How to Transition from Institution to House Church

Most likely, the majority of pastors who are reading this are working within the structures of institutional churches, and perhaps you, dear reader, are one of them. If I’ve touched a chord within you that longs for the kind of church I’ve been describing, then you are already wondering how you can make the transition. Let me encourage you to take your time. Start by teaching only biblical truth and doing whatever you can within the framework of your existing structure to make disciples who obey Jesus’ commandments. True disciples are much more likely to want to make the transition to a biblical church structure as they understand it. Goats and religious people are much more likely to resist any such transitions.

Second, study what Scripture says on the subject and teach your congregation about house church structures and their inherent blessings. You could eventually cancel your midweek or Sunday evening church service to begin weekly cell meetings in homes overseen by mature believers. Encourage everyone to attend. Increasingly pattern those meetings to follow the format of the biblical model of house churches as closely as possible. Then, allow time for the people to begin to fully enjoy the blessings of their small group.

Once most everyone is enjoying the home meetings, you might announce that a certain Sunday in the next month is going to be “Early Church Sunday.” That Sunday, the church building will be closed and everyone will go to homes to meet just like the early church did, enjoying a full meals together, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, prayer, worship, shard teaching and spiritual gifts. If it is a success, you could start having such meetings one Sunday of every month, then eventually two Sundays, and then three Sundays. Eventually, you could release every group to be an independent house church, free to grow and multiply, and perhaps come together for larger meetings once every couple of months.

This whole transition process I’ve described could take from one to two years.

Or, if you want to go even more cautiously, you could begin just one home gathering with a few of your most interested members that you lead yourself. (Again, house churches don’t have to meet on Sunday mornings.) It could be presented as an experiment and would certainly be a learning experience for all.

If it succeeds, then appoint an overseer and release the group to become an independent church that would only join the institutional Sunday service once per month. That way the new church would still be a part of the mother church, and would not be viewed so negatively by those still within the institutional congregation. That could also help influence others within the church to consider being part of another house church being planted by the institutional church.

If the first group grows, prayerfully divide it so that both groups have good leaders and sufficient gifts within their members. Both groups could meet together in a larger celebration on agreed-upon occasions, perhaps once a month or once every three months.

Regardless of the path you take, keep your eye on the goal even through the disappointments, of which there will likely be a few. House churches consist of people, and people cause problems. Don’t give up.

It is highly unlikely that everyone in your entire institutional church congregation will make such a transition, so you would have to decide at what point you will personally begin to devote yourself completely to a house church or group of house churches, leaving the institution behind. That will be a significant day for you!