How Popular are House Churches?

Sam Rainer

September 6, 2009

It depends – according to new research conducted by the Barna Group. I’ve heard several opinions, anecdotes, and estimations on the popularity of house churches. While Barna’s study is by no means conclusive, it does help clarify some the guesswork about the number of house churches in the United States. Barna’s estimates range from a minimum of 4% of the adult population to a maximum of 33%. Of course, the wide range represents the varying definitions of “house church:”

When a question asks whether the survey respondent has “attended a worship service in someone’s home, known as a house church,” the results generally find about 10% of the adult population claims to have done so in the past month. This pattern holds true regardless of whether or not the question includes a disclaimer that the gathering “is not associated with a local, congregational type of church.” The numbers change relatively little if the time frame is expanded to the past year, registering about 13% of all adults.

A different approach is to ask people how often, if ever, they attend a religious service – not a “worship service” – in someone’s home or even in some other place that is independent of a congregational-form church. This more inclusive question typically finds that 22% to 24% of all adults claim to have had such an experience during a given month.

The most prolific response comes when adults are asked if they have “experienced God or expressed (their) faith in God in a house church or simple church meeting in the past month,” regardless of whether it is affiliated with some other church entity. This definition, certainly the broadest of the six variations tested, finds that one-third of adults claim to have been involved in such a gathering during the preceding month.

Over at his blog, Ed Stetzer offers further insight into the popularity of house churches. He references his previous research conducted while at the Center for Mission Research:

When we cross-tabulated the “small group” question with the “church attendance” question, we found that 50 out of 3,600 adults attend both a group of 20 or less and “rarely” or “never” attend a place of worship. If extrapolated, this is almost 1.4 percent of the American population and may represent the purest measure of those who are not involved in an organized church, synagogue, or mosque but still are involved in some alternative faith community like, in the Christian faith, a house church. That is about four million Americans– not a small number.

Even the smallest estimates reveal that house churches, at minimum, hold an important niche. Having never belonged to a house church, I’m curious to hear from someone who has. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

2 comments on “How Popular are House Churches?”

  1. Jay says:

    I have belonged to a churches of various sizes, been on staff of churches of various sizes, but now attend infrequently. The reason for attending a home (house) church for my wife and I is the ability to personalize the experience instead of being in an audience. When someone in attendance has an issue that needs prayer, then we have the time to spend with that individual instead of just grouping the request into a 5 minute prayer slot.

    Of course, this is not the only reason–as there are multiple reasons for attending any church. Not sure why house churches are singled out any more than a denomination or location.

  2. Mike Holmes says:

    Colleagues of mine started a house church. They wanted to escape the confines of organized religion and church bureaucracy. But the asst. pastor readily admits in order from them to grow they will have to become a church.

    I personally like a large congregation, great preaching, good music, and etc. That’s just me

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