The multiplication stopped….

This is a bit of a long quote from Brian Hogan, but it illustrates the importance of small home based groups:

As Time went on, the elders-to-be came to Magnus and me and asked for more frequent big meetings.  They reasoned that everyone enjoyed getting together for corporate worship, dramas, and testimonies, and they found seeing the growing numbers of believers very encouraging.  They also pointed out that the people were giving generously, in accordance with the command of Jesus they’d been taught, and there was enough money coming in to rent a hall more often.  We gave our consent and the Celebration was increased to every other Sunday.  This worked very well and the excitement level rose proportionately.  Eventually, there were enough funds coming in to rent a place every Sunday, and we could tell everyone like the large gathering even though it too far more energy and resources to pull off than a house group.  The house churches continued in the weekdays, and the big meeting became our regular Sunday event.

After a couple of months, however, we noticed something was wrong.  We were meeting with the house group leaders in the regular training meeting and they were taking turns sharing statistics on their groups to give us all an idea how things were going.  A puzzling and disturbing trend began to emerge as we looked at the data.  The house churches had stopped growing, and worse still, had stopped multiplying.  They weren’t shrinking, but all had basically hit a plateau.  The big Celebration meeting continued to grow every Sunday, though.  The more we questioned the leaders, the more it became clear — believers older in faith continued in the small house groups, but the new people were choosing the Celebration as their connection with the church.  No matter how much we consistently stressed participation in the house groups as the only way to be a real part of the Body, we were giving out a stronger, contradictory non-verbal message every Sunday morning.  Since 90 percent of our time and energy and money went into just three or four hours on Sunday morning, the new believers assumed this was our main event, despite our protestations to the contrary.  It was certainly easier to come and be a part of an audience than to enter a home and be discipled by those who knew you well as you learned to be an active participant.

The Mongolian leaders and I were Horrified.  As we prayed about what to do, we kept circling around a solution none of us wanted but that eventually proved to be the only way to get our church back on God’s track.  We came to the painful decision to cancel the Sunday Celebrations.

The next Sunday morning, after the testimony, worship, dramas, and sharing of God’s Word, we had all the house church leaders stand around the outside of the movie theatre auditorium we were renting.  We announced this was our last big gathering for the foreseeable future, and anyone who considered themselves a part of the Body would need to be involved in a house church, as this was the only expression available from now on.  The leaders were arranged by district, and we pointed them out geographically.  We asked everyone to walk over to the leader whose group was closest to their home.  Almost everyone did.  then the leaders took down their names and told them where and when the next gathering was taking place.  And that was it.

The fruit of this drastic action was dramatic.  Within a couple of weeks all of the groups needed to multiply as they were all too big.  The new believers were being taught to obey Jesus at last, and new life flushed through the arteries of the Body.  After a couple of months we resumed Celebration meeting just once a month — and it was good.

I wish I could tell you we’d learned our lessons, and everything went well from this point onward.  But I can’t.  We eventually slid from monthly, to bi-monthly Celebrations.  These gatherings were so popular and fun we once again tried to have them every Sunday — and the same story played out again with similar results.  The house churches were just not sustainable at the center of the church’s life when the big meetings were weekly.

from There’s A Sheep In My Bathtub

by Brian Hogan