House Church: The fastest-growing expression of church

House Church: The fastest-growing expression of church

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House Chruch: The fastest-growing expression of church
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Joel News International, # 1231 | October 5, 2021
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“The church has to become small in order to grow big.”
– Wolfgang Simson

Global: The fastest-growing expression of church

German missiologist Wolfgang Simson published a global status report on house churches, in his observation “the fastest growing expression of Christ-followers on the planet.”

House churches like we read about in Acts have been present throughout church history, but these groups were often sidelined and even persecuted by the mainline church. However, since the early 20th century, we see a major comeback of house churches. First in China, where some researchers speak of 160-200 million members in more than 10 million house churches.

Since the 1990s house churches also experienced a rapid renaissance outside China. In particular Egypt and India have experienced the emergence of large house church networks, and became modern-day apostolic epicentres for this global phenomenon. The sum total of all current believers in house churches in India alone, about 80 million, already outnumbers the Lutheran Word Federation.

Simson estimates the number of house churches in mid‐2021 as follows:

1) 10 Million house churches in China.

2) Since 1996, about 2 million house churches have been planted in India, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

3) 3 Million house churches have reportedly been planted by various missions collectives like 24:14 and T4T.

4) 2 Million house churches are not on the official radar. This includes movements like Hoffnung Deutschland (founded by Marcus Rose, about 1,000 house churches) and 20,000 newly planted village house churches in Uganda – many meet under a tree for the lack of a hut large enough – as reported by Riccardo Meusel.

5) 1.5 Million ‘ halfway houses’ for church misfits in the USA. According to American sociologist Josh Packard, in his book Church Refugees, the US experiences a gigantic church exodus of so-called ‘doners’ – people who are done with church, but not with God, and organize themselves in ‘halfway houses’.

6) 1 Million ‘doner’ [done with church] house church groups outside the US in countries like Australia, the UK, South Africa, Korea, Singapore and Israel.

7) 1.7 Million house churches inside businesses and Insider Movements. Insider movements are house church movements that do not openly identify with Christianity but remain outwardly loyal and therefore hidden inside existing religions like Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism or Buddhism. Many see their religious environment as their cultural heritage within which they have become secret followers of Christ. This phenomenon also exists inside secular groups, clans or tribes. An additional form of this are ‘business churches’, house churches that function inside a business as their cover. Close observers speak of about 500,000 ‘business house churches in China and 200,000 outside China.

8) 400,000 Informal small groups in mainline churches like the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches that fulfill a role in ‘re-evangelisation’.

9) 1 Million house churches in 20,000 smaller house church networks and so-called ‘Apostolic Networks’.

Small expressions are booming. Picture: tiny houses in Almere, The Netherlands.

There are several significant contributors to the expansion of house churches:

1) Mission researcher Dr. Todd Johnson, in his ‘Status of Global Christianity 2021′, lists 113 million ‘unaffiliated’ or ‘Crypto-Christians’ who are following Christ outside the official church system, often in private, non-public gatherings in homes.

2) An Egyptian missiologist reported that during the Arab Spring at least four million Muslims in Egypt alone have turned away from Islam – many in search of God.

3) A growing number of young evangelists, like Torben Sondergaard (The Last Reformation) and Werner Nachtigall (Global Outreach Day) are intentionally connecting evangelism with the immediate planting of house churches.

4) Several megachurches in the US feel called by God to be instrumental in the planting of house churches. Mission strategist Curtis Sergeant has created a web-based ‘simple church saturation’ project planning to plant one simple church for every 5,000 people in the US and for every 50,000 people globally with material currently available in at least 37 languages.

5) During the COVID19 lock-downs many traditional church members have been forced to engage in ‘stay-at-home-church’, and a significant percentage will continue in this mode. They organised themselves into neighbourhood churches in homes, sometimes with online input. These numbers are not yet fully researched but may be very significant. One thing is evident: the post-corona church will not be exactly the same as pre-corona-church.

6) A large percentage of the children of church-goers have said their farewell to ‘mum’s-and-dad’s church’ and are in search mode for community, values and lifestyles that are radically different. Abraham Piper for example, the son of famous US‐theologian John Piper, runs a TikTok account with more than 1.1 million followers where he is trying to deconstruct fundamentalist evangelical church culture in search of a new and non-religious framework for life. It is to be seen what forms of following Christ will emerge from this very explosive and creative global people group.

Source: Wolfgang Simson

Editorial note: Wolfgang Simson did not research house church networks empirically or scientifically. Such a research is fairly difficult, if not impossible, with organic small groups that in many countries operate under the radar. He used ‘informed estimations’ of ‘trusted insiders’. Obviously data from church leaders who estimate the size of their own movements, and don’t keep records (although many of the Indian movements track conversions and groups), are less reliable and can only be indicative. In the past Simson has exaggerated numbers, and on various occasions was not willing to provide the contacts of those he claimed to have spoken to. So it was not possible for Joel News to check these claims as thoroughly as we would like to. On a general note we can say: house church movements are surely one of fastest-growing segments of the church, and the drivers that Simson suggests are valid, but the exact numbers are debatable.

Germany: The secret behind 1,000 new house churches

One of the networks, Hoffnung Deutschland (Hope Germany), planted an estimated 1,000 communities in 20 years, which for Europe is quite remarkable.

When Joel News asked Marcus Rose, Hoffnung Deutschland’s founder based in Berlin, about the number of house churches in his network, he responded: “We crossed the 500 sometime in 2017, after which we stopped counting.” What also stands out is that most people in these house churches are new Christians. On the question how this remarkable growth happened, Rose remarked drily: “There are many reasons. The one I usually give is that we just never stopped doing the small things.”

Photo: Marcus Rose

In a podcast on missions he elaborated on this: “I always wonder why people ask me: ‘What is the secret of the growth around you?’ And I would say: probably the most important thing is that I would never ask myself that question! I consider growth in an individual’s life the necessary foundation for growth as churches. In 1 John 2:12-14 the Christian work is described as newborn babies who are supposed to become fathers with children of their own. The way to get there is by overcoming the evil one, by being so strong in Christ, his Word and the Spirit, that the world stops being the place where you get your answers from.”

‘Church is the most progressive institution in a country, with the power to transform’

“It’s a continuous process to encourage people on that track and to do it together, to put in their time, giftings and financial resources. The most important part of leadership is just observing: what do people already get from God, and how can we connect people with a similar vision?”

In another podcast, Rose shares his own life story – how he grew up in communist East Germany, and at age 15 had a personal encounter with Christ. When the Wall fell in 1989, even though he was still a teenager he contacted schools to ask if they were interested to replace the lessons on communism in the curriculum with the teachings of Jesus. This opened many doors, and 30 house churches were established.

Later on, in Thailand, like Jonah on the run from his calling, Rose discovered church as “the most progressive institution in a country, with the power to transform, because it brought together prostitutes and millionaires as new people in Christ.”

‘There was no formula, I simply connected with people I met’

Around 2000 he moved back to Germany with the explicit instruction from God to not work in the Christian scene, but to work under the radar, connecting with non-Christians and discipling them in the way of Christ. This was a challenge as East Germany was culturally atheist, almost immune to the Gospel. In the first three months in Berlin God gave Rose a kick-start with a handful of young people getting baptised. “There was no formula. I simply connected with people I met, showed genuine interest, told them I had come to Berlin to plant a church, and if they were open to continue the relationship, I got their number and followed up.”

It quickly spread to several other cities in Germany. Rose communicated from the start that his vision was to see communities started in every region and subculture, and for God to raise up 10,000 missionaries out of Germany.

Image: A visualisation of apostolic hubs and the explosive growth potential of house churches in regions and subcultures

From 2010 onwards the network developed what Rose calls “an apostolic pattern” that started to catalyse things. “God instructed us to divide Germany into 90 minute regions. The idea was that a German could get in his car or step on a train on a Saturday, drive 90 minutes to a place, do outreach there, mentor people, organise something, pray for sick people, do sports, make it a family trip. This is something that people dare to do, that feels very natural.”

‘Continuously ask God what He wants you to do’

Rose also helped new Christians to focus on what he calls ‘the three steps of spiritual planning’, as explained in a third podcast:

1. Ask God: what are the qualities He wants to establish in your life, and through your life in the world around you?
2. If you have security about that, then ask God how many of your resources (time, money) you should invest in that.
3. Then ask Him in which specific projects you should invest yourself.

“This creates an atmosphere in which people continuously ask God what He wants them to do. Not what the church expects of them, or what others might want them to do, but what God says.”

New Christians with an apostolic gifting receive personal coaching to start similar processes themselves in other regions and countries. This is how the multiplication takes place. Rose’s vision for the next years is to start and support 100 apostolic teams, with every team being unique in giftings and reach. Each team could support 100 house churches, reaching people Rose or the apostolic workers could never reach themselves.

Source: Marcus Rose, Hoffnung Deutschland

Small is the new big… Do you long to be part of this global movement? Consider supporting Simple Church Europe, a project of Dutch charity Joel Ministries. We equip Christians to start missional simple church groups in Europe that multiply.

See also

House Church: the fastest growing expression of church

Grassroots movements with no church buildings explode

Dinner Churches

House Churches, by Ian Freestone

House Churches in China (Barbara Nield)

China: how a mother started a house church movement

Laos: a church for the So

Joel News – Inspiring stories on the advance of God’s Kingdom around the globe today, delivered once a week in your mailbox. We cover all continents and serve mission-minded Christians in over 100 nations.


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