Going to Church by Staying at Home
Sunday, June 4, 2006
After Sunday dinner at Joe Rodgers's Rockville home, guests adjourn to the living room for church.
In his makeshift chapel, wooden kitchen stools and a floral print couch act as pews, a portable keyboard substitutes for an organ and the host, an electronics technician by day, serves as pastor.
But just as there is no formal name or dress code for this church, there is no sermon or pastor-led prayer. When it came time to bow their heads on a recent May evening, each of the 10 adults in attendance had something to contribute: One man prayed for success with his new fitness program; another sought guidance as he prepared for his upcoming marriage.
The worshipers have different faith backgrounds, including evangelical, Episcopalian and Catholic. What they share is a dissatisfaction with traditional church services.
"You can't ask questions in most churches. You might make an appointment with the pastor, get in his daybook for a quick lunch," said Rodgers, 50.
A growing number of Christians across Washington and around the country are moving to home churches -- both as a way to create personal connections in the age of the megachurch and as a return to the blueprint of the Christian church spelled out in the New Testament, which describes Jesus and the apostles teaching small groups in people's homes.
Estimates vary widely for a movement that is by design informal and decentralized, but the consensus among home-churchers is that they are part of a growing trend.
George Barna, a religion pollster, estimates that since 2000, more than 20 million Americans have begun exploring alternative forms of worship, including home churches, workplace ministries and online faith communities. Barna based that figure on surveys of the religious practices and attitudes of American adults that he has conducted over the past 25 years.
"These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church," said Barna, who became a home-churcher last year. The alternatives are attractive to those who want to deepen their relationships with God and one another, and they also suit Americans' growing taste for flexibility and control of their schedules, he said.
Although many Christians still participate in their old churches while trying out a new one, Barna predicts that over the next two decades, traditional churches will lose half their "market share" to these alternative start-ups.
His estimates far exceed the best guesses of home-church networks. The Orlando-based Dawn Ministries places the number of home churches in the United States in the tens of thousands, based partly on the size of online directories and attendance at home-church conferences.
Home churches are usually nondenominational and consist of a dozen or so friends or family members who often meet without an ordained pastor.