Bill opened the door with a smile as he welcomed the Smithís from own the street. This was their first visit to Billís home meeting and they were a little anxious. But the friendly folks inside soon put the newcomers at ease. The light refreshments at the start of the gathering gave them an opportunity to mingle and get to know other people by name.
Soon, everyone was enjoying the informal fellowship. After a little while, Bill got everyoneís attention and the seats around the room were filled. Bill asked an ice-breaker question to help people tell something about themselves. The answers provoked lots of laughter. Before long, the meeting turned to spiritual matters as Bill guided the discussion toward issues they faced in everyday life.
Bible verses were used to answer the questions that arose. By the end of the meeting, several asked for prayer or expressed concern for others who were facing difficult situations. Anyone wanting prayer was able to receive it with no embarrassment. During prayer, one person volunteered the impressions she sensed were from God. The Smithís felt genuine love from the group as prayer was offered for their wayward son.
They left the meeting that night planning to return the next week, having felt that they had finally found real relationships with sincere believers in Christ.
This short scenario is a description of a cell meeting. A cell meeting is a small group of believers gathered in a private house to worship God, study the Bible, and edify one another. This kind of event is now happening in millions of lives in thousands of homes in hundreds of nations. Notice, it took on a different flavor due to newcomers being present. If everyone attending was already experienced with life in the Spirit, it might have gone in a different direction.
Paul addressed these variations of small-group dynamics in his letter to the Corinthian church. He said we are to show care for one another and to wait on one another (1 Cor. 11:33, 12:25). But if an unbeliever or someone who is untaught is among us, then we are to focus on the gospel addressing their felt needs and not offend the newcomer with our liberties (1 Cor. 14:23-24). The operative principle is to always show respectful love for all people, while the goal is to edify one another with our gifts of grace as we share Christ (1 Cor. 14:40).
In this context of a small group setting, Godís grace and goodness is ministered one to another effortlessly. Spiritual growth occurs spontaneously. Members realize their gifts and callings. Prayer is offered for friends and neighbors to be saved. Needs are addressed and sharing occurs. The gospelís power is multiplied as more people are equipped for ministry. These benefits are a natural result of permitting and promoting the church as it meets in homes.
I tell my congregation, "The church is what meets in your house. The Sunday gathering is what the church does." This little statement takes the focus away from "doing church" to "being church." Too much of our mind-set is organizational, rather than organic. The church is a living body, not a building. The Bible says we are the body of Christ. We have to move away from powerless traditions back toward the New Testament emphasis on koinoia, or true fellowship, rather than just assemble as strangers under the same roof. The apostles grew churches around communityĖlife shared in common because of Christís salvation.
A question I often ask on Sunday is "When does church begin?" Some folks will answer, "Ten oíclock!" They are partially right. But Jesus said whenever two or three of us gather together, He is present. Therefore, church begins when the second person arrives. As soon as we gather in His name, as soon as we come into agreement, church has begun.
The church is Christ Incorporated, His living body, a sacred assembly. It is growing rapidly on the earth. Under Godís authority, we are free to pray, "Thy will be done," and to model Godís kingdom with our love for one another.
We need to stretch our thinking until we see the mystery of the new wineskin of the church. We need to enlarge our concept of what the Church really is.
More than a building, more than a denomination, more than a confessing creed, it is a living body, a growing temple, a house not made with hands, an international and interracial network of relationships connected to Jesus, designed by Godís creative genius (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 4:16). It is Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. By His Spirit He indwells us individually and connects us corporately (1 Cor. 6:19, 3:16).
We need to understand the building blocks of the church in order to better obey our Lordís great commission. To grow larger, we need to think smaller.
The New Testament often uses the phrase "the church which is in your house." Paul used it four timesó in First Corinthians 6:19, Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 2.
Paul greeted a couple, Priscilla and her husband Aquilla, and sent letters to the church that met in their house. This couple held home meetings in both Corinth and later in Rome. Paul sent similar greetings to Nympha, a lady who led a house church in Laodicea. From his prison in Rome, Paul also wrote to Archippus whose home held a church.
In all of these occasions, the apostle remained in relationship with groups of Christians whose normal mode of gathering was house to house (see Acts 20:20). They had no building or formal hierarchy, but they did have effective ministry based in their homes. And they had a relationship with a spiritual father.
This methodology won whole cities to Christ and changed nations. In fact, so many in the cities were won to Christ by this method that the word for those outside the city, pagans, became synonymous with unbelievers.
Our Lord Jesus set the pattern for the church when He started small. He called twelve disciples. This small group spent time with Him in prayer. Crowds got miracles and parables, but His proteges got personal fellowship, character development, on-the-job training, and strong commandments to walk in love.
They were commissioned to repeat with others what Christ had done with them. We canít improve on Jesusí methods. Big programs make a big splash, but lasting fruit comes from a simple plan that loves individuals and equips them for the work of the ministry.
This simple plan was demonstrated by the early apostles. In Acts 2:46, the church gathered in the Temple and in homes. Later, the Jewish element of the church was outnumbered by Gentile converts. Still later, the Temple was destroyed and persecution prevented public gatherings. The house church became the model for Christian lifestyle, the basis for community. The next 300 years was a period of amazing growth.
Acts 2:42 shows four components of the daily life of the early church. They are: 1) doctrine, 2) fellowship, 3) meals, and 4) prayer. Doctrine refers to teaching. Teaching should disseminate from the apostolic office. It explains the Bible, Godís orthodox standard for revealed truth. Fellowship is time spent in each otherís company, enjoying one another, laughing, worshiping, serving. It is what families do. Meals are times spent at each otherís table, inviting newcomers to join the oikos group, blessing one another with our gifts and love. Prayer describes all we do in addressing God the Father in worship, intercession, praise, and giving of thanks.
Small groups facilitate edification, evangelism, and intercession. The church at prayer is the engine of the kingdom. Preaching targets the unconverted. Prayer-Cells are designed for believers.
These four activities were carried out under the supervision of apostles. An independent house church is not a church set in order. The Body of Christ must have organic unity and true accountability with Christís governmental gifts, else we model lawlessness to an already lawless world. Isolated cells need to be in the sphere of apostles and prophets, someone with a larger grace gift. In cells, we pray for one another. In Sunday gatherings, we connect with 5-fold ministry.
When I am asked how folks can find their proper spiritual oversight, I ask two diagnostic questions: "Who watches out for your soul (or your cell-group leaderís soul) and feeds you with Godís word?" And, "To whom do you pay tithes?" Apart from a covenant relationship with Five-fold ministries, there is danger of heresy or harshness. Healthy units in the Body of Christ will have a wholesome desire to integrate with the larger part, the rest of the Body.
The apostles preached publicly and taught privately. New groups of disciples learned covenant love and fervent prayer by gathering in each otherís homes. Thus new churches were formed (Acts 14:21-23). Paul ended his ministry in Ephesus by gathering the house-church leaders and charging them to continue the work after his departure (Acts 20:17-32).
He rehearsed his tactics. They had met publicly and from house to house. In those settings, Paul taught them repentance and faith. He bore witness to and demonstrated the power of the kingdom of God. He told the leaders to shepherd (or, feed) the flock among them, those bought with the blood of Jesus.
Our mission remains the same today. Godís power is manifested when we meet for prayer in small groups. This is the new wineskin for the Church of the 21st Century. These are the little flocks that will receive the kingdom, love the lost, and destroy the gates of hell.
© 2000 by Ron Wood. Ron and his wife, Lana, have been pastors more than 30 years. He has served as a State Coordinator for the U. S. Strategic Prayer Network. Ron is best known for his prophetic writing ministry. Ron & Lana are a ministry team. They are members of Reconciliation Ministries International led by Bishop Joseph Garlington. Ron & Lana were sent to Africa to help equip emerging apostolic leaders in the developing church. If you wish to copy this article for free distribution, permission is hereby granted to duplicate it provided there are no changes or omissions made to this article and this byline is included. The author asserts his moral rights of ownership. For more information or helpful literature, visit our web site at touchedbygrace.org, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.