The common meal could occur before or after a meeting in which worship, teachings and spiritual gifts are shared. It is up to each individual house church to determine its format, and formats can vary from gathering to gathering of the same house church.
It is very clear from Scripture that the early church gatherings were quite different from modern institutional church services. In particular, 1 Corinthians 11-14 gives us an abundance of insight into what happened when the early Christians gathered, and there isn’t any reason to think that the same format cannot and should not be followed today. It is also clear that what occurred in the early church gatherings described by Paul could only have happened in small group settings. What Paul described could not have occurred logistically in a large meeting.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t understand all that Paul wrote within those four chapters of 1 Corinthians. However, it seems obvious that the most outstanding characteristic of the gatherings described in 1 Corinthians 11-14 was the Holy Spirit’s presence among them and His manifestation through members of the body. He gave gifts to individuals for the edification of the entire body.
Paul lists at least nine spiritual gifts: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, discerning of spirits, gifts of healings, faith, and working of miracles. He does not state that all of these gifts were manifested at every gathering, but certainly implies the possibility of their operation and seems to summarize some of the more common manifestations of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 14:26:
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Let’s consider all five of these common manifestations, and in a later chapter more thoroughly consider the nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
First on the list is the psalm. Spirit-given psalms are mentioned by Paul in two of his other letters to churches, underscoring their place in Christian gatherings.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:18-19).
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).
The difference between psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is unclear, but the primary point is that all are based on Christ’s words, are Spirit-inspired, and should be sung by believers to teach and admonish one another. Certainly many of the hymns and choruses that believers have sung throughout church history would fall into one of those categories. Unfortunately, too many modern hymns and choruses lack biblical depth, indicating they were not Spirit-given, and because they are so shallow, have no real value to teach and admonish believers. Nevertheless, believers who gather in house churches should expect that the Spirit will not only inspire individual members to lead well-known Christian songs, old and new, but will also give special songs to some of the members that can be utilized for the common edification. Indeed, how special it is for churches to have their own Spirit-given songs!