House church was a foreign concept for me until a couple years ago. I had heard such a thing mentioned in passing, but we have buildings for that in my time and place. I’d never attended a house church service before we hosted our first one. Home Bible studies, sure, but not this.
Maybe you’ve found yourself living in an area where there isn’t a congregation you can assemble with, your existing building is being painted or repaired, or maybe you are church planting and haven’t gotten to an official structure yet. Whatever the reason, I hope this post helps. This isn’t so much about organizing a congregation to meet in a home as it is how to manage the logistics.
It was a challenge, and it was worth it. I am a preacher’s wife who holds a full time job, and it is possible. Difficult, but possible. If you are married, I highly recommend that not only do both of you agree to this adventure, but that you share in preparing for it.
Hosting house church should be a team sport. While the husband is the head of the household, we wives are more domestically minded (usually). It’s a good idea to consider together what boundaries you need for your particular situation and specifics for seating and all. Share too in the before and after cleanup. Ladies, as much as we’d like to think so, we don’t have superhero capes. Let husbands help. My husband the preacher helps clean. There are things women notice that men won’t, but working together makes it much easier on everyone.
I am not a perfect hostess, but for a year a congregation met weekly (barring once for snow, I believe) in our home. I survived. We survived. With between 15 and 35 people in our home at a time. So I’d like to share what I learned.
- Breathe. It’s going to be okay. Don’t expect perfection. I inevitably forgot to do something or misplaced something. Every time. And you know what? It wasn’t a disaster.
- Start early. There are lots of last minute things that seem to come up, so start sooner rather than later. This will help lower your stress.
- Consider seating. Have a general idea if you can of how many you are expecting. We used our living room furniture, lawn chairs, dining room chairs, and folding chairs. Thankfully there was a sale on outdoor chairs when we were getting organized, so we picked up a few more. We also asked people to bring folding chairs if they were able. Think ahead about which chairs to put where. I tried to keep the plastic chairs on the hardwood and metal chairs on the tile to minimize scuffs.
- Consider the seating arrangement. Our house has an open floor plan, so we were able to use the living room and dining room while keeping everyone together. We set up extra chairs before service started so that we could have as many as possible arranged where everyone was grouped to make eye contact with the person leading service.
- Think about scotch guard for upholstered furniture. I think it’s a good idea anyway. When hosting house church there will be communion, and possibly children’s snacks, in places you may not normally eat. Spills are easier to manage and less embarrassing when clean up goes smoothly.
- Think about parking. In some parts of the country this may be a non issue. In eastern Kentucky, let me tell you, it is a big consideration. We don’t have much flat land around here, and parking anywhere is at a premium. Plan ahead for several cars. There were times we would have 10 or 12 outside our house. They weren’t all in a single file row, because people are able to pull off the road directly to our yard. Thankfully, it was mostly not a problem for us. Do be considerate of neighbors’ driveways and ensuring roads or public areas aren’t blocked. It may help to organize carpooling.
- Be ready to turn the heat down or air up. I was shocked early on how much effect a group of people has on the temperature. A fan helped, and often we were able to open windows for a breeze.
- Consider having coffee or tea. Around here we like refreshments. I’m not suggesting getting up and down during service to get them, but it was pretty common for people to arrive early or get a cup between Sunday school and worship. Some people are concerned about imposing in your home, and this is an easy way to make sure they feel welcome.
- Think about songs. This will depend on whether your congregation has song books. We kept our song books, once we got them, in a bookshelf in the living room and handed them out before worship. If you are meeting in different homes, this may simply mean making sure that the books arrive at your house for service. If you don’t have song books, there are other methods depending on how technologically savvy you are. There are free apps you can download that have the sheet music and lyrics to many of our old favorites (try Hymns of Praise). You can pull these up on phones by number or title. If you have a tablet and can connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable, you can display the songs on your television. We eventually purchased a small projector and screen and used it until we had enough song books.
- Think about Bibles. Visitors may not think to bring one, and many regular members don’t carry them back and forth between home and worship. You can purchase used Bibles cheaply online or in affordable paperback directly from some publishers. Try www.christianbook.com and check out the bargain section. There are also free Bible apps that can be downloaded to a smart phone. As a side note, I’m a big fan of these, because it means I always have the highlights and notes I make with me.
- Consider the breakable. We live with four cats, so our house has to stay largely child proof. I recommend putting up anything fragile or distractible. It isn’t as easy to keep a child close in a home as in a building with pews.
- Have a space that can be used as a nursery. Whether your congregation has small children or simply the possibility of visitors with young ones, you need a place that can be used as a nursery and to change diapers. We aren’t set up for that, so we used a spare bed and had a blanket to put down for changing. We also kept out small things for children there: Bible story book, crayons, and a coloring book.
- Plan for classrooms. If your congregation is very small this may not be a concern, but we wanted to have Sunday school classes by age. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. A bed or few chairs to sit on, pencil and paper, crayons, story book, or free printable online lessons like those from Apologetics Press are really all you need to start. If you click the link you do make an account, but it is free to register and print lessons. I highly recommend them. At one time we had a nursery class, middle grade, teenage, and adult class in separate rooms. Dividing up the ages this much helped, but do what you can with the space that you have.
- Think about communion. You’ll need unleavened bread, grape juice, trays, cups, and an envelope for contribution. Just as the early church took communion every Sunday, just like we do in a building, we did this in house church as well. We didn’t have a fancy communion set. We bought unleavened crackers in the specialty aisle at the grocery store, although you can make or order communion bread as well. We bought 100% grape juice (watch out for “grape drink” which looks very similar but isn’t). Buying a pack of the individual size bottles worked better for us, because you really don’t use that much each service and it stays fresh. We didn’t have standard communion cups, but paper bathroom cups do the job. To pass the bread and juice we used a serving bowl and a plastic tray with the cups, and then another bowl for offering. It helps to have an envelope ready to put the offering in at the end of service.
- Plan for your pets. Did I mention we have pets in the house? Four cats and a dog, to be exact. Our older cat is somewhat temperamental, so there was never a question that he had to be put up. The other cats and the dog are very loving, but honestly even if they behaved perfectly, it would be too distracting to have them free in the house. Bear in mind that not everyone is a pet person either. So the dog went to our bedroom and the cats to the laundry room with the litter box. On a side note, we had to bungee cord the laundry room door to the refrigerator door handle because one of the cats kept letting themselves out.
- Set boundaries. This is a different atmosphere for church for children, and it helps to keep everyone in a group if any rooms not being used are closed or locked.
- Have a small snack for children or people with diabetes. Although we usually had something on hand without really planning for it, I’ll mention it here because I didn’t think much about it beforehand. Small children’s tummies start wanting food right around worship service. Crackers, fruit snacks, or something simple can go a long way to helping kids be at their best. Also, I found out during house church that there are people I didn’t realize have diabetes in our congregation. Crackers, hard candy, or extra grape juice will work. Just be aware.
- Have extras ready. Soap, toilet paper, and tissue are the essentials, and a double check never hurts. Hard candy is a good idea here too, as coughing and throat irritation happen at the most inconvenient times.
- Consider having a lightly scented tart or candle. Two reasons. For me, I feel like this adds a little polish to the preparation I have made with the house. Second, it goes back to being welcoming to your guests. Keep in mind I suggest light scents. Cinnamon allergies, for example, are quite common. For me personally, cotton scents send my throat into tantrums. Vanilla or very gentle florals like lavender seemed to work well for me.
- Think about distractions. If you have windows in view during service, consider closing the blinds or curtains. If there are any specific noises or timed alarms in your house consider turning them off.
- Relax. If you’re tense, everyone else will be too. Based on comments, I don’t think people knew how nervous I got sometimes. It was intimidating for me, being a younger member of the congregation, the preacher’s wife, and not experienced in being the host in a home of my own. Once I could see that everything was going alright and people were comfortable, it made it much easier for me to calm back down.
- Prepare for visitors. I got anxious having people I knew in our home. Then visitors came. People my husband had been studying with through the week and who I had never met came for service. It’s a good idea to be aware of everyone in your home, and sometimes it can be unsettling depending on a person’s background. But where else should they be than in church?
- Be a butterfly. I am an introvert, so being a hostess does not come naturally at all to me. I care about people, but socializing just isn’t my strength. You don’t have to be good at it to make someone feel appreciated. All it takes is a hello and a handshake or a hug as people arrive. Then, especially if there are visitors, go sit next to them for a minute. Get to know them and tell them that you’re glad they came. It does get easier.
- It is not the end of the world if a dust bunny shows itself. You remember that we have four cats and a dog? One Sunday during service, having swept, mopped, and dusted, I was sitting toward the back of the dining room. Out from beneath the sofa, across the wood floor, blew a little clump of cat hair. I was mortified. I prayed nobody else saw it. After service I vengefully scooped it into the trash. And it wasn’t a disaster.
- Have Lysol available. I can’t help it. I work in healthcare. The last thing I wanted was a church-wide outbreak of flu or stomach virus that could be traced back to our house. You are contagious before you are sick, so this helps protect everyone. If the hosting family comes down with something it’s difficult to have service that day.
- Mind allergies. See above. Also, if you have any kind of snack available, watch the ingredients. Ask to find out if anyone has allergies. They won’t mind, and they will probably appreciate it. Avoid any kind of nut until you are sure they are safe for your group. Be cautious about cinnamon as well. Those are just two of the most common, but there are others like egg allergies. This is another reason that those of us with pets need to spend a little more elbow grease.
- Feel legitimate. This is how the early Christians did it. It doesn’t take pews and a steeple. It takes spirit and truth. Church isn’t about where it happens. This is really getting back to the roots and the basics. You have no need to be embarrassed when telling someone you attend a house church. If anybody tries to make you feel this way, refer them to the first century martyrs.
- Get ready for church of a different feel. It didn’t feel traditional, and in ways it felt less like church, but in a way it almost felt more authentic. One of the downsides to a nice big auditorium with long rows of seating is that people scatter around, get their customary seats, talk to the group around them, and don’t mingle. I’ve done it. It’s different in a house. It’s more of a gathering of friends than a ritual. From what I observed, people are more outgoing and likely to reach out in this setting. It seems like the inhibitions for being social and even for singing are lower.
- Remember that worshipping God and showing His love to the people who come are the most important. There are a hundred details that will be spinning through your mind when you host. The people who are there will truly care about very few. If something minor goes wrong, go with the flow and be flexible. Next time will go more smoothly.
- Know that you are doing a very good work. If you are blessed with the means and desire to do this, you can make it happen. Because of what you’re doing, someone may choose to follow God. We are taught to be hospitable, and this definitely qualifies.
When you have put away the communion supplies, stored the chairs, and released your pets, sit down. Take a breath. You’ve shared in the ministry of the gospel. What is greater than that?
Have questions, general or specific? Let me know. Especially if you have hosted a house church service, what would you add to the list?
May the Lord bless and keep you,