Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The revolutionary house church phenomenon

Dr. Ralph Winter was one of my profs at Fuller Seminary over 30 years ago. He was the founder of the the U.S. Center for World Missions in Pasadena and the editor of of "Mission Frontiers". In the March-April 2005 edition of that magazine he wrote the Editorial below. Seems to me he had some profound insights into why the house church movement is so important. See what you think.


Here are some selected quotes from Dr. Winter's editorial -

"...the trend to house churches is a phenomenon which runs counter to the long and slow drift of American churches away from extended families. The American church today is strikingly more and more a place for family fragments, and even seeks to replace natural families!

The New Testament 'church' was a worshipping household like that of Cornelius, Lydia, or Crispus, and was called an eklesia, a word that does not mean what we understand 'church' to mean.

What happened to us (slowly)? Modern age-stratified, highly specialized society has become Satan's Weapon of Mass Destruction of the family - precisely where worship and accountability are supposed to be primary! The church has mindlessly followed the world's pattern: a family driving up to a church door is instantly chopped into pieces.

...Three- and four-generation households, which once joined churches together, and had family-level worship, are now almost universally reduced to 'nuclear' families (e.g., family fragments). The grand-parent generation is no longer a stabilizing factor, divorce has skyrocketed, wives are abused, children go wrong, etc. This happened slowly, over 300 years. Thus, today we are blind to what has happened - but must deal with the consequences.

Those of us who have lived overseas, where most societies have not yet been 'Westernized' and stacked against normal marriage, may be among the only ones who can even perceive - much less unravel - the reality of this tragedy.

...Unfortunately, many congregations today have the idea that getting people into small groups is all that is necessary. However, extended families can be small groups, but small groups cannot readily become extended families.

Pastors, frantic to do more than preach generalities to crowds on Sunday, may hope to get most of their congregations into small groups. Sure, those family fragments out there in the pews desperately need to rise above their individualism and isolation. Thus, a non-family, artificial small group is better than nothing.

In such churches you may never hear a word about what could and should go on at the family level. I myself, in Evangelical churches all my life, have never heard a sermon on how or why families ought to have family devotions.

But it is clearly better - as well as more important - to make every real family a small group than to try to make small groups into artificial families. (JW - This one sentence could revolutionize the church in the US! One of the concepts that we have been working on is summed up in this sentence. "The marriage, and then the family, is the first and most foundational expression of the church.")

...All over the world it is gradually becoming clear that you can build a big church out of small groups, but big churches without families remaining intact aren't worth much.

...The house church phenomenon could be revolutionary. It just may be that the most valuable gift missions can give back to the American church is a renewed sense of the family as God intended it to be."

Preach it, Dr. Winter!!!


  1. I love how Dr. Winters' voice just comes through in all he writes, and I'm choked up reading his words again. He was the most important man of our time and so far outside the matrix that no one could ever anticipate his opinion - as shown in this article. I miss him so much.

    He also succeeded in passing the vision on in his own family, with all four daughters embracing his work, and his grandchildren, as well. Some of them are even choosing to be a community at large and to be God's people in a radical way.

    We do well to study his words and live the life he articulated.

  2. Such great perspectives from an absolutely brilliant man. Wish i could have met him and looking forward to chatting with him in the after life. :)