by J. D. Payne
Finally, someone has done preliminary research on the evangelistic effectiveness of house churches in the United States.
Authentic Media, P.O. Box 1047, Waynesboro, GA 30830-2047, 2007, 197 pages, $16.99.
—Reviewed by Robert J. Vajko, international church planting consultant for The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM).
Finally, someone has done preliminary research on the evangelistic effectiveness of house churches in the United States. The author, J. D. Payne, states, “The primary purpose for writing this book is to describe what is taking place among these churches that are both baptizing recent converts and planting other churches” (p. 2). His aim is to determine how effective house churches in the U.S. are, since church planting in the U.S. often results in churches composed primarily of believers transferring from other churches with too few conversions. And often, these new churches do not reproduce and plant other churches.
For Payne, a house church is missional if it has baptized “at least one person within the previous year of the study” and “planted at least one congregation within the past three years” (p. 9). Before explaining the results of his research, he deals with biblical references and metaphors picturing the church as more organic than institutional (e.g., a building or structure). He adds that the biblical concept of church deals more with the whole of life than something that is compartmentalized on a certain day of the week. He pictures the house church as more organic, more basic, more participatory, more community-oriented, and more every-member in its orientation than the traditional church model. Payne’s experience has been both in traditional churches and in a house church.
The house churches he surveyed proved to be extraordinarily effective in outreach based upon the number of baptisms in relation to attendance. Not only are these churches effective in multiplying converts, but his research puts “such congregations in the highest category of churches planting churches in North America” (p. 78). He expresses concern about the development of house churches in terms of the biblical norm of pastors/elders and deacons. He is also concerned that church discipline be included as one of the marks of a true church. Payne states that further research needs to be done to see to what degree these two elements are incorporated in house churches as true churches.
Who might profit from reading this book? Leaders in more traditional churches and house church leaders can have their thinking and theology energized by reading this book and then asking what they might be able to learn from one another (pp.129-130). Mission leaders, church planters, and those who are training and mentoring church planters can find food for strategic thought here. Those who would like to see a church-planting movement develop in the U.S. will find Payne’s three shifts (ecclesiological, strategic, and methodological) an additional help to their thinking.
Check these titles:
Cole, Neil. 2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith where Life Happens. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
Dale, Tony and Felicity Dale. 2002. Simply Church. Manchaca, Tex.: Karis Publishing.
Gehring, Roger W. 2004. House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson.
Simpson, Wolfgang. 1998. Houses that Change the World: The Return of the House Churches. Waynesboro, Ga.: OM Publishing.
Zdero, Rad, ed. 2007. Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
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