From Denver Post.Com
Megachurch, meet microchurch.
Growing numbers of Coloradans believe the tiny house church, also called a simple church or an organic church, might be the mightier transformer of Christian lives.
A recliner becomes a pulpit. A sofa and some armchairs serve as pews.
Where two or more people are gathered in his name, Jesus said, there he is. House churches range in size from two people to a dozen or slightly more.
Some prefer the name “simple church” because there are congregations that meet at coffee shops, parks or other venues.
The key element is that the group is small enough for everyone to participate fully and to connect intimately. In this, the new followers believe, they are like the earliest Christians, who also met in small groups in homes.
A house church is not about one person standing up and talking for 45 minutes, says former Presbyterian pastor John White, a consultant who helped launch the house-church movement in Colorado 12 years ago.
Back then, he couldn’t find anybody local doing it, and little was written about it. Now, the movement is flourishing.
“Traditional church works fine for a lot of people, but there’s a growing number of people for whom it’s not working,” White said.
Religion surveyors, theologians and other experts say millions of American adults are experimenting with new forms of spiritual communities. Many are abandoning traditional church because, among many reasons, the Americanized church has become, for them, too corporate and consumeristic.
“House church can be messy, but it’s never boring,” White said. “It requires you to be a spiritual grown-up. You have to do the work.”
Colorado, Southern California, Texas, Oregon, New Mexico and a few other Western states are some of the most fertile ground for the new organic churches, according to the Barna Group, a research organization.
These homemade churches are easy to find because of online directories.
Jesus and the apostles spread the good news by looking for a mature person or couple who could form a church, White said.
“Those in the house-church movement see themselves as reclaiming the early church’s vision of closely connected fellowship,” said Phil Campbell, visiting assistant professor of congregational studies at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology.
“The new thing is about the old thing. There was also a real move in the 1960s toward house churches,” Campbell said.
White, part of the Luke 10 Community, said he knows of about 50 house churches in Colorado and that he finds new ones all the time.
“There could be several hundred,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
Darren Boyer’s house of worship, several years old, is Brighton House Church. Thursday evening, Boyer, a business trainer, made waffles for the six of 12 congregants who turned up. Their ages are mid-30s to mid-50s. There is one church dog, Jane Doe.
“Is anyone feeling thankful?” Boyer asked before the meal. Someone was and expressed it in a short blessing.
After breaking bread and talk of record-size trout, the upcoming Heaven Fest concert, Zumba dance class, Rockies baseball and hot weather, the group moved from the kitchen to the living room for more than an hour of intense Bible study and prayer.
Communion was self-serve: small plastic cups of grape juice and broken saltine crackers.
The group, which includes an administrative assistant, a real-estate professional and a medical receptionist, prayed intensely for a new job for their friend, an unemployed marketing executive.
“People don’t participate casually. They appear to be deeply committed,” said United Methodist minister Catherine Kelsey, visiting professor and dean of the Iliff Chapel.
Kelsey said mainline and conventional evangelical churches are threatened by the movement only if they perceive it as a threat.
“Younger adults know we’re living in a time of enormous change happening rapidly,” Kelsey said. “They’re not waiting for (conventional) church to change to reflect what’s happening in the culture.”
Many house churches divide again and again until they create a network of churches, which might all gather for a large meeting monthly or even less frequently. Boyer’s church is part of the Higher Point network.
The Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based faith research and marketing group, estimated in 2006 that 9 percent of adults, roughly 20 million people, attended a house church during a typical week. A decade earlier, it had been 1 percent.
Barna found that 74 percent of American churchgoers attended conventional church while 5 percent attended only house church. But another 19 percent attended both.
Researcher George Barna predicted the house church and other variants will, over the next two decades, continue to draw followers away from conventional churches.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s massive 2007 study on American religious life found that 7 percent of 225 million adult Americans attend church in someone’s home. That translates to roughly 15.75 million adults.
Yet many megachurch pastors, such as Brady Boyd of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, say they don’t see a threat in the house- church movement.
“House churches have been around since Jesus,” Boyd said. “There’s nothing wrong with meeting in a home. There’s nothing magical or mystical about a big building, but there’s nothing wrong with having a big building either.”
Faith comes in many sizes
The vibrancy of the faith and worship is what counts, he said. New Life performs much of its ministry in its own breakaway small groups.
“I’m happy whenever anyone commits to local fellowship,” Boyd said. “. . . This is not a business I’m operating. It’s a higher calling.”
Barna said those most likely to attend conventional church are women, people older than 60, evangelicals and Midwesterners. The people most likely to attend house church are men, home-school families and Westerners.
The Barna Group also found one way in which house-church members are unusual.
Regular churchgoers, people who attend small groups and church volunteers are likely to be politically conservative or moderate. By contrast, at least one-quarter of house- church participants describe themselves as liberals, and nearly half are registered Democrats.