The idea of a church meeting in a house is new to a lot of people.
Most new churches put a lot of effort into getting a building for them to meet in. Then they name the building after themselves and call the building a “church.” (Of course, a church isn’t really a building. It’s a group of people.) The building is, for some people, one of the most important things about the church. We’ve all grown accustomed to doing church this way.
Let’s consider the possibility that maybe there’s another way.
Going back to the very beginning: When Jesus told his apostles to spread the gospel, they didn’t delay. They started meeting in a house for a prayer meeting (Acts 1:13-14). About a week later, thousands of people were saved and joined the church.
The believers, not knowing our modern way of doing things, didn’t take up an offering for a down payment on a new building down the road from their old place of worship. They started meeting in houses like the apostles. True, they did meet in the temple when they needed to have larger meetings. But their Lord’s Supper meetings were in houses (Acts 2:46), as well as a lot of the teaching and preaching (Acts 5:42).
As the movement grew and gained notoriety, the non-believing Jews didn’t allow the believers to meet in the temple anymore, and they met in houses exclusively. This is where Saul found them when he was persecuting the church (Acts 8:2).
Looking beyond Jerusalem to other cities where the gospel was spread later, we see that they also met in houses, including in Rome (Rom. 16:5), Colossae (Col. 4:15), and wherever it was that Paul wrote I Corinthians from (I Cor. 16:19). There was a church in Philemon’s house (Philemon 2). The church at Corinth met in the house of Gaius (Rom. 16:23).
So meeting in a house isn’t such a new idea. It’s what the apostles did almost exclusively.
And that’s the first answer to the question, “Why meet in the house?” If the apostles did it so consistently, they must have had a good reason.
Paul further encouraged those that he taught to keep doing things the way he had shown them (II Thess. 2:15). These traditions don’t carry the weight of commands from God. But Paul didn’t want these new churches to change from the pattern he had shown them, because it was a good way to do things.
So why was the way the apostles met in houses such a good idea?
For one thing, it brings people into closer fellowship. The host is opening up his home to the church — this gives everyone a more personal feeling when they come together. And why do you go to someone else’s home anyway? To enjoy fellowship with that person. That’s a big part of what church is about. Sitting together in a living room or across the dining room table is a lot more conducive to close fellowship than meeting with many people in a big auditorium facing a stage.
Which brings us to another advantage: The format of the meetings in the first century church was a lot different than the liturgy in most churches today. Read I Cor. 14, and you’ll see the level of participation — everyone is eager to share a song, a teaching, an insight that would help other members of the group. That could maybe take place in an auditorium, but it’s a lot easier when you’re sitting around a living room.
Another reason is financial. Church buildings cost a lot of money. And then it costs a lot for maintenance, utilities, repairs, janitorial services, insurance, mortgage payments, etc. All that can easily be 30% of a church’s budget. And then when the church grows (or shrinks, for that matter), it’s awfully hard to sell the building — no one else has any use for that type of building.
Think of how much easier it would be to start a church if you didn’t have to get a building. Think of what an easier time missionaries would have in getting their new churches to be self-sustaining if the new converts didn’t have to come up with the money to keep up a building. Think of how many more missionaries your church could support if all the money in the budget that went to the building could go to missions.
Think of all the Christians in China and other countries that have the opportunity to meet together in houses, when the government prohibits them from meeting in other buildings. This mainly wasn’t the reason the first century church met in houses — they really didn’t suffer much persecution until later (except from the non-believing Jews in Jerusalem and surrounding areas). But meeting in a house works well in times of persecution as well as in other times.
Having said all that, a church’s place of meeting is a less important issue than some other things. There can be some practical reasons to be elsewhere, depending on the specific circumstances of each congregation. In fact, our congregation has temporarily changed meeting locations to meet in a commercial building, with plans to move back to a house at some point. The important thing is to consider the reasons for what the apostles did and take those into account when deciding on a place for the church to meet.