The early hours of June 6, 1944 the Axis defenders saw, through the early morning haze off the Normandy Coast, a vast armada of Allied ships carrying hopeful liberators to those occupied shores. That wicked empire was secure as long as freedom’s defenders remained on distant shores. As young men dashed from plywood transports onto the blood soaked sands of invasion beaches named Juno, Omaha, Sword and Gold a watching world finally obtained the hope that the oppressor’s jack-boot would at last be removed from beloved homelands. A beachhead is the first fruit of invasion, a foothold that precedes liberation.
Reneé and I walked carefully along the grid of unpaved streets of Capricorn, a squalid, crowded “unofficial” township outside the margins of Cape Town, South Africa. With four young missionaries we traversed these dusty shack-lined lanes quietly praying and worshiping looking for a divine appointment where Providence would lead us to a house of peace and a person of peace, someone who would welcome us and our message into their home. We were putting Luke 10 into practice. We prayed, rejoiced, warmly greeted curious passerbys, offered spontaneous prayer when conversation permitted, studied faces and looked into eyes. The response was gracious, warm and inviting. The second day of prayer-walking we discovered Patricia whose home was on a main lane where her small street-side kiosk sold snacks to passerbys and provided modest support to her struggling family. Patricia was a tall, gaunt woman who had come to faith years before. Her slender frame battled with HIV she contracted from her errant husband. This was not an unusual in this 20,000 person community were 35% had AIDS and an equal number tuberculosis. Alcoholism, drugs, petty theft and weekly stabbing incidents left its mark on Capricorn and by extension, Patricia. It was in Patricia’s home we began to gather, or more accurately Patricia began to gather from her network of friends and family. We assembled around a common, simple meal, Bible instruction, prayer for one another and the Lord’s supper. Friends and neighbors came to Christ, pain was comforted, disciples made, jobs found and community built. This was church. It was simple. It was a house. Most of all Patricia’s home was our beachhead in Capricorn. The ensuing months saw the gospel invade home after home as house churches multiplied.
Returning to the United States Renée and I committed to Grace Church, C&MA in Middleburg Heights which proved to be a wonderful incubator for vision and mission. With the encouragement of the pastoral leadership we gathered and trained a core for gospel engagement and simple church planting. This small planting group launched its first house church Friday evenings in August 2011. Within a few weeks we were assembling twenty+ in participatory meetings that would often last four hours. In September we spun off a Sunday morning house church. As more emerging leaders were attracted to this vision we planted another one Sunday afternoons in the midst of a very broken neighborhood. Several older house churches have since affiliated with us and joined our mission.
Now in one dozen gathering places house churches meet. The diversity amazes us. We have one house church that reaches into public housing drawing up to fifty adults and children into its pastoral sphere. Several suburban house churches draw many of their participants from nearby neighborhoods. One house church in a tony part of the city has diverse ethnicities and and professionals. Another urban house church is comprised of many young artists, musicians and creatives. The Mayfield Heights house church is comprised wholly of people without evangelical church connections and uses Alpha and a meal as its gathering point. We continue to plant and organize where we have a person of peace to open their door and heart.
How we plant
Within NEO House Church Network we will organize a house church when a leader is present who has the capacity to lead and gather. These are the leadership qualities we look to develop:
- Ability to facilitate a living room full of people with sensitivity to the leading of the
Holy Spirit while cultivating every member ministry.
- Is given to to prayer and the scriptures as a lifestyle, knowing how to engage the
the presence of God.
- Committed to hospitality and developing rich accountable relationships.
- Is a gatherer….draws people with truth, loving grace and enthusiasm.
- Godly character with a stable, maturing family life.
When we identify a leader to plant around we find a host home. This may be the planter’s but often times it is not. It becomes our house of peace where are message is received and the neighborhood is engaged. Then a small team is built around the planter and target mission area. This team is often other house church members but easily includes new attenders from that area who are invited to participate. Next we engage in concentrated prayer for the planting team, set a launch date and well, start.
Stewardship for Mission
House churches have little overhead there are few equipment, facility or rental costs. Growth is from personal invitation so little advertising is needed. Normally ministerial salaries are limited to a planter/pastor who may eventually oversee ten or more house churches, relying on “lay” house church leaders for much of the shepherding, discipleship and teaching in each small congregation. This potentially frees much of the church income for outreach and mission. This makes simple church planting a bit less cash intensive.
What happens in a house church
A house church or simple church is designed to have five general components the first is fellowship where relationships are forged. Fellowship time is full of chatter, greetings and conversation. Secondly the meal portion of the gathering, which is typically a pot-luck is, often goes on for an hour. Third, the largest component is the participatory meeting. Spontaneous prayer, interpersonal ministry, breakout prayer clusters, singing and worship often with instruments, prayers for healing, prophecy, testimonies, psalms and scripture reading. Every week the participatory portion is different. Some meetings are gentle and subdued while others are supercharged and powerful. The fourth element is teaching. This can be a guided discussion on a text, expository preaching or a Socratic style of discourse built around questions and answers. Some teaching uses audio-visuals, others a simple handout. Many teaching times employ breakout sessions to connect with different learning styles. The traditional sermon is generally not used because it is deemed ineffective for Biblical instruction and obedience. The fifth element is the Lord’s Supper which may happen with the meal or any time within the assembly. Communion is the weekly focal point of the gathering. When these five are woven together with Spirit initiated spontaneity there can be an amazing confluence of elements that create an atmosphere for Gospel transformation. It is not unusual for repentance and conversion to happen in this church environment even without a formal invitation. These church dynamics while attractive can normally only be done in a micro-church setting. When a group regularly exceeds twenty adults the nature of this kind of church requires multiplication in order to maintain quality. This is an entrée for church planting.
Creating a Movement
The ratio of churches to population is at an all time low in the United States.
Church-to-population ratio in US peaked at 1 church for every 430 in WW I. Now it’s 1 church for every 6,194 people. This explains a lot about some of the root causes of our current cultural maladies and the spiritual vacuum that characterizes our society. May I suggest the key to discipling a society is church planting. Not just any kind of church but one that embraces these five characteristics:
- Passionately, articulates and embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ that is rooted in grace.
- Intentional discipleship of all participants that focuses on obedience to the will of God including the development of emerging leadership.
- Gatherings devoid of formality that are highly participatory where Jesus’ presence is experienced, relationships forged and where leaders learn to equip and promote.
- Dynamic, supernatural engagement with the Holy Spirit which anticipates hearing God’s voice, healing, the gifts of the Holy Spirit through aggressive prayer.
- A commitment to reproducing and planting with everyone an active player.
What if there were gospel beachheads like this in every community, neighborhood and block? What if each of these took the responsibility for their immediate vicinity, their sphere of influence? This is the hope of the house church movement. Our prayer is for mobilization as in Luke 10:2 that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers for the harvest. Perhaps it will be a bit like our own D-Day. Perhaps it will be a step toward VE Day.
Bio: Joseph Horevay is the senior pastor of NEO House Church Network, C&MA in Cleveland, Ohio. Joseph is married to Reneé and is the father of four adult children and grandfather to seven. Joseph first served in full-time ministry in 1982. He has church planted, served in the ministry in Maryland and Nashville, TN. He also served in youth ministry and Christian broadcasting prior to pastoring. Horeavy may ne contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org www.neohnc.com