House Church: Skip the sermon, worship at home

OneNewsNowLinda Stewart Ball - Associated Press Writer

DALLAS - To get to church on a recent Sunday morning, the Yeldell family walked no farther than their own living room to greet fellow worshippers.

The members of this "house church" are part of what experts say is a fundamental shift in the way U.S. Christians think about church. Skip the sermons, costly church buildings and large, faceless crowds, they say. House church is about relationships forged in small faith communities.

In general, house churches consist of 12 to 15 people who share what's going on in their lives, often turning to Scriptures for guidance. They rely on the Holy Spirit or spontaneity to lead the direction of their weekly gatherings.

"I think part of the appeal for some in the house church movement is the desire to return to a simpler expression of church," said Ed Stetzer, a seminary professor and president of Lifeway Research, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. "For many, church has become too much (like a) business while they just want to live like the Bible."

House church proponents claim their small groups are sort of a throwback to the early Christian church in that they have no clergy and everyone is expected to contribute to the teaching, singing and praying.

They are more commonly seen in countries where Christianity is not the dominant religion. Organizers say they're just starting to take off in the U.S.

A study by the Barna Group, a firm specializing in data on religion and society, estimates that 6 million to 12 million Americans attend house churches. A survey last year by the Pew Forum found that 9 percent of American Protestants only attended home services.

"The only consistent thing about house church is that each one is different," said Robin Yeldell, who, in 2006, left a traditional church where he was a missions committee chairman.

The gathering at the Yeldell's home is a lively, sometimes chaotic event, with noisy and mostly happy young children flitting about.

After a time of fellowship, everyone gravitates to the kitchen table to observe the Eucharist with prayer, pinched-off pieces of sourdough bread and red wine in plastic cups. There's grape juice for the kids.

The celebration continues with a potluck meal. When they return to the living room, one member picks up a guitar to strum praise-and-worship songs that others softly sing.

Sparked by a previous discussion about whether they should start collecting an offering for the needy, Yeldell shares a Power Point presentation he created about "corporate giving" on his big screen TV.