House Church vs. Organic Church

Those of you who have read my books carefully . . . as well as this blog . . . know that I’m not an advocate of “house church.”

Asking me if I endorse a house church is like asking me if I endorse plants. To which my response is, “what kind of plant are you talking about? I like crape myrtle trees, but I don’t like cactuses or poison ivy.”

House churches are like plants. There are extremely different varieties.

As I’ve often said, a house church is simply a group of Christians who hold their meetings in a home.

That can range from a scaled-down version of the institutional church (very common), to a glorified bible study (even more common), to a once-a-week songfest accompanied by a potluck, to a grade-A, certified cult.

There’s nothing magical about meeting in a home. And a physical house isn’t God’s passion, nor is it mine. Never has been.

In my books, Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church, I point out that there’s a monumental difference between a house church and an organic expression of the church. Some “house churches” (so-called) are organic. Many others are not. George Barna and I make this exact point in Pagan (p. 240).

If you’re new to the blog and you’re wondering what the difference is, see my discussion with Neil Cole on “What is an Organic Church?” and Visiting an Organic Church: A Firsthand Report.

Despite the fact that what I’ve written above has been repeated on this blog, in my books, and on audios all over the Web in various forms, some folks continue to benightedly engage in straw-man argumentation by falsely stating that I believe house churches are “the only way to do church.” [Cough, #Fail.]

Unfortunately, over the last few years, the phrase “organic church” has been hijacked to mean 1,000 different things. So the term “organic” is pretty much meaningless now. For that reason, I rarely use it anymore.

In short, my view of church is quite simple. The New Testament vision of ekklesia is group of Jesus followers who are learning to live by the indwelling life of Christ together and who are expressing that life in close-knit community. That’s it in a nutshell. My conference message, Epic Jesus, unpacks that statement.

For more, see the following:

What is an Organic Church? A Plea for Clarity

Why Organic Church Is Not Exactly a Movement

Why I Don’t Advocate House Church

The McManus Interview on Organic Church Life

Reflections on the Postchurch Perspective

Organic Church Life Doesn’t Work . . .

Organic Church Life Described Simply

Neil Cole & Frank Viola Discuss Missional Organic Church

Visiting an Organic Church: A Firsthand Report

What Does Authentic Organic Church Life Look Like?: Part I

What Does Authentic Organic Church Life Look Like?: Part II

Christ’s Love Expressed in Organic Church Life

Deep Ecclesiology

The House Church Movement: Past, Present, and Future

Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew (What is an Organic Church, Really?)

Have questions? Objections? Click here for my ReChurch series

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Comments

  1. Ryan says

    God interested in recovering His eternal purpose?.. like it was lost? If God is truely God and truely sovereign, nothing was ever lost to be recovered. This gives the idea that God has somehow lost a bit of control of His creation. It may be that we could never truely appreciate Him if there never was a fall and no need of saving. Such a mega-love story this produced.

    Nice sermon about God’s eternal purpose though. As far as God’s eternal purpose, that’s for Him to work out and accomplish, not us. If I’m suppose to be doing something to fullfill this purpose, I’m messing it up right now. I’m glad Jesus said, “I will build my church.” and not “you will build my church for me.”

    Yes, there is nothing sacred about a house but there is also nothing sacred about a church building either. What is sacred is our hearts. We are the organic church, His bride. This reminds me of Jesus words, “…true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth…” This can be done any time anywhere… in a group or by one’s self… in a church building or in a house. When it’s freezing outside, a warm structure is nice. If it’s summer and warm, I’d gather in a garden.

    • says

      Ryan: Yep, the Eternal Purpose IS in need of restoration, and that’s what God has been working toward from the beginning. I make a case for this in “From Eternity to Here,” and it’s yet to be discounted. Saying that God is going to work it all out Himself is a religious cloak for disobedience and rebellion. To respond to the call of Jesus Christ with the answer, “You work it out yourself, Lord” is just another way of rejecting that call. Finally, your unique and very personal definition of “organic church” is something that’s not compatible with the New Testament vision of ekklesia.

  2. Ryan says

    I thought house and organic were one in the same thing. What people do when they are not forsaking assembling and get togather, I really don’t think it matters… what ever suits that particular group… singing, studying the bible like a bible study, giving testimonies, encouraging one another, what ever. Again like most, everyone has thier own idea of what ‘assemling’ should be. Does God care how it’s done? Look at nature. God likes variety. I wouldn’t doubt God likes the variety of ways people do thier assembly. One reason I quit the institutional church is because I’m bored with the routine… 40 years of the same thing? My God… *puke*.

    • says

      Ryan: No, house church and organic church are different as I’ve pointed out in the post. How we meet very much matters to God. There’s nothing sacred about a house. God is interested in recovering His Eternal Purpose. He’s quite passionate about that. Just because a group meets in a home says nothing about whether or not they are fulfilling His Ultimate Intention. See http://ptmin.podbean.com/2010/08/04/the-eternal-purpose/ and http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org for further details. The Eternal Purpose is a foreign idea to many contemporary Christians, yet it’s the grand narrative of Scripture and the purpose behind why God created allt things.

  3. Caleb Rogers says

    Frank, One glaring thing. I never hear you and your affiliates mentioning the Holy Spirit. Maybe you have?
    Has that subject been so religionized that it is not a factor in todays thinking. Is the supernatural dead? I was around when things happened in the spirit then manifested,(in public) without someone writing a book or article or obviously the internet. God drew people to His Son without anyones help,( Imagine that) So did God stop talking or does he need someone to write something.

    Opinion;People do not need Blooooooooooooggsss! Surprised?
    Sorry no offense brother…….

    There is a revolution in the HS air that is similar to the tea party. A we the people thing that says the org. church higherarchy needs to get out, retire, and give the people back the church. We don’t need them just as we do not need Washington. We the people, Gods people can govern as well as facilitate meetings in Christ.

    Rather be led by the HEAD, Caleb

    By the way, People Just Want to Be Loved!! brother , and brother you are!!!
    Everything in this world, the family, the government and the church at large has failed to instill LOVE into we the people. People are trying to find it (LOVE) His Love anywhere, through anything. Want to write a best seller, just put the word love in the title……

    • says

      Caleb:

      Four glaring things.

      1. Your statement that “God drew people to His Son without anyone’s help” is untrue as far as I can see. Both the NT and the OT make clear that God always uses His people … He always uses men and women who are inspired by His Spirit to speak, to write, to declare Christ. See 1 Cor. 12. The main point there is that Jesus Christ isn’t a dumb idol. He has the power of speech, but He speaks through His body.

      2. According to their own testimonies, scores of people continue to testify how they have been changed by the Lord through books, spoken messages, articles, and yes, even blog posts. I myself have this testimony. Some of the life-changing books in my own life are listed here: http://www.ptmin.org/library – I’m so glad that these writers were obedient to the Lord and let the Holy Spirit use them to reveal truth. Instead of believing that God would somehow do it without the use of human vessels.

      3. Actually: I’ve spoken a great deal about the Holy Spirit (but I assume you don’t read books, articles, etc. since you don’t feel anyone needs them). I’ll add a footnote: What does the Holy Spirit speak about? Answer: Jesus Christ. Find me a person who is consumed with the Lord Jesus Christ, and I’ll show you a man or a woman who is full of the Holy Spirit.

      4. I’m not interested in writing bestsellers, but I am interested in watching and living with communities that don’t just talk about love, but who demonstrate it in living color. Such as: http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/visiting-an-organic-church-a-firsthand-report/

      No offense brother ;-)

      Hope that helps :-) You are loved as well ;-)

  4. Jeff Stucker says

    And don’t forget “Finding Organic Church” as a great resource for the nuts and bolts of ekklesia under the Lord’s guidance.

  5. Michael O. says

    Frank,
    As dialogue in keeping with the spirit and intent of the topic of house vs organic. Please if you would describe Frank’s personal ideal organic church (this is Frank’s own ideal if everything was perfect Ekklesia expression) and we won’t hold you to it but dream if you will out loud. I am interested in some details such as size, frequency of gathering, frequency of plain friendly fellowship, frequency of shared meal, location, typical daily/weekly activity, average time frame organic influences a believer from novice to a reasonable functional participant effecting others, average time frame it takes Jesus Christ to manifest Himself powerfully corporately amongst, average time frame it takes to effect the secular community outside the group.
    The above suggestions may not be important for your dream organic church but try to humor me a bit while dreaming if you will.
    I know you are very busy writing and helping people but I suspect this would be of great interest to the bloggers on this site.

    • says

      Michael: I’ve already done this. That’s what REIMAGINING CHURCH is all about. One can also read a shortened version of it in my discussion with Neil Cole. No time to repeat it all here. Frequency will depend on the season that a particular church is in. Organic church life isn’t a science so I have no opinions on these some of these other details. It’s how the Lord leads.

  6. Chad farrand says

    For me, labels like “house” and “organic” are unhelpful. They mean different things to different people. For our tribe, we speak of church and mission, which is the center of why we are church. I agree frank, “house church” people tend to replicate traditional church patterns in houses. As has been stated, the gathering spot as focus to what defines who the church is remains to be a problem. In fact, gleaning from lessons from pagan chrsitianity and remaining church, it is what we do not how we gather that informs who we are as “church” no matter where that church happens. For me, I choose system over model. How is our system enabling the church to live out it’s mission to the community and the planet is our defining question.

  7. says

    Frank I love your site. Just finished listening to Living By The Life of Christ. I emailed Jeanette hoping that the rest of the series will be availble as well. Our focus at Christ’s Church is living out the mystery of God: Christ in you, the hope of glory. We are excited over encouraging one another to receive all of who Christ is. I love the expression organic. We have used the term organism over and against organization as the structure of the church which is the Body of Christ. The Lord has brought me a long way from a catholic altarboy to our coming together as Christ’s Church. I have met a number of wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ over the years. It is amazing what the Lord is doing world wide.
    Thanks for your blog.

  8. Jeff Stucker says

    @BobbyJo, @Frank, as you rightly point out the idea that church is a place or a building is completely foreign to the New Testament. The word means congregation or assembly, and that’s the main weakness with the term House Church. That’s why I prefer, “our church family meets from house to house”. It consciously separates the group from the location. I would add “…and coffee shops and at the park” if those became common practices among us. Hey, I’ve already added, “…and fishing together over at my parents’ pond” in at least one conversation because that was a favorite this summer.

  9. Michael O. says

    Frank,
    I agree that “all” meetings do not need to be in homes. But don’t they inevitably be “mostly” in homes? I mean from the aspect that the members of the local Ekklesia of neccessity be involved in one anothers lives daily. Because they have become best friends (in a manner of speaking) and want to be, to support one another, to encourage one another, to edify and build up and help one another, etc. Also it is easier to do the shared meal together in homes.
    Does “renting a building” tend to lead to a “going to church” mentality and defeat the cost savings on overhead building payment?
    Given that a house church does not “make or break”, and assure “organic.”
    By the same token, doesn’t home church provide the environment whereby it (organic) is much more likely to happen? I know Paul rented in Rome to teach, but is there foundation for renting for gathering with members?
    Given the Holy Spirit is very creative without much restriction, the following.
    If you can, how much weighting would you put on home verses “all” other environments for “organic” most likely succeding? Of course realizing this is an estimate and not placing a “legalistic edict” on the other successful environs other than home currently in operation.
    I know you try to refrain from the numbers game but please allow me some grace, typically how many “assembling yourselves together” a week is somewhat the norm?
    Given that local expressions are unique, I am just trying to get a feel overall of what the HS is doing.
    Is there an ideal “organic” expression that one should have in mind or is the HS locally creative? Without being vague.

    • says

      Michael: Most of the organic churches I know of make fair use of houses. But some use coffee shops for their main gatherings and I know several that have rented and owned buildings that they structured to be very conducive for open-sharing. Nothing like a typical “church” building. Because they are authentically organic, those groups have a lot of community-life, so it has not fostered a “going to church” mentality. That’s not in their thinking or vocabulary. The main point is that the organic expression of the church isn’t about the meeting location.

  10. alan says

    To me it seems simple, meeting from house to house is a predominant biblical life-style for the early church. It’s cheap, pleasant, keeps the numbers down and participation up. It is easily reproduced and dividable as growth happens. And, above all, organic church has a real chance in a home environment, no chance at all in a ‘church building’…..but for ‘house’ read ‘home’…a warm, supportive family environment. Ideal. IMO.

    • says

      Alan: there are good reasons for having home meetings. But the idea that says “all” meetings must take place in homes just doesn’t work. I’ve seen organic churches gather in coffee shops, rented buildings, and sometimes outdoors. Of course they don’t ever have “sacred religious” buildings. But the home doesn’t make or break, and it’s not what makes a church organic in its expression. And many home churches are far from organic.

  11. says

    thanks for this, I still feel if a ‘place’ is where you are ‘doing’ church, you’re still missing the point. We are the body, the church, the bride and where ever we happen to meet we are assemblying to enjoy fellowship, share about Jesus, and possibly during that sharing leading another soul to Him. “Organic”, I like the way this term is used in the ‘Organic Church’ description, and if we study New Testament, and read books about people who have read the New Testament like you and Neil Cole, we will have an understanding. We perish when we lack understanding. It is so simple. Thanks again

  12. says

    Thanks for all the comments. It’s helped me make my decision. I’m so glad that most of you subscribe via email or a reader. That’s important. It ensures that you won’t miss a post.

    The person who said “sometimes less is more” nailed it for me.

    I think in the case of this blog, less is more. Quality over quantity.

    You can now expect me to post Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

    Of course, if something is about to burn a whole in my chest or it’s “time-sensitive,” I’ll also post on another day. But T, W, R will be the norm.

    Thanks again. Really appreciate you all.

  13. Ryan says

    How do you define “cult”? Is it a group of people who claim to be Christians but have a skewed idea of who Jesus is?

  14. Jeff Stucker says

    Frank,

    The biggest problem I have with Organic church is that it’s too many syllables. House church is easier to say. :-)

    I’m half kidding, half serious. If you think about it, almost every common noun eventually reduces to a shorter form. There’s a reason almost every body part name is only one syllable. It’s also why I like Bing better than Google. It’s faster to say Bing It than to say Google It. :-p

    Organic church also draws a total blank in people’s minds. (“Certified?” “Granola?”) As much as I resonate with everything you say about organic church, I’m not always prepared to give a verbal essay, and I need a term that fits into “small talk”.

    The phrase I use in real life is, “Our church meets from house to house.” (That’s usually an answer to “Oh, where do you go to church?”) It just says it like it is, conjures up Acts 2:46 in the minds of the believers and paints a word picture for the unchurched. Then I’m more than happy to flesh out what the organic church is all about if they’re curious. Most people totally get the “not institutional” thing.

    In normal conversation, the phrase I use to describe the group of people is “church family”, and you know all about that word picture.

  15. Steve wall says

    I appreciate the blog but I also understand about limited time. For me it’s fine if u go to 3 days of blogging. I rly appreciate the links to resources etc. That u give. Thanks for all ur time and effort in this.

  16. Seth says

    H to the B Frankie! I read your posts via e-mail so it isn’t going to make a huge difference. Of course you reserve the right to release the burning content of your heart any day you like :) but if you are looking for consistent days to blog then I echo the others do what you think is best. We are here either way.

  17. Nischelle says

    No Mondays :) from what I’ve read re: blogging and marketing on social networks, Fridays and Mondays are the more non-responsive days. Make the most of your time

  18. mark says

    I like the Monday posts, but I’m for whatever best utilizes your time. Three posts a week is still quite a bit of information. Like others have said, the blogs are mostly “on demand” – people are notified by a reader or email and read them when they have time. So if you typically blog Tues/Wed/Thurs, but one week also blog on Mon, people will still see it. I don’t think you lose anything.

    Happy birthday!!!

  19. D says

    If you feel like you would be better served by taking a break on Mondays, then maybe you should. Don’t feel pressured to write stuff everyday, just because there are people who are constantly hungry for new “material”. You gotta take care of yourself too!

    As for the whole “house church vs. organic church” thing, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that this will always be a bit of a misunderstanding out there, regardless of how much of an effort we all make to underline the distinctions… The reason being that so long as you, or I, or any of us adhere to the assertions you put forth in Pagan Christianity regarding things like professional clergy, special religious buildings, tithing, etc., than we will inevitably be labeled “house church fanatics” by those whose lives, routines, and careers are threatened by such assertions. People tend to not show a lot of interest in the nuanced differences between “organic” and house churches, when their focus is really more on the implications of their sacred cows being questioned. It’s all the same, big ball of institution-rejecting wax to them, and all scary in their eyes. I mean, let’s face it, if we really get serious about not paying a clergy and not building a special religious building to meet in, then nine times out of ten what we’re left with is a meeting in someone’s home. Sure, we can meet in coffee shops or public parks or whatever, but if “organic” life as the Body of Christ means living for Him throughout all of our daily lives, then hey, for most of, the majority of our non-working lives are spent in our homes… So there you go. So what if we are mislabeled and misinterpreted by most folks in conventional circles. The main reason they struggle with understanding the difference between real organic body and a one-dimensional “house church”, is that they don’t understand the concept of “organic life” in Christ in the first place. For most of them, they live their lives in a bunch of segmented sacred/secular boxes, and that is no small mindset to break…

  20. says

    Happy Birthday Frank?

    Like everyone said, I don’t think it will affect me much. I get email notifications for your post, and that’s how I usually read it. Or usually I check your page at random time.

  21. says

    I don’t think that the day you publish makes much difference in who views your posts. Your regular readers will note your new posts from their RSS feeds, and none of us bloggers can tell when new unique viewers are going to find our posts. I tend to blog when the Spirit gives me a message to post. I’m sure that you don’t put the Spirit on a schedule for your messages. It is good to read your posts whenever they are published.

  22. says

    Happy first breath day Frank! I have your blog in my reader and I usually read from my mobile. I don’t miss anything you post (unless my reader gets extremely backed up). As far as posting on Monday is concerned, sometimes less is more.

  23. Rose says

    I read all your blogs and will say that I would be disappointed to go 4 straight days without your blog rather than the current three. IMHO…I’m thinking it might be the topic more than the blog itself. I’m not sure and would have to delve into the archives but it seems that your question-type blogs do better than say ‘listen to this podcast’ type entry. I would encourage you to do what you feel is right, Frank. However, please don’t ‘not’ blog on Mondays if you’re discouraged about Monday results. Perhaps comments on todays’ question might render an answer as to why there aren’t as many comments made.

    BTW…it’s your birthday??? Well, HAPPY BIRTHDAY. What…..29, right?

  24. says

    I would not be upset if you didn’t post on Mondays. If I felt withdrawal, I could always go into your archives and read a post or two there.

  25. says

    First off, happy birthday!

    Second, I typically read your blog during free time at work. I’m off on Monday’s so I usually don’t read it. For most people, Monday’s are a day of catch-up, so I’m assuming most people don’t have time to check on Monday’s.
    There’s my two cents :)

  26. Michael O. says

    Frank,
    Skip Monday and do something that you think will be more productive.
    Especially if it results in something as important prophetically as “Pagan Christianity!” or “Reimagining Church.”
    I can’t seem to put a ? behind Pagan Christianity, I know it is a misquote, you will have to extend me some grace ;>)

  27. Jeremy Henson says

    I get all your posts via RSS, so it doesn’t make a big difference when you post for me. I’m glad to read your thoughts one way or the other. :)

  28. Sybil says

    If you stopped blogging on Mondays then you would lose all of us “wilderness” folks’ need to hear from resonating/kindred spirits. : ( Some of us have no other living/human voice that resonates so well with the Holy Spirit’s leading right now. (And some of us would comment every day if we thought it was proper!!!)
    Idea: Last week I listened to your 1st teaching on, “Living by the Indwelling Life of Christ”. God has me attached to this subject right now. It is my “doing” while I also work on “undoing” in my “wilderness trek”. If you had all 9 teachings on audio, you could offer one for 9-18 Mondays, and those of us who would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, but will most likely never have another means, could listen/comment/do whatever assignments you suggest.
    I believe it when you say you are busy, so if this sounds a bit selfish – please forgive. : )

  29. Mark says

    Frank,
    …happy birthday!

    Using my bar feeds, I can quickly look at all the blogs I visit and with a quick glance I can see who has written something new. For me, it doesn’t matter if you (or any one else) writes daily, weekly, or monthly, I can quickly see you’ve written something, check the headline and first few lines and decide if I’m ready to tackle the topic. Just because you don’t get as many hits or comments on Mondays, it doesn’t mean that we are not reading it…we just may be getting to it on Wednesday!

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