The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to for groups of people to gather. For the church, weekly worship gatherings have become nearly impossible or restricted by local guidelines. It is possible for the local church to be present in its context but it may require becoming a network of house churches. Here are links to a Powerpoint presentation and training video followed by a print version of the training material.
The church is still the church regardless of how it gathers. One definition of church is defined is:
“Any group that meets regularly for spiritual nurture, worship, or instruction, with an identified leader and aligned with the message and mission of the Church of the Nazarene, may be recognized as a church and reported as such for district and general church statistics.” Board of General Superintendents, December 8, 2015
There are five minimum characteristics for a local church to be a church.
“Any group that
(1) meets regularly for
(2) spiritual nurture, worship, or instruction,
(3) with an identified leader and
(4) aligned with the message and mission of the Church of the Nazarene,
(5) may be recognized as a church and reported as such for district and general church statistics.”
Let's compare a description of the New Testament church from the Book of Acts to the five characteristics of a local church:
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV) compared to BGS ruling 2015
42 They devoted themselves [meets regularly] to the apostles’ teaching [identified leader] and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers [spiritual nurture, worship, instruction].
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. [Identified leaders]
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. [aligned with the message and the mission]
46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, [recognized as a church]
47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [reported as such for district and general church statistics] (thanks to John DeMuth for thinking this through with me)
There are right and wrong ways of meeting as house churches, according to church planter Steve Brenmer (2012).
What house churches do right: Intimacy, accountability, offers freedom and flexibility, outward-focused (with an emphasis on reaching neighbors, and meets with intentionality (know why they are doing what they’re doing).
What house churches do wrong: Still needs physical space to meet, turns inward-focused, no longer brings in new people, no longer makes disciples and just hangs out, becomes arrogant in that this smaller gathering is the only legitimate way to meet together as the church.
How are house churches different than small groups?
Small groups are focused on one thing: fellowship, Bible study, gender groups, or a service project.
House Churches are focused on being the church: worshipping, learning, serving as an extension of the Body of believers gathered together
Where should house churches meet?
Geography - ZIP code, housing development, apartment complexes, direction from the gathered church
Why geography? Same schools, same grocery stores, travel time, needs to be a focus on gathering for being the church not around lesser reasons, Keep the purpose in focus
Why not affinity groups or groups of friends? See the point about house churches being inwardly focused. Rarely will this kind of group invite an outsider that isn’t already closely connected to someone in the group. This group also is so focused on the ancillary reason they are meeting together, such as a book club or women’s group, and not why they are meeting together as the church.
Make the Body local. Find where the Body already is. Let the Church move into the neighborhood.
Who meets in the house church?
Around ten adults. Jewish synagogues require at least ten heads of household. The same applies here.
A church of 50 might have two churches of 18 to 25 people or three groups of 15 to 18 people.
Those involved in house church include: The designated (trained) leader appointed by the pastor/board as a lay preacher, the host family, children/youth activity volunteer, and any other guests.
For COVID-19 precautions - Suggest no more than 10 persons at a time in a room or backyard gathering. Children might go right into a lesson time in a separate space rather than gather with the whole to limit numbers in a single space at one time. Masks recommended (and may be required by the host family).
Remember that everyone is a guest. Household rules need to be honored by the guests
When does a house church meet?
Suggested time frame is 90 minutes from arrival of guests to departure of the last family
4:30 p.m. Arrive at the location
4:45 p.m. Begin the time together whether it is singing together or sharing praises with one another, including listening to the worship portion of morning’s service, listening/singing along with a Spotify playlist, etc.), lead by a single guitar or piano, no more than three songs
5:00 p.m. Announcements and allow children’s and youth activities to begin in other rooms
5:05 p.m. Listen to the sermon together. Feel free to pause for discussion
5:30 p.m. Pause for response, accountability, and prayer. Feel free to make smaller groups for prayer if space allows.
5:45 p.m. Gather for snacks, finger foods, and fellowship
6:00 p.m. Begin departing
More COVID-19 precautions - Consider not serving food. Limit the gathering time to 45 minute to avoid the need for restroom usage.Also, singing may not be wise in a small, confined space. Other options include someone playing an instrumental or ensemble together, reciting a poem, memorizing and reading hymns together interspersed with prayer, Bible reading and reflection (e.g. lectio divina).
How does the house church stay connected to the primary local church?
The designated leaders are trained, accountable to, and appointed by the pastor and staff. A local church board might confer a local minister's license to each house church leader.
Designated leaders report the meeting times in advance and accurately to the pastor and church staff for promotion on the web site or social media. House Church leaders also track and report participation in the house church. They are also responsible for giving prayer requests and concerns to the pastor and church staff.
Offerings are best handled through online giving opportunities. If cash and checks are given, designated leaders are to bring to the pastor and/or church office the following day. Or, mobilize the finance team/board members to collect the offerings and bring to the church office for accounting and deposit.
The pastor and/or church staff may distribute announcements (written copies or weblinks to online videos), as well as give leaders the weekly discussion questions for the sermon/teaching times, and share prayer requests.
Host families may display a yard sign showing connection to the primary church with contact info, websites, and maybe leaflets with take-home information.
Board members could be asked to host or attend the house church gathering nearest them. One or two board members could volunteer to visit multiple house church gatherings as a means of accountability.
What makes this “count” as going to church?
The BGS definition of church as gathering for “spiritual nurture, worship, or instruction” is consistent with the message and mission of the Church of the Nazarene whether the gathering is in a church building, in a house, or anywhere else.
There will be three essential elements in every gathering (borrowing language from Neil Cole):
How can house churches still feel unified as to the local church?
This morning I presented a training session on posmodern evangelism to over twenty church leaders from across the United States and from Kenya. The hope is to be humble enough to listen, draw near, and engage people in conversation along the journey toward Christ--the trajectory of grace through the threshold of faith. Below is the downloadable powerpoint file.
Later, I will be able to link to a video of the training session.
Thanks to Black Dog Coffeeshop in Lenexa, Kansas for providing the necessary caffeine for an early Saturday morning. And, to the Lord, for pointing us all toward the Life we all seek.
Link to the video file on dropbox: CLICK HERE
"The biblical tradition reveals that whenever the prophetic gift is lacking in any group or religion, such a group will very soon be self-serving, self-perpetuating, and self-promoting. Without prophetic criticism, all sense of mission and message is lost. Establishments of any kind usually move toward their own self-perpetuation, rather than 'What are we doing for the world?' In fact, the question of mission is not even asked because self-perpetuation has become an end in itself."
- Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations 2018
About one-fourth of the churches in the Front Range megaregion are designated as ethnic.
Only 15 have assigned pastors; one is in a dual charge assignment.
Two of the 15 assigned pastors are women.
Twelve percent have more than 75 in average worship attendance.
One out of every ten Nazarene members on this megaregion belongs to an ethnic church.
The predominant ethnicity is Hispanic.
There are six female Nazarene senior assigned pastors in the Front Range megaregion.
That's 8% of the senior assigned pastors here.
The largest church attendance with a female pastor is 92; however, the median attendance is 25.
Two-thirds of the women have served in their current assignment for less than eight years.
It seems as if there is going to be enough churches to reach the coming population expansion in this megaregion, women seeking ministry will have to be sought, encouraged, and nurtured into ministry just as much as men. There is a clear emphasis on male leadership when there honestly may not be enough men available or responding to the call to preach.
Whatever may be the case, where are the women and who will open doors, clear the pathway, and become mentors for them?
What would it take for a current pastor to mentor more women into ministry?
There are 75 senior assigned pastors on this megaregion, one pastor has a dual assignment in two churches. There are 17 churches without an assigned pastor.
The median tenure for pastors on this megaregion is 2012. That means half of the pastors have been in their current assignment since this date.
One-third of these pastors have been in their assignments for less than four years, and another one-third for more than eight years. Eighteen pastors have been in their assignments for more than a decade.
Median worship attendance at churches with an assigned pastor is 57.
This is for a population of 5.5 million (see second image below). This megaregion will add another 4.8 million people in the next three decades.
If the current number of pastors (75) is maintained during the population growth that will occur, the following ratios apply:
One pastor for 73,333 people (2010)
One pastor for 92,000 people (2025)
One pastor for 136,000 people (2050)
The Front Range megaregion includes the urbanization along the eastside of the Rockies from Cheyenne in the north toward Albuquerque in the south. I have extended the megaregion's territory further south to El Paso, Texas following the Rio Grande River. This megaregion also includes the urban island of the Salt Lake city metro area in Utah.
The megaregion is very similar to the elongated megaregions of the Gulf Coast and Arizona Sun in that they intermingle or overlap the Mexican border. Again, national and state borders do not always show separation between where people choose to live, work, and do business. These kinds of borders also have very little to do with how people come to Christ and choose to gather for church fellowship. The missional impulse flows from where people gather.
The Front Range megaregion is smaller than most of the other megaregions with just over 5 million people. It will also double in size in the next thirty years to over 10 million inhabitants.
There have been just over two hundred Nazarene churches (209) started or organized in this megaregion. Of these churches, 93 are still active.
The previous two decades have been the most proliferate with 39 churches started or organized. By comparison, 42 churches were started or organized between 1970 to 1999.
The oldest active churches are the First Churches of Salt Lake City and Denver, started in 1903 and 1907, respectively. There are five churches over 100 years old on this megaregion.
Over the course of time, there have been 116 churches closed from the 209 that have been started or organized.
The year with the most closings was 2002. No other year had double digit closings. Notably, over half of all churches that have been closed were closed since 2000 (53%). The spike in closings can be easily seen in the chart on the infograph below.
Fourteen churches (14) closed after fifty years of active ministry.
The rate of churches closing within two years, seven years, and twelve years remains consistent.
Just shy of one-fifth of churches closed within two years, almost half after seven years, and six out of ten churches closed within twelve years.
Churches Closed . . .
18% within two years
44% within seven years
69% within twelve years
Large Churches and Missional Centers | Nazarene Presence in the Northern California Megaregion (2007-2018)
There is only one church over 1,000 in worship attendance: Yuba City Hope Point. There are two very close to one-thousand in average attendance in Lodi and Oroville. All are on the Sacramento district.
There are eight churches (on the infograph below) that reported over 600 in worship attendance. I consider this size of church to have the capacity to become a missional center: a base for church planting, preparing leaders, and offering significant support to the local and global missional impulse.
These eight churches have one of every four Nazarene members in the NorCal megaregion and one of every three Nazarene church attenders.
Of the 168 churches that reported attendance, about one-third have less than 45 in worship attendance. A little less than half are above 75 in worship attendance, which I consider to be the tipping point for a church's capacity to provide pastoral compensation, maintain a facility, and give sufficient resource to the missional impulse in their local and global context. It is not a statement or evaluation of a church's effectiveness in their communities. Therefore, it is necessary to rethink what a church needs to be within its local context and not with standards used in the recent past, such as counting nickels and noses, or buildings, butts and bucks. :)
The geographic center of the NorCal megaregion is Modesto, Calfornia which allows easier access to Bakersfield, the Bay area, and Neveda. This location is important because it could become a base of operations for reaching this megaregion.
NOTE: This megaregion has an odd, elongated shape. The primary reason for extending the reach so far south is that the population follows the I-5 corridor which follows the "breadbasket" of the Great Valley. The economic activity of this megaregion follows through this area, and this activity includes residential expansion, or seven million more people in the next 30 years. And, where people are so should the Church be.
Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the active churches in the Church of the Nazarene on this megaregion are designated as ethnic. That's 113 out of 217.
By comparison, the next three in the list below--Florida, Northeast and SoCal megaregions--have more active ethnic churches--125, 230, 157, respectively--but with smaller percentages of ethnic churches (52% in Florida, 38% in Northeast, 37% in So Cal).
One-third of total membership is also within ethnic churches.
About 12% of the ethnic churches have a female pastor.
One-fifth of the ethnic churches have more than 75 in worship attendance.
More than half of the ethnic churches (56%, 64) are Hispanic.
By far, the majority of ethnic churches are in northern California.
There are fourteen women serving as senior assigned pastors in the Northern California megaregion, or 8% of the total assigned pastors (174).
The largest church attendance with a female pastor is 89.
The median church attendance is 31 with a female pastor.
Only four women have been in their current assignment for more than eight years.
Half have been in their current assignments for only four years.