VENTURA, Calif. (ABP) — House churches — small groups of 20 or so that regularly meet together for worship in a non-conventional setting — are out-performing more traditional congregations when it comes to satisfying attendees, according to a new survey.
The Barna Group study, released Jan. 8, found that house-church members were more likely to be “completely satisfied” with the experience than those in traditional churches.
The survey asked respondents to rate their level of satisfaction with four main aspects of life in their respective churches: the quality of the church's leadership, the faith commitment of congregants, the congregation's sense of community and personal connectedness, and the spiritual depth of their congregational experience. Researchers used data from 2,008 adults, surveyed last fall.
All told, 59 percent of house-churchers reported complete satisfaction with the spiritual depth of their congregational experience. Only 46 percent of those in conventional churches reported similar levels of contentedness.
Sixty-eight percent of house-church participants were “completely satisfied” with their congregation's leaders, compared to less than half of those attending a conventional church.
David Anderson, a 56-year-old UPS driver, agreed with that assessment. He directs the House Church Network and its website, www.housechurch.org. It serves as an information clearinghouse for other house churches. The site, started in 1992, lists 1,193 house churches nationwide.
Anderson conceded that “good people” disagree with him about the merits of house churches versus more traditional congregations. It's because of its egalitarianism that he advocates the house-church model of governance, which often includes several worship leaders with different but equal roles.
“Local church leadership seems to be via a team, according to the New Testament,” he said. “So there are many advantages to a plurality of elders all equal in their responsibilities.”
Anderson also echoed Barna's finding that three-fifths of adults in a house church were completely satisfied with a sense of community and connectedness they felt in their congregations.
For the past 15 years, Anderson's church has met each Sunday at the houses of different members. He said the meetings are “long but never dreary.” And the close-knit group of 25 connected through practices like celebrating communion as a “real meal” and baptizing in rivers and bathtubs.
The survey found that only two out of five adults in conventional churches said they were satisfied completely with their congregation's sense of connectedness and community.
George Barna, who directed the study, said a church's sense of community is often tied to the average member's level of participation. Most conventional churchgoers have no desire to improve their congregation's ministry, nor do they feel a need to increase personal spiritual responsibility, he said.
“Those who attend a conventional church are generally content to show up and accept whatever their church has on the agenda. They place the responsibility for their spiritual growth on the shoulders of the church,” Barna said in the report. “On the other hand, the intimacy and shared responsibility found in most house churches require each participant to be more serious about their faith development.”
The report further said 66 percent of people in house churches were “completely satisfied” with the commitment of the people involved in their gathering. Forty percent of conventional church attendees reported the same satisfaction.
The survey found that house-church members usually fall into one of two groups: older participants, usually Baby Boomers, who are devout and seeking an intimate spiritual experience; and young adults interested in faith but put off by traditional institutions.
For both groups of house-churchers, roughly 75 percent of respondents said they have belonged to their congregation for less than a year.
Most house churches meet for about two hours once a week, according to the survey. Wednesday is the most common meeting day. Only 9 percent of group meetings last three hours or more, Barna said.
Roughly 90 percent of house-church meetings include spoken prayer and Bible reading. Seventy percent include music or singing. Eighty-nine percent of the congregations spend time serving others outside the group. And 85 percent also spend time eating and visiting before or after the meeting.
Barna said the main deterrent to the growth of the house-church movement is its cultural ethos, which runs counter to many American standards. House churches often force people into closeness, participation and accountability.
“Clearly, the house-church experience is not for everyone,” he said.