Taking church from pews to couches

By: Taashi Rowe/ANN
Date: 10/29/07
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Heather and Ken Raymond lead a Bible study in their family room. Three years ago the retirees sold their home in Melbourne, Australia and moved to Mornington Peninsula where there were no Adventist churches. [Photo courtesy of Heather and Ken Raymond]

People meeting for prayer and Bible study in the home of Stevanus Wijaya, a businessman in Jakarta. The Bible studies soon turned into a full-fledged church. [Photo courtesy of Stevanus Wijaya]

Peter Roenfeldt, former director of Church Planting & Evangelism for the Adventist Church in the Trans-European region, says one of the reasons people are moving toward home churches is "a strong desire to return to 'original' Christianity."[Photo courtesy of the British Union Conference]

Elizabeth Carter joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church two months ago after attending a home church in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Born into the Roman Catholic Church, Carter started attending the home service after working with the pastor on community service projects.

"It's very informal and very relaxed and more like a group of friends sitting around talking. They just happened to be talking about God," Carter says of her experience at Adventist Pastor Andrew Clark's home.

While it is unclear how many churches operate in homes, Clark is in the company of a growing number of people who read the Bible, pray and share their personal struggles -- often without a pastor -- from a couch instead of a church pew.

Offering more closeness and nurture are reasons why home churches are growing in the Adventist faith, says Peter Roennfeldt, a 30-year veteran church planter based in Melbourne, Australia.

"Some of our churches are not as relational as they should be," Roennfeldt says. "With home churches there is a real focus on Bible reading and taking the church back into the neighborhood of friends."

"More and more Adventists are really going back and searching the scriptures to see what church was in the New Testament time."

Many churches, Roennfeldt says, have become complex and time consuming and some congregants are looking for another model for witnessing.

Last year, religion pollster George Barna estimated that about 20 million adults attend a house church gathering each week in the United States. And in a February, 2006 Time magazine article titled "Why Home Churches Are Filling Up," Allan Karr, a professor at the Rocky Mountain campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, guessed that "three out of 10 churches founded today are simple."

The exact number of Adventist home churches remain vague because, as Roennfeldt says, "people don't look for permission to start a home church. They simply start and so sometimes home churches are below the radar."

Marti Schneider, director of programming for the Office of Adventist Mission, says she thinks there are very few Adventist home churches in North America.

Though Adventists might not be rushing from the pews to their couches, there are Adventist church organizations that see home churches as an important part of the church's evangelistic toolbox.

Some home churches eventually make the transition to a typical "church" setting.

Stevanus Wijaya, an Adventist businessman in Jakarta, Indonesia, started giving Bible studies with members of the Chinese community in his home in 2001. While relying on informal coaching from volunteer pastors the church has grown to about 200 members and now meets as the Mt. Moriah Adventist Church in a traditional church building.

With 80 percent of his members new converts to Adventism, Wijaya says he was careful to "consult the leader in the conference [and church pastors] if there were any questions on doctrine that I couldn't answer."

Three years ago the church's Georgia-Cumberland region in the United States made provisions to incorporate home churches into the traditional church structure. There are now about a dozen home churches in that area.

While meeting in homes with guidance from an Adventist pastor, they still decide meeting structure and lead their own services.

Ed Wright, president for the region, says financial constraints helped push the conference toward embracing home churches.

"If we really believe that lay people are spiritually gifted for ministry, we should utilize and celebrate their gifts," Wright says.

Critics have said home churches can lead to isolation from the world church denomination and straying from Biblical teachings.

Schneider understands the concerns and supports the Georgia-Cumberland region's approach to home churches.

"We should create a structure to receive them [home churches] and find ways to connect with them," she says.



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