Simple churches, connected together as a "network," are already becoming a "new wave" type phenomenon.
The concept of a network of house churches invites individual house churches to thrive within a larger community.
In the New Testament, we see churches that met in houses and gathered anywhere. But we also see the larger context of city-wide churches: the church of Ephesus, the church of Philippi, etc.
The networking together of house churches is biblical and provides many benefits:
• The fellowship together of a greater variety of Christians with a greater diversity of gifts
• The joint support of ministries, missions, or charitable needs
• Community-wide activities
• Opportunity for larger celebration events
Networks can function in different ways. They may be highly informal, connected only by an occasional joint gathering or special times to share ideas with one another. Or, they may be more formally networked together as “sister” churches that function with many common goals and projects. We use the term “cluster” for a group of house churches that are closely related.
Either way, it’s important that networks do not become a way to exercise centralized control. They are simply a larger context for autonomous churches to be part of.
It is important to understand that house church networks are not at all the same as churches that are small-group based. Many churches, today, refer to their small groups as “house churches,” however they are still small-group based churches as opposed to house church networks.
If you are unclear about the difference between a house church network and a church of small groups, be sure to read this article.
House church networks are one form that God is using to bring us into a transformation of church. Many people are envisioning that this kind of church (and others like it) will affect every community in the USA.
Mike Steele, DAWN Ministries, says this:
I believe we will see a day when some cities will be “filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea!”… Communities will be filled with lighthouses, gatherings of believers who “are” the church and reach out to bless their neighbors and restore neighborhoods. There will be a rapid multiplication of New Testament communities across this continent”
Within the next ten to fifteen years, I believe these new house church networks will dot the landscape of North America just as they already do in other nations of the world.
And Neil Cole, who has been planting organic churches for several years, suggests that a wave is coming, and the swell is already evident:
Yes, it is true that house churches have not proliferated across the western world like in China, South America or Africa. It is also true that they have been shortsighted and inwardly focused in the past and not only incapable of reproducing...but not necessarily something you would want to reproduce. They often were seen as stock piling weapons and full of fanatical teachings.
But the Lord is now starting a new work...and I dare say you don't want to miss the wave! It began two years ago and is gaining momentum every month. There is not a single event or person at the core beginning of this...only Jesus. But it suddenly started happening.
In the last two years the Lord has simultaneously and even spontaneously risen up a variety of expanding house church networks all across the country. I will mention a few examples, site some websites, and tell you our story and hope that helps.
1. House2House magazine started and in about a year has gone from 0-30,000 in circulation. Tony, Felicity and Jonathan Dale publish it out of Austin Texas. They also have a growing network of house churches.
2. John White is in Denver and he also leads a growing network of house churches. He is also is a house church coach and sends a regular email out to many people all over the country.
3. Jonathan Campbell is in the Seattle area and has been at this for some years now. He has a house church network that is in several different states. He received his Ph.D. from Fuller on some of these subjects.
4. Vineyard Central in Cincinnati has transitioned from a traditional Vineyard church into an expanding network of house churches. In the last year they went from 10 to 20 churches. Kevin Raines and Dave Nixon (among others) are the key leaders in this movement.
5. Apex is a network of house churches in Las Vegas (and three other states as well). They have about 25 churches. Joe Boyd and Greg Hubbard are leading this network.
6. Summit is a network of about 12 house churches in the Portland area under the leadership of Dan and Jodi Mayhew.
7. The Friends Church in the Northwest has been doing this for a couple years now and have 20-25 organic churches all over the pacific Northwest. Harold Behr is the one facilitating that movement.
8. Robert Fitts is called by God to go around casting vision for an expanding house church movement and has many who are following his simple four step strategy. He is from Hawaii (but most of the time he is in someone's living room humbly sharing his story and vision with a new friend somewhere else in the US).
9. Mike Steele with DAWN Ministries is networking the networks and could tell you of even more people including some in Canada.
10. A new emerging network of So Baptist churches in the Dallas and Houston area. Joe Cartwright is starting one. Jim Mellon, Dave Underwood, and others are behind these new churches.
This is all new and NOW. This is one of the only segments of Christianity that is seeing a rapid increase in the Western world...and its a dramatic increase.
Here's our last couple of years...
1999 we started 10 house churches.
2000 we started 18
2001 we started 52 (average of a church a week)
2002 we have already passed 100 and are on course for 140-160 (this year alone)
If you chart that growth you'll see what I mean by a new wave that is coming!