Those who lead house churches are responsible for more than simply organizing good meetings.
Jesus trusts mature believers to take responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of those in their care.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
— 1 Peter 5:1–4
What makes house churches grow? How do you keep them healthy as they grow? How do you know when it's time to multiply?
Learn how to keep your finger on the pulse of what God is doing in your house church & join Him in His work.
God Does the Growing.
Jesus builds His church.
Matthew 16:18 – . . . on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
God adds people to the church.
Acts 2:47b – . . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 5:14 – Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
God causes the Body of Christ to grow.
Colossians 2:19 – They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
God removes people from the church and even shuts down dead churches.
John 15:1–2 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Revelation 2:5 – Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place
God moves sheep as He wills.
John 3:26–27 – They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.
Not everyone who comes to you is given by God.
At the end of Jesus’ ministry, all the crowds deserted Him, and yet He was able to pray, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. . . . None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction [Judas] so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:6, 12).
Ask the Lord who is your responsibility and who is not.
While Jesus is present even with only two people present, we think of that sort of meeting as mentoring or discipleship. But as more gather, a church begins to take shape.
We generally find that 5–7 people is the "critical mass" needed for a house church to begin to thrive. For this reason, we generally like to send three to four people who are already part of Roots to help new house churches launch. We call this a "seed group," and such people commit to participate in the new house church for six months to a year, helping to establish culture and community as new disciples are made.
10–15 people is an ideal church size. But if the church is healthy, it won't remain this size for long. Now is the time to start thinking about multiplication. Identify a co-pastor who will apprentice you to learn how to lead a house church. Begin giving them responsibilities and opportunities to lead the meeting.
When a house church reaches about twenty people, the introverts in the group tend to shut down. Only the most outspoken then tend to participate in the house church meeting. If the group does not send out people to start a new house church, then sheep will be lost as the group inevitably contracts down to a more manageable size. And in some cases, this can even lead to the death of a house church.
Plans and insights for multiplication can be found in the following section.
MULTIPLYING HOUSE CHURCHES
Jesus sent His disciples to make disciples who make disciples.
As the number of people increases, the number of meetings must also grow if gatherings are to remain interactive and personal.
House Churches Multiply as we Multiply DISCIPLES
Jesus didn’t tell His followers to plant churches. He commissioned them to make disciples. And as the disciples went out and preached, Jesus built His church.
House churches are not institutions. They are small collections of disciples, shepherded by a trusted elder in the faith, and united together with the rest of the body of Christ, both regionally and globally.
Therefore, if we devote ourselves to making disciples, we will naturally produce new house churches.
“If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”
(Mike Breen. Building a Discipling Culture. 3DM, 2011. Chapter 1. Kindle Edition.)
“We were commanded to make disciples, not plant churches. Churches being planted should happen because we are making disciples. If you have taken a logic reasoning class in school you will learn that this process is a classic if-then statement, IF you make disciples, THEN you will have a church-plant. The reverse is not true though. If you have a church-plant, then you have disciples. It doesn’t work that way and is logically flawed.”
(Trinity Jordan. Jesus Never Said to Plant Churches. Influence Resources, 2012. Chapter 2. Kindle Edition.)
“We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause. If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professionals provide.”
(Mike Breen. Building a Discipling Culture. 3DM, 2011. Chapter 1. Kindle Edition.)
Clarifying the Work
Identify the elders among us
As we aim to make disciples together, it’s important to recognize who the mature believers in our network are. And within that group, we then need to identify the ones who seem to have a gift on their life for shepherding others, even if they’re not yet ready to step into that goal.
Authors Jim Rutz and Rad Zdero agree that approximately one in ten believers has a pastoral gift on their life, which is perfect for multiplying small groups like house churches. As a network, we are always looking for people who seem to carry such gifting, and we invite those people to attend our monthly house church pastor gatherings as soon as possible.
Each house church pastor should actively watch for one or two people in their group who seem to have God’s hand on their life for leadership. Purposeful steps should then be taken to mentor these future pastors, even giving them opportunities to lead the meeting. When the time comes to multiply, these ones will be ready to shepherd a new house church.
Identify who God is highlighting to shepherd a group
When planting a new house church, it’s important to identify from the beginning who will be shepherding that group. With help from the sending house church and the Equipping Team, this person can be mentored and resourced in the new endeavor.
Even if the plan is to reach a new area and raise up a leader from among the new converts, this process generally takes at least 9–12 months, so a mature believer is needed from the beginning to shepherd the new church for at least that long.
It is important to handle this process with prophetic guidance. Prayer and fasting were part of Paul and Barnabas’s process for setting up elders in all the new churches throughout Galatia (Acts 14:23). Wisdom and prophetic insight should work together to help identify who God seems to be highlighting to shepherd the new work.
Identify a seed group of two or three committed people
Whenever possible, Roots Church likes to send a “seed group” of two or three Mission Partners in our network who will commit to attend the new church plant for at least the first six months. This allows the new group to launch with a head start toward reaching critical mass, and it ensures new believers enter into an established culture.
The new house church pastor is encouraged to hand-select two or three people to be in their seed group. If he or she is struggling to find people who wish to join them, the opportunity can be made known throughout the network to see if anyone else feels led to participate.
Whenever someone expresses a desire to join a seed group, their current pastor and the new pastor should communicate about whether there are any concerns. Some people can drain a new work more than they help. It’s one thing to “let the wheat grow up with the tares” (Matthew 13:30), but it’s another thing to deliberately welcome grown “tares” into a new work. The final decision lies with the new pastor and who they want to be on their team.
If there are concerns about a person’s character that would keep them from multiplying God’s kingdom, then that person needs to be addressed about those things in love. If anyone is turned away from a seed group, they should understand why.
Identify the mission field
New house churches need to be clear about their mission field. Without this component, house churches can turn inward and miss many opportunities to reach local people and multiply the kingdom.
Ideal mission fields might be a neighborhood, an apartment complex, a workplace, a high school or college, a nearby immigrant population or homeless community, etc. The target field should be large enough that there will be ample opportunities to reach out over a long period of time but small enough that the task is reasonable for a house church to manage.
With an established leader, a seed group, and a target mission field clarified, leaders in our network can now come alongside the group to strategize ways to reach this new community with a missional house church.
Every house church in the Roots Church network needs to be able to identify their shared mission field. This field is either where they’re making new disciples and integrating them into their own house church, or it is where they’re actively reaching out together to make disciples and intentionally plant a new house church.