In my last article, I wrote about the difficulty your church will have finding a pastor in the future, especially if it is a small to medium sized church. In previous articles, I’ve written about why I couldn’t join most churches. With these kinds of problems, now it is time to write about How to Start a Home Church.

A Bible Believer’s Biggest Problem

Without a doubt, the largest number of emails, letters, and phone calls I’ve received over the past few years has been on the topic of finding a local church. I’ve literally received hundreds of these contacts, from all parts of the country. It isn’t just small towns, its big cities also. It isn’t just from secular-minded states, it is the Bible belt as well.

A decade ago, I would have just told these people that they were expecting too much, that there was no perfect church, that they should just join, serve, and make the church better. But a lot has changed in 10 years, both in church society and in my own belief system. I used to be a pragmatist, an “already/not yet” kingdom builder, a “pick and choose your Bible translation to suit your needs” preacher. I never went all-out for secular church-growth methods, but I certainly did my fair share of “whatever it takes” kind of leadership. And it worked. It worked because there are certain principles of group dynamics that attract crowds and keep them.

But now I loath manipulation. I can’t stand soft music that sets the “evangelistic” mood. I groan over yet-another-invitation to the Pastor’s leadership conferences. I get disgusted when churches have book studies that they call Bible studies. And I am so sick and tired of hearing sermons that abuse the Word of God (if they even use the Word of God.) I don’t have a problem with churches teaching about marriage or money or even how to win friends and influence people…but I don’t want the sermon or the Sunday School Bible Study class to be used for those things.

So, in short, I’m now sympathetic when people tell me they can’t find a church.

You might need a home church if…

There are legitimate reasons to start a home church. In fact, while I don’t know the immediate circumstances, my great-grandfather started a church in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1944, a church that still exists today (I am one of 62 great-grandchildren of Frank W. Garber). I am almost certain that he, along with my grandparents and other family members, started the church for doctrinal reasons. They were from the Brethren Church, and doubtless wanted like-minded fellowship in their worship.

Like my great-grandfather, you might need a home church.

  • If doctrine matters to you, you might need a home church.
  • If fellowship with like-minded believers matters to you, you might need a home church.
  • If the study of the Word matters to you, you might need a home church.
  • If yet another “awesome” program of dazzle and glitter makes you roll your eyes, you might need a home church.
  • If you’re not interested in a multi-gazillion dollar building program, you might need a home church.
  • If you’ve grown weary of perfect music by hired musicians or plastic-smiled primadonnas, you might need a home church.
  • If you’ve been kicked out of your church (“Brother, we think you would be more comfortable somewhere else”) because you asked too many questions, you might need a home church.
  • If your pastor doesn’t know your name, and never will, you might need a home church.

Each of these issues is often problematic in today’s show-biz church environment (though almost every church denies that it is a problem, and many of the people in the pew don’t get it).

So, if you need a home church, what should you do?

Steps to starting a home church

First, don’t start a home church, yet. Rather, start a home Bible study. Meet together on a regular basis for the simple (yet transforming) study of the Word. Don’t take an offering. Don’t elect any leadership. Don’t set a budget. Just meet and study God’s Word. If you want to get fancy, serve cake.

If this home Bible study begins to have some cohesion, it may be time to transform the Bible study into a church. But a church needs to be under some kind of spiritual authority, preferably of another church. Is there a church somewhere, anywhere, that holds the same doctrine as your group? Would this church become the sponsoring church for your new group? Don’t look for a church that will take you as a satellite (leave that business to N.A.S.A.), but look for a church that will take you as a sponsor to provide spiritual and practical guidance. That sponsor church should be committed to your future independence and should desire that independence as soon as possible.

Here’s what the sponsoring church can provide:

  • Help with setting doctrinal parameters.
  • Help with teaching materials (the best would be video or other recordings from the Pastor, possibly even having the Pastor join the group on a regular basis via Skype or other video technology).
  • Help with the creation of leadership guidelines.
  • Help with bookkeeping or other financial or legal issues.
  • Help with eventually calling a Pastor.

Notice that what wasn’t included in the list is financial assistance. I am convinced that a new church almost never needs the financial help of the sponsoring church, denomination, or church-planting agency. In fact, such help can be detrimental to the church’s future (and a waste of hard-earned dollars). If there is a financial need that must be covered and cannot be covered by those meeting in the home, the sponsoring church might consider it, but it would and should be rare.

Why is a sponsoring church necessary?

I am a firm believer that churches start churches. If you want more on the problem of church planters starting churches or denominations starting churches, read my article called Evaluating the Church Planting Movement: The Failure Nobody Is Talking About.

When you have a sponsoring church, you have placed yourself under spiritual authority. This is good for the future of the church. Without this, it is very possible that a few strong personalities in the new congregation could quickly change the D.N.A. of the church. Just like a baby needs parents, a baby church needs a parent also. The sponsoring church can use its loving expertise to guide the church through its most important days.

How to approach a sponsoring church

If your home Bible study did not have a sponsoring church from the start (most will not), then approach a sponsor as early in the process as you can see that this fellowship has potential to become a church.

Here’s the homework that your group should do before approaching the church-

  • Does the potential sponsor have a solid doctrinal statement, in writing?
  • Does the potential sponsor adhere to their own statement?
  • Is this the kind of church we would want to be members of?
  • Does the church have a pastor who would love your group and invest his energies and expertise into your wellbeing?
  • Does the church have a willingness to release you when you are fully capable of continuing in an independent manner?

I wish it didn’t have to be said, but beware of sponsoring churches and pastors who may want to use your group to gain money, notoriety, or property.

If you have a church in mind, after doing your homework, then contact the Pastor (i.e.: the guy who preaches on Sunday). Schedule a time to visit (face-to-face, if possible) and ask that Pastor to pray about the matter and approach his own church about this matter. Recognize that this may take weeks or months to accomplish, and don’t rush the process. Small home fellowships can move much more quickly than established congregations and should beware of insisting the sponsor church move more quickly than it is able.

In the end, what you want is a sponsoring church that will guide the founding days of your fellowship until you are able to independently call a pastor and support the ministry. The sponsoring church won’t be giving you funding (that will come from your own members) but will be protecting you from the wolves that would like to sweep in and take your home fellowship and create their own empire.

May God bless those who start home Bible studies which become churches which help make disciples of all nations.

My next article: Why Church Planting Should Not Be Funded

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