The 12Church Disciple Making Blog/Hazards of House Churches

Hazards of House Churches

The predominant model church has some real issues- notably the “come here” mentality that calls for a vast amount of time and energy to go into a centralized facility and centralized ministry.

But that doesn’t mean that when we go to a diff model those issues disappear. Many don’t and many new ones show up. If you are here you are probably open to whatever it takes to live on mission with Jesus. And many times an alt model of church is presented as the answer to that need. While I do believe that smaller groups are the building block of the larger church, - let me say it again- smaller groups are the building block of the Church- we need to recognize some of the inherent risks and hazards of this model of church.

Authoritarian Leadership
One of the most significant risks in smaller, less structured environments like house churches is the emergence of domineering leaders. In the absence of formal oversight, leaders who claim apostolic or prophetic authority might impose undue influence over members. This can lead to abusive situations where, for instance, questioning the leader becomes synonymous with questioning God. Cult like behavior can then ensue. Yes, this happens in existing churches as well, but those people are more easily outed due to the public nature of the ministry. In a somewhat underground less public church context this individuals can circulate throughout communities, provinces, states, countries, around the world undetected.

So learn to recognize biblical leadership, especially the principle of servant leadership, and beware of leaders who expect to be served.

Attraction of Fringe Elements
That’s the formal, polite way of saying it. What we’re talking about here are wingnuts.

Alt model churches often appeal to individuals who haven’t integrated and often refuse to integrate into other structures. The actual issue may in fact be one of rebellion, individualism and a nit-pickiness that makes secondary or tertiary issues reasons for them to leave often spewing slander in their wake. Especially at the start of a new group it is incredibly important not to allow contentious people to become embedded and shape the culture of the group.

The group needs to be firm about its values and not allow those who want to hijack it to air their pet peeves with the larger church or some other issue to gain influence.

Vulnerability to Predatory Behavior
The intimate and informal nature of house churches makes them attractive to individuals with ulterior motives, including sexual predators. The close-knit setting and often less stringent safety measures than institutional churches maintain can unfortunately provide opportunities for misconduct.

Recognize that when you are in an on mission group you are in battle. While expecting the best of people is a noble value, being on guard against wolves of every kind is a biblical command.

Inward Focus and Lack of Outreach
Yep, this is a major issue with many many churches of every kind. But note that an alt model doesn’t solves this problem. It is a human problem. It is our tendency to be self centered, to strive for comfort and to shy away from the messiness of evangelism and disciple making.

One of my mentors who started a house church movement shared with me how this is an ongoing challenge for them in their ministry.

One way we try to mitigate this error in 12Church is by embedding personal evangelism training and prayer for those we are seeking to reach right into our basic gathering. It’s as basic to our group meetings as the DBS. We also actively discuss what we can do to reach our friends together.

Theological Errors and Misemphases
This is a common but overblown critique of non traditional churches. The truth is, major theological issues tend to arise in established institutions and churches where a very few individuals control the teaching, maybe even to the point of producing their own “Bible translation.” And then these ideas get broadcast widely. On mission small groups that primarily engage in DBS type study and disciple making are NOT hotbeds of widespread theological error. They’re too focused on mission to invent esoteric new theologies.

However, let’s recognize that false teaching has been around since the beginning and that Jesus and Paul warned about it extensively. So know your Bible and be prepared to question what doesn’t seem to line up. Do further research on questionable issues that arise and report back to your group to ensure things don’t go sideways. But honestly, if a group is focused on taking in the raw Word of God and applying it to their lives and mission, the core, foundational teachings of the Bible are very clear and you will be too focused on disciple making to run down theological rabbit trails.

Economic Exploitation and Personal Therapy
AKA leachy leaders.

Some people get into ministry, even at the house church level, for potential financial gain. Beware of C leaders who are more vocal and passionate about their multilevel marketing product or some kind of business venture than the Gospel. Beware of leaders who insist you tithe to them.

Also, beware of leaders who position themselves as counsellors or pastors but who have deep unmet personal needs, even unresolved trauma, that they seek to medicate by leading others. There are many counsellor types who have no business counseling anyone. If this kind of person is in charge of or even has significant influence in a group, it runs the risk of becoming a complex codependent non-missional pseudo church.

Again, understand the biblical qualifications for leaders and be clear on what the purpose of the group is and is not. Be cautious and transparent whenever money is involved. And while maintaining a high level of care for one another, do not allow care for one another or one esp needy person, including a leader, to become the functional purpose of the ministry.


No model of church is perfect, because they all include… people! And those of us who are open a “whatever it takes to be disciples who make disciples” model of church need to recognize that while structure does help with achieving the mission, each structure or model or pattern of ministry is susceptible to being bumped off track or neutered by some of the same age old strategies of the enemy and human nature that has challenged the church from the beginning.

Daren Wride

Founder, 12Church

In this blog Daren shares his latest learnings, resources and ideas about disciple making and leading on-mission groups of Christ Followers.