German missiologist Wolfgang Simson published a global status report on house churches, in his observation “the fastest growing expression of Christ-followers on the planet.”
House churches like we read about in Acts have been present throughout church history, but these groups were often sidelined and even persecuted by the mainline church. However, since the early 20th century, we see a major comeback of house churches. First in China, where some researchers speak of 160-200 million members in more than 10 million house churches.
Since the 1990s house churches also experienced a rapid renaissance outside China. In particular Egypt and India have experienced the emergence of large house church networks, and became modern-day apostolic epicentres for this global phenomenon. The sum total of all current believers in house churches in India alone, about 80 million, already outnumbers the Lutheran Word Federation.
Simson estimates the number of house churches in mid‐2021 as follows:
1) 10 Million house churches in China.
2) Since 1996, about 2 million house churches have been planted in India, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.
4) 2 Million house churches are not on the official radar. This includes movements like Hoffnung Deutschland (founded by Marcus Rose, about 1,000 house churches) and 20,000 newly planted village house churches in Uganda – many meet under a tree for the lack of a hut large enough – as reported by Riccardo Meusel.
5) 1.5 Million ‘half way houses’ for church misfits in the USA. According to American sociologist Josh Packard in his book Church Refugees the US experiences a gigantic church exodus of so-called ‘doners’ – people who are done with church, but not with God, and organize themselves in ‘half way houses’.
6) 1 Million ‘doner’ house church groups outside the US in countries like Australia, the UK, South Africa, Korea, Singapore and Israel.
7) 1.7 Million house churches inside businesses and Insider Movements. Insider movements are house church movements that do not openly identify with Christianity but remain outwardly loyal and therefore hidden inside existing religions like Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism or Buddhism. Many see their religious environment as their cultural heritage within which they have become secret followers of Christ. This phenomenon also exists inside secular groups, clans or tribes. An additional form of this are ‘business churches’, house churches that function inside a business as their cover. Close observers speak of about 500,000 ‘business house churches in China and 200,000 outside China.
8) 400,000 Informal small groups in mainline churches like the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches that fulfil a role in ‘re-evangelisation’.
9) 1 Million house churches in 20,000 smaller house church networks and so-called ‘Apostolic Networks’.
There are several significant contributors to the expansion of house churches:
1) Mission researcher Dr. Todd Johnson, in his ‘Status of Global Christianity 2021, lists 113 million ‘unaffiliated’ or ‘Crypto-Christians’ who are following Christ outside the official church system, often in private, non-public gatherings in homes.
2) An Egyptian missiologist reported that during the Arab Spring at least four million Muslims in Egypt alone have turned away from Islam – many in search of God.
4) Several megachurches in the US feel called by God to be instrumental in the planting of house churches. Mission strategist Curtis Sergeant has created a web-based ‘simple church saturation’ project planning to plant one simple church for every 5,000 people in the US and for every 50,000 people globally with material currently available in at least 37 languages.
5) During the COVID19 lock-downs many traditional church members have been forced to engage in ‘stay-at-home-church’, and a significant percentage will continue in this mode. They organised themselves into neighbourhood churches in homes, sometimes with online input. These numbers are not yet fully researched but may be very significant. One thing is evident: the post-corona church will not be exactly the same as pre-corona-church.
6) A large percentage of the children of church-goers have said their farewell to ‘mum’s-and-dad’s church’ and are in search mode for community, values and lifestyles that are radically different. Abraham Piper for example, the son of famous US‐theologian John Piper, runs a TikTok account with more than 1.1 million followers where he is trying to deconstruct fundamentalist evangelical church culture in search of a new and non-religious framework for life. It is to be seen what forms of following Christ will emerge from this very explosive and creative global people group.
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