While I was traveling last month one of the books I finished reading was Starting a House Church by Larry Kreider and Floyd McClung (Regal Books, 2007, 185 pages).
In many ways this book was a pleasant surprise. I had picked it up because of my interest in the house church movement -- which is really the growing edge of the church in many places around the world. But my expectations on this one were low because it deals with starting a house church in the North American context and the house church movement in the US has been largely driven by reactionary rather than missionary thinking. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Writing on a popular rather than technical level, Kreider and McClung each shared a bit of their own journeys, laying out a theology of church as family -- suggesting that homes and small group settings are the best context for living out that theology.
Where the authors depart from previous publications on American house churches:
1. They are irenic in approach. There is a lot less of the restorationist rhetoric (although it's not totally absent) suggesting that since the church met in homes for the first 300 years therefore the house church is God's intention and original design for the church. Kreider and McClung talk about the importance of maintaining good relationships with megachurches, community churches, and cell churches. (Cell churches are not the same as house churches.)
2. They stress the value of connectedness and advocate for house church networks. Many of the earliest American house church voices were stressing the value of total independence.
3. They stress the importance of recognized leadership in house churches. Families need fathers and mothers. Many of the earliest American house church voices were very ambiguous on leadership issues and so egalitarian that the churches were directionless.
There are a few things that I would have liked to see more developed in the book --
~ how to keep a micro church mission-focused,
~ how to actually multiply the house church,
~ how to have a solid ministry with children,
~ how to keep things going over the long-haul (group life cycle issues),
~ and how to develop solid biblically informed disciples in a system that relies heavily on informally trained pastors.
These areas were not totally ignored but it would be helpful if they were a lot more developed. The "definitive guide" label which is printed on the cover is a bit misleading. This book is perhaps more of a great discussion starter than a definitive guide. There isn't enough detail to be a definitive guide. Still it's a start -- and that's the point -- "starting a house church."
I'm somewhat skeptical of George Barna's assertion that 9% of Americans are involved in the house church or micro church movement. But it is obvious that the movement is growing in North America. This simple and practical book suggests that there is also some maturing.