George Barna* just released another study that caught my attention, this one indicating that Christians in America who attend house churches are significantly more likely to be satisfied with their church life than those who attend traditional churches.
I've been involved with only one actual house church, and that one was unorthodox even as house churches go. We were all members of a nondenominational church and had been active in church leadership, but we were bored to tears there. So we started meeting in each other's homes on a rotating basis, with the host family leading that particular "service." In other words, we had no official leader. Granted, that's not likely to work for most groups, but we were good friends who trusted each other. We still considered ourselves affiliated with the church we belonged to; we just didn't attend it anymore (well, one couple did, so we shifted our services to Sunday night so they could still go to regular church on Sunday morning).
Our most memorable service had to be the night the pastor of the church decided to pay a visit. He seemed to be a really nice guy, but we didn't know him very well; the church had gone through several pastors in as many months. So he came to our meeting and listened politely to whoever gave the teaching that night. When he finally spoke, he said, "This is a really good group, and I keep hearing good things about all of you, but I don't get it -- you never go to church!" We all burst out laughing -- it was a truly priceless moment. One member said something like, "Well, yeah, I can see where that could be confusing." Even the pastor understood that we weren't laughing at him, but rather at how absurd our group must have seemed to him -- sort of in the church but not of the church. Or maybe it's the other way around: of the church but not in the church. Yeah, that's it.
Anyway, the point is that Barna's findings reflect my experience. Whenever I've been involved in a home group or other small group, that became my "church." I could take or leave Sunday morning services (except in a liturgical church, but that's another blog entirely), but don't take my home group away from me. That's where my longest-lasting friendships were forged, where we shared our lives, our joy and our pain, our successes and our failures, our ever-deepening relationship with Jesus.
Home groups, small groups, house churches--all have enabled me to serve, to worship, to fellowship, to be the body of Christ, like nothing else ever has.
* Disclaimer: I have no stake in The Barna Group despite the number of my blogs that cite its research. Honest.