built off this courtyard. 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). The first step to starting a house church is to pray. Early church meetings centered on the Lord’s Table were tremendous times of fellowship, community, and encouragement. 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). “Small Churches Struggle to Grow Because of the People They Attract,” Barna.org, accessed September 01, 2016. The first church began in a home on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It is a design axiom that form follows function. The pastors become inaccessible. Disciple making is more personal and natural. Kingdom minded older congregations may be willing to let you use their building after their services are over. . 2. Believers are children of God (1Jn 3:1) who have been born into his family (Jn 1:12-13). 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). So, for example, the fact that early Christians often sold all they owned and shared the profits (Acts 2:44-45) among other believers does not mean that we must do so today (although it certainly would be acceptable). One-Another Ministry: The Scriptures are full of “one another” commands. Believers are children of God (1Jn 3:1) who have been born into his family (Jn 1:12-13). Early churches meeting in Roman villas typically consisted of scores of people, perhaps over a hundred, but not hundreds and certainly not thousands. 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. No one can better describe the early Christians than Mathetes who was a 2nd century Christian. Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1977), 190-191. Griffith Thomas, co-founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, “For two or three centuries Christians met in private houses . Nominal Christianity is harbored as it becomes easy to get lost in the crowd. Early Christian Architecture By the end of the first century, it is evident that Christian places of worship had developed a somewhat standard form of architecture. By modern standards this would seat about 50 people. John 6:10, 24, 66-67. Through his tent making work, Paul was able to support himself and his traveling companions, some seven men at least (Acts 20:4, 34). The larger the congregation, the less family-like and the more impersonal the Lord’s Supper as a true meal becomes. Some of the distinct practices of those early small churches are worth considering: house church. 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. . What psychological impact might the size of a church meeting have on the actual meeting and people themselves? Worst yet, many parents drop their children off at a church youth program as sort of a reform school, hoping for a miracle. House Churches in the First Century For the first two hundred years of the Christian movement, most meetings were held in homes. Christian fellowship meant unconditional availability to and unlimited liability for the other sisters and brothers—emotionally, financially and spiritually. 9. 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. God used these house churches to turn the Roman world upside down (Ac 17:6). By By Clifford M. YearyAssociate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study. Multiplication: Small churches have great potential for growth through multiplication. Under the radar of the Roman Empire, God used the early house churches to evangelize, make disciples, and transform the world. Perspective . Continually teach the men to be the leaders in their homes and the church. . 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.” They were big, semi-public houses. The Catechism describes the Church as “the family of God” (§ 1655). 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.”. Rather than growing your one congregation bigger and bigger, make it your goal to start new small churches that start other small churches. Roman villas featured large areas in which the church could gather, such as the atrium. In addition, the household employed servants and their families. This is good. Worst yet, many parents drop their children off at a church youth program as sort of a reform school, hoping for a miracle. We desperately need new settings and structures for watching over one another in love.”. Professors The real influence in the room is not the teacher but peer pressure. Many thriving small churches focus on reaching home-school families. 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 … 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, ow many people were involved in an early house church? The two rooms facing the street were often businesses. 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.”. Scripture indicates that the early church met in the private homes of its more affluent members. Instead of getting bigger and bigger, purpose to maintain the New Testament example of Roman-villa-sized churches. 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