How to Start a House Church

Partnering with Jesus as He builds His Church.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” 

Acts 2:1–2

ON THIS PAGE:

 
Intro to
House Churches

In this introductory video, we'll explain the basics of "house churches" as we understand them.

This teaching helps make sense of everything else we teach about house churches, so be sure to watch this first, even if you think you already have a decent grasp on the subject.

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If you've not already read through our "What's a House Church" page, it may be helpful to you as it contains some of the material from the video but in written form.

House Churches Are Unique

​What's the difference between house churches and all the various other forms of small group ministry that churches operate?

 

The following is a description of various forms of small group ministry and what makes house churches unique:

  • Bible Studies
    • Whether part of an organized church or just a meeting among friends or family, Bible Studies generally unite for the sole purpose of studying the Scriptures and perhaps prayer for one another.

    • There is typically an agreed-upon text or a book study that guides the discussion.

    • Generally such meetings are facilitated by a designated leader, but some people may gather less formally and allow a curriculum of some sort to guide them.

    • Such meetings are sometimes marked with a start date and end date, generally dictated by the intended length of the study.

  • Small Groups (or “Life Groups,” “Community Groups,” etc.)
    • Many church organizations have found that large Sunday gatherings are insufficient to foster meaningful relationships among people, so they implement a small group ministry.

    • Small groups generally gather in homes but may possibly be facilitated in restaurants, coffee shops, office spaces, or classrooms at a church building.

    • The emphases of such meetings are generally fellowship, guided discussion, and prayer.

    • In most cases, a small group leader is appointed to lead discussion and facilitate the schedule.

    • Discussion is generally guided—sometimes following a book or curriculum, or perhaps following a list of discussion questions written by the main church’s lead pastor.

  • Affinity Groups
    • Some Bible studies or small groups are: 

      • gender-specific (men’s breakfast, women’s ministry, etc.), 

      • age-specific (youth group, senior citizens ministry, etc.), or 

      • interest-specific (crafting group, hunting group, camping group, homeschool moms group, etc.)

    • These affinity-based groups can be great for inviting friends with shared interests or from shared walks of life, but they are rarely capable of reaching and making disciples of whole families.

  • Cell Groups
    • Cell churches appear like typical churches, generally having a building or at least centering around a weekly large gathering. But such churches also have a robust and intentional small group ministry that is highly organized. 

    • The main church has a pastor, and his or her ministry is spread to “cells”—easily replicated small groups where people discuss material recommended by the main pastor. 

    • Cell groups often follow an in-house curriculum, which may be built on the pastor’s Sunday message or anything else the pastor recommends.

    • Some of the largest churches in the world follow this cell model. It tends to thrive best in cultures where people are used to following directions from strong leaders.

  • Friend Groups
    • In a completely informal sense, there are indeed friend groups who gather irregularly simply to enjoy each other but also include a spiritual component to their time together. While they may not think of themselves as a “small group ministry,” they do minister to each other in the context of a “small group.” 

    • While components of “church” may indeed happen in such informal gatherings—perhaps a spontaneous time of singing together, discussion about the Bible, a spiritual gift or two, and even prayer—the irregular schedule of such meetings and the fact that they are not purposeful (and therefore might be nothing more than a hangout or game night) make them a poor substitute for a purposeful church meeting.

  • House Churches
    • House churches are regular, self-contained (though ideally networked), self-replicating gatherings of believers in homes where every believer is a minister and where a dedicated local “pastor” takes biblical responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of the people in the group.

      • Regular: House churches meet at least weekly.

      • Self-contained: Each house church is a full expression of Christianity, which means if someone only ever attends house church and never a larger meeting, they are adequately obeying the Biblical command to gather with other believers.

      • Self-replicating: Each house church is not merely a “spoke” attached to the “hub” of the group that spawned it. Each house church is a potential “hub.” Every healthy house church contains the capacity to raise up new leaders and start new house churches.

    • Not Bible Studies: House churches study the Bible, but unlike “Bible Studies,” they do not follow a fixed curriculum or other book, they are not classes taught by a leader, and they invite insights and revelations from every person in the meeting.

    • Not Small Groups: House churches fellowship and pray like small groups, but their discussion time is not guided with fixed questions or talking points. 

      • Most weeks, the house church pastor doesn’t know what the topic of conversation will be that night—only what he or she will briefly share. 

      • According to 1 Corinthians 14:26, every believer in the meeting has something from the Spirit to contribute, and all of these things must be done.

      • The goal of the meeting is to identify what Jesus is communicating to the entire group through what everyone shares, and then meaningfully respond to it.

    • Not Affinity Groups: House churches may contain people who join because of shared interests (like “Affinity Groups”), but those shared interests are not the point of the group—in fact, those shared interests may never even come up in the house church meeting. The only “shared interests” discussed are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they are revealed to us in the Bible.

    • Not Cell Groups: House churches ideally network together (like “Cell Churches”) for greater organizational impact, but unlike cell groups, there is no “lead pastor” dictating the weekly topic of discussion. Instead, each house church pastor exercises his or her own God-given wisdom in shepherding the sheep Jesus has entrusted to them.

    • Not Friend Groups: While house churches are comprised of friends who hopefully spend time together outside of scheduled house church meetings, they are more deliberate about pursuing God together than any ordinary friend group. House churches gather weekly with a dedicated focus on ministering to each other, learning from each other, praying for each other, and loving Jesus together. And such churches include intentional friendships with people we might otherwise never associate with.

House churches are a complete expression of “church.”

In the healthiest house churches, we have communion, worship, prayer, fellowship, spiritual gifts, evangelistic outreaches, baptism, and biblical instruction. We live life together beyond a weekly meeting. We are not just friends in our gatherings but throughout the week.

If you currently have a Bible Study that you'd like to convert into a house church, this document will provide a curriculum to aid in the the transition.

 
PLANTING
House Churches

It's not difficult to start a house church when Jesus is doing all the heavy lifting. He brings the people, the power, and the purpose.

 

Our job is to create an environment where Jesus wants to entrust His sheep. His job is to build His church.

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Ways to Start a House Church:

In the Roots House Church Network, we have two types of house churches: official and unofficial. Unofficial house churches are welcome to participate in all our ministries, including Encounter Nights, Pastor gatherings, events, prayer meetings, the Roots School of Ministry, and more. Official house churches, however, also benefit from our insurance policy, shared benevolence, children's curriculum, and more.

The main reason we did this is to remove all the "red tape" from multiplying house churches. We don't want to slow down God's activity among us by telling people they can't make disciples in their home. Instead, we encourage anyone with a desire to plant a church. If God is in it, He will bless it.

Below you'll find three recommended ways to launch a house church. Two of them can happen anywhere and at anytime though anyone. The third is a way our local house church network teams together to help form new house churches faster and bring them to health in a shorter period of time.

  • Evangelistic Launch
    • How to do it:

      • Lead somebody to Jesus, baptize them, and start meeting with them regularly for discipleship

      • Make part of the discipleship process leading a friend or family member to Jesus, and invite that person to join you. Baptize them.

      • Continue this process, encouraging those present to share Jesus with their friends and invite them to join the meeting.

      • Once you have three or four people, start talking about what a “church” is. Tell them that these regular meetings are real, biblical church gatherings. Introduce communion.

    • Pros:

      • Little-to-no previous church experience to influence expectations or meanings of words.

      • New disciples are being made, making this one of the most rewarding ways to plant a church.

      • A culture of disciple-making is set, which means this church is likely to multiply quickly.

      • People tend to find it easy to see you as their pastor because you’re the one who introduced them to Jesus.

    • Cons:

      • Culture must be built from the ground up.

      • Reaching the “critical mass” of about 5-7 people is slow and sometimes difficult, making this the hardest way to start a church (though not impossible).

 

  • Friendship Launch
    • How to do it:

      • Find three to five Christian friends (perhaps coworkers, family, or neighbors) who are interested in the idea of starting a house church.

      • Talk about what a healthy house church looks like.

        • You may want to use the outline from our class “Intro to House Churches” to guide the discussion, or simply use the outline in the Multiplication Playbook for how to turn a Bible Study into a House Church.

      • Meet with them regularly.

      • Encourage them to invite their friends.

        • Baptize new converts.

    • Pros:

      • Participants already love Jesus and have some experience with Christianity and familiarity with the Bible.

      • It’s easy to start with a critical mass of about 5-7 people.

    • Cons:

      • People come with “church baggage” in the form of hurts, concerns, doctrines (for better or worse), and cultural expectations related to “church.”

      • Christian friends may have a difficult time seeing you as their pastor. You’ll need to go out of your way to serve, love, encourage, and pray for them.

      • You’ll likely need to work hard to transition people into a disciple-making mindset and begin evangelizing.

  • Official Launch (with Roots Church)
    • How to do it:

      • Be a “Mission Partner” (member) of Roots Church.

      • Talk to your house church pastor about your desire to start a house church. Ask for advice.

      • Your house church pastor will communicate with our network leadership about the new church plant, and we can communicate to our network (if needed) to see who wants to be part of a “Seed Group” and help you launch.

        • A “Seed Group” is 3 to 5 Mission Partners from Roots Church who commit to participate in the regular meetings of the new house church for 6 to 12 months.

        • This group ensures that the new church starts with the critical mass needed for newcomers to be instantly immersed in an established culture.

    • Pros:

      • Critical mass (about 5-7 people) is already established, which means newcomers feel like they’re joining something healthy.

      • Culture is already established (because of the Roots Church Mission Partners in the Seed Group).

      • Roots Church recognizes you as a pastor, making it easier to step into that role and serve people accordingly.

      • People have an easier time seeing the group as a legitimate church because of the organizational affiliation.

      • You have a network of relationships cheering you on, backing you up, and resourcing your new church.

      • Your house church is covered by our network’s insurance policy.

    • Cons:

      • You’ll need to be purposeful about being evangelistic and not simply settle for the small, established group that already exists.

  • Tips that are true in all cases:
    • Focus on your own relationship with God before you worry about everyone else’s.

      • Matthew 7:3–5 – “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

      • Your ministry can become a distraction from your walk with Jesus. Never let ministry replace relationship with the Lord.

        • Guard your walk with God.

      • You can’t take people where you haven’t been.

    • Pray for all the people involved in your house church (you don’t have to be a pastor!).

    • Connect with people outside of house church meetings.

    • Be open, honest, and authentic.

      • You might as well be transparent because people will see through you anyway.

Four Strategies to Launch:

Open Bible Study 

Language matters. In some cultures, it may be easier to invite people for a “Bible study” than it is to invite them to a “house church.” Invite people to study the life of Jesus in one of the four Gospels.

 

Matthew is great for sharing Jesus with Jewish people. Mark is great for introducing people to Jesus for the first time. Luke is fantastic for intellectuals and those who have started walking with Jesus but need to follow Him more fully. And John is great for prompting in-dept conversations about Christian spirituality.

 

After working your way through one of these Gospels (when in doubt, choose Mark), use the recommended curriculum for “Turning a Bible Study into a House Church.”

 

Story Party 

Especially during months with good weather, a great way to start things is with a weekly “Story Party.” Invite people for a meal. Everyone is invited to attend the first time empty-handed. But after that first visit, people are only allowed to attend if they bring (1) a new person, (2) a dish to pass, or (3) a story to tell.

 

Story parties are all about getting to know each other. The believers present should coordinate the stories they intend to tell. One of them should share their personal testimony or part of their personal testimony each week. The others should share stories from the Bible that help convey who Jesus is. Listen to other people’s stories first and then share your own.

 

After about 4-10 weeks of such gatherings, the pastor should make a strong evangelistic appeal and invite people to a new church in their house. Since the gathering began around a meal, weekly meals should continue. The difference is that not just any story is shared at future gatherings. The purpose will now be to worship God, study the Bible, and follow Jesus together.

 

Immediate Church 

Sometimes the best thing to do is start with exactly what we intend to do long-term. Members of the community can be invited to a house church meeting, and the pastor and "seed group" can begin formally meeting immediately.

 

In these scenarios, generally converts need to be made outside the gathering and then invited to the church meeting.

 

Creative Approach 

The above options are merely ideas. Feel free to think outside the box with help from the Holy Spirit. Any creative ideas are great, provided there’s a clear pathway to establishing a church.

House Church Best Practices

Get a head start on a healthy house church with insights from well over a decade of prayerful "trial and error."

This advice is offered with the understanding that different cultures may require different methods.

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Facilitating a high-quality house church discussion is a bit of an art form. These best-practices will help you create meetings where love is shown and Jesus is glorified.

House church meetings aren't the place for long teachings where one person does most of the talking. But if your gift is teaching, you need to teach! Here's how.

Children matter, and we have a responsibility to introduce them to Jesus. This document will help you effectively minister to the children who come to your house church.

While every house church in our network is unique, there are some principles that we try to maintain for healthy and effective meetings. (See also our "Core Values").