It is Vacation Bible School time again, when millions of children visit churches and spend week nights doing crafts and singing songs and hopefully learning lasting messages from the Bible. If parents plan things well, their kids could probably catch a VBS every week until school starts.
Yet, while church activity for kids might rise during July and August, summertime is notorious for empty pews when Sunday comes. The beckoning of the beach is a powerful distraction. Which is why the summer is a good time to start praying about and planning for a home Bible study. Throughout the ages of Christianity, small groups studying the Bible together in mutual hunger and interest have produced fruitful growth and discipleship.
A recent study by The National Biblical Literacy Survey found that Bible literacy is declining among people under the age of 45 in the UK. A majority of young people didn't know some of the most basic Bible stories. For instance, 62 percent of respondents didn't know about the Prodigal Son, and another 60 percent couldn't tell who the Good Samaritan was. These same people might turn to the Bible in a time of stress, but a significant number thought it was an outdated irrelevant book. Yet, as in the days of John and Charles Wesley, spiritual life can be found in small groups in the UK, gathering to study the Scriptures and to encourage and disciple one another.
In recent years the number of home churches and small group fellowships in the United States has risen exponentially. Since the year 2000, it is estimated that more than 20 million Americans have begun exploring alternative forms of worship, including home churches. A survey conducted in 2006 by the Barna group concluded that about nine percent of adults in the United States today attend a house church – a decade ago that number was less than one percent.
Home churches were, of course, the way it all started. Christianity began with a group of a dozen men along a seaside in Galilee. Even later as Paul traveled and planted, it was the intimacy of home fellowships that provided the earliest forums for the Gospel. His sermons in the synagogues and on Mars Hill were but an invitation. The deeper teaching was taking place in small groups in homes and on hillsides. While the facilities and formalities of Sunday services have since become the norm for many, it was not always so. The church in the house of Philemon grew into the church of Colossae (Philemon 2). The church in the house of Nymphas became the church of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). The churches in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, became the churches of both Ephesus and Rome (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5).
There are three key components to our Christian walk: study of the scriptures, prayer, and the fellowship of believers. Many Christians today have grown dissatisfied with organized religion. Some have even become so discouraged that they have quit attending church altogether. However, the Bible is very clear when it emphasizes the importance of spending time with other believers.
"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." -Hebrews 10:25It is critical that we spend time regularly with other believers in order to encourage each other.
In the era of the mega-church, where parishioners often number in the thousands or even tens of thousands, it is easy to see why many Christians feel lost. Such large congregations can be intimidating and impersonal. (Many of the more effective larger organizations also foster and nurture small groups - often called "cells" - during the week to respond to just such needs.) For many Christians who desire a more intimate fellowship, home churches seem to be the answer.
Even those believers who are actively involved in their local church can benefit from the intimacy and accountability of a home fellowship. If you are not presently in a small, weekly, Bible study group, we strongly encourage you to find one and give it a try. You may be in for a truly life-changing experience. If you can't find one, you might even consider starting one (for more information on how to do this, see the links below).
There are many Christian leaders today who think that home fellowships represent the church of the future – as we live in an increasingly volatile and politically correct world. The small size of some home groups also offers a flexibility that the larger church cannot, including the freedom to meet down at the beach!
For a more detailed discussion of this topic, check out our briefing titled The Once and Future Church.
Knowledge Of Bible 'In Decline' - BBC News
House Church Involvement Is Growing - The Barna Group
Going to Church by Staying at Home - Washington Post
The Once and Future Church - MP3 Download - Special Offer!
The Once and Future Church - DVD - Koinonia House