For millions of Christians, attending church is a thing of the past. They are among the growing ranks of church “dropouts” — those who choose to stay home rather than waste time and energy on a church that, in their estimation, no longer represents Christ or has ceased to be relevant in their lives. In her controversial book Quitting Church, Julia Duin documents this ongoing trend in which those who seek a genuine spiritual experience are opting out of “organized” religion. “Something is not right with church life,” she writes. “It’s no secret that the percentage of Americans in church on any given Sunday is dropping fast…. The problem seems to be the church itself…. [Churchgoers] have given up on the institution” (p. 18). This “exodus of desperation” has been a long time in the making, and is accelerating at an alarming pace. Duin estimates that 78 million Protestants are now church dropouts (p. 20). What’s behind all the empty pews? Churchgoers are troubled by what they see—political infighting, corruption and abuse, watered-down doctrines. Increasingly, organized religion is seen as irrelevant in today’s world. Duin suggests that many churchgoers are simply not being pastored. “Often, ministers are out of touch with what’s happening on the ground … [and fail to address] the serious problems many [Christians] face” (p. 23).
Overall, churchgoers are disappointed by what they consider to be a lack of genuine spirituality — and they are deeply concerned that worldliness is making serious inroads into the church. Young people in particular are turning away from church in record numbers. The result: millions of believers are abandoning mega-churches for home-based mini-churches. In his book Revolution, researcher George Barna writes that a new kind of Christian is emerging out of the established church. He says these are serious believers — “devout followers of Jesus Christ [who] are repudiating tepid systems and practices of the Christian faith…. They have no use for churches that play religious games” (pp. 7, 11). In 2000, according to Barna’s research, 70 percent of Americans expressed their faith through traditional church attendance; only five percent did so in an alternative setting. But based on current trends, Barna expects the number of those seeking an alternative church experience to rise by 2025 to 30 percent—with a corresponding drop in traditional attendance (p. 49). The “alternative church” includes house churches (see I Cor. 16:19), small-group studies, coffeehouse groups — even homeschooling groups. Homeschoolers figured out a long time ago that they didn’t want their kids exposed to a dysfunctional, corrupt educational system. Why should church be any different? If it just isn’t working, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere — even if that means leaving organized Christianity. For Christians looking to form a home-based mini-church, here are some practical considerations: 1) Start fresh by looking to God for direction — diligently studying the Bible to “prove all things” (I Thess. 5:21). Avoid replicating the same problems that led you to leave organized Christianity. 2) Realize that you are the church. The true church isn’t made of bricks and mortar; it isn’t identified by corporate organizations. The church is the spiritual body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27). 3) Don’t let your house church become a social club. Meeting in homes creates an informal atmosphere, which is good. But keep it organized and on target — or it will become just another feel-good social gathering with little spiritual value. 4) It is inevitable that someone will assume a leading role within the group. But that person should not be allowed to “lord over” fellow believers (Mark 10:42-43). No man should stand between you and God — Jesus alone is our mediator! 5) There will be a need for those qualified to teach the Bible. Small-group leaders often have little training in teaching, and this presents a real problem for those seeking Bible-centered fellowship outside the traditional church setting. One solution is to rely on educational materials produced by Internet ministries. Again, be diligent to “prove all things.” As a fellowship, work together to check up on any support ministry you may be considering. As you step out in faith to form a new home-based fellowship (or join an existing one), strive to keep God at the center of your efforts. Pay special attention to honoring and obeying Him in everything. Worship Him in spirit and in truth and He will indeed bless you with peace of mind and genuine spiritual growth! P.N. www.churchathome.org