How to Start a Home Church (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Steps to Starting a Home Church

First, don’t start a home church, yet. Rather, start a home Bible study. Meet together on a regular basis for the simple (yet transforming) study of the Word. Don’t take an offering. Don’t elect any leadership. Don’t set a budget. Just meet and study God’s Word. If you want to get fancy, serve cake.

If this home Bible study begins to have some cohesion, it may be time to transform the Bible study into a church. But a church needs to be under some kind of spiritual authority, preferably of another church. Is there a church somewhere, anywhere, that holds the same doctrine as your group? Would this church become the sponsoring church for your new group? Don’t look for a church that will take you as a satellite (leave that business to NASA), but look for a church that will take you as a sponsor to provide spiritual and practical guidance. That sponsor church should be committed to your future independence and should desire that independence as soon as possible.

Here’s what the sponsoring church can provide:

  • Help with setting doctrinal parameters.
  • Help with teaching materials (the best would be video or other recordings from the Pastor, possibly even having the Pastor join the group on a regular basis via Skype or other video technology).
  • Help with the creation of leadership guidelines.
  • Help with bookkeeping or other financial or legal issues.
  • Help with eventually calling a Pastor.

Notice that what wasn’t included in the list is financial assistance. I am convinced that a new church almost never needs the financial help of the sponsoring church, denomination, or church-planting agency. In fact, such help can be detrimental to the church’s future (and a waste of hard-earned dollars). If there is a financial need that must be covered and cannot be covered by those meeting in the home, the sponsoring church might consider it, but it would and should be rare.

Why is a Sponsoring Church Necessary?

I am a firm believer that churches start churches. If you want more on the problem of church planters starting churches or denominations starting churches, read my article called Evaluating the Church Planting Movement: The Failure Nobody Is Talking About.

When you have a sponsoring church, you have placed yourself under spiritual authority. This is good for the future of the church. Without this, it is very possible that a few strong personalities in the new congregation could quickly change the DNA of the church. Just like a baby needs parents, a baby church needs a parent also. The sponsoring church can use its loving expertise to guide the church through its most important days.

How to Approach a Sponsoring Church

If your home Bible study did not have a sponsoring church from the start (most will not), then approach a sponsor as early in the process as you can see that this fellowship has potential to become a church.

Here’s the homework that your group should do before approaching the church-

  • Does the potential sponsor have a solid doctrinal statement, in writing?
  • Does the potential sponsor adhere to their own statement?
  • Is this the kind of church we would want to be members of?
  • Does the church have a pastor who would love your group and invest his energies and expertise into your wellbeing?
  • Does the church have a willingness to release you when you are fully capable of continuing in an independent manner?

I wish it didn’t have to be said, but beware of sponsoring churches and pastors who may want to use your group to gain money, notoriety, or property.

If you have a church in mind, after doing your homework, then contact the Pastor (i.e.: the guy who preaches on Sunday). Schedule a time to visit (face-to-face, if possible) and ask that Pastor to pray about the matter and approach his own church about this matter. Recognize that this may take weeks or months to accomplish, and don’t rush the process. Small home fellowships can move much more quickly than established congregations and should beware of insisting the sponsor church move more quickly than it is able.

In the end, what you want is a sponsoring church that will guide the founding days of your fellowship until you are able to independently call a pastor and support the ministry. The sponsoring church won’t be giving you funding (that will come from your own members) but will be protecting you from the wolves that would like to sweep in and take your home fellowship and create their own empire.

May God bless those who start home Bible studies which become churches which help make disciples of all nations.

Randy White bio

Randy White Ministries began in 2011 as an online and radio Bible teaching ministry. Today, the ministry is focused on producing verse-by-verse Bible teaching resources for individuals. White has 25 years of pastoral experience—including 12 years at First Baptist Church of Katy, Texas, where he ministered to a large congregation and preached numerous times each week.

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Larry Nelson's picture

Excerpt:

"But a church needs to be under some kind of spiritual authority, preferably of another church."

---------------------------------

Is this Baptist church polity?  How does this fit in with:

  • Independence
  • Ecclesiastical Sovereignty
  • Autonomy
  • "Christ the Head of the Church"
  • The "Priesthood of all believers"
  • Etc.

Or can these things be temporarily suspended in the case of a "baby church" (a phrase used in the article)?  

Larry's picture

Is this Baptist church polity?

Yes. A church isn't a church until it is actually a church and that requires formal constitution with the requisite elements. Typically a church plant is part of a mother church until they actually constitute and can receive members into itself. That was a major concern I had with part 1 of this article. I am glad he clarifies it here.

Larry Nelson's picture

Larry wrote:

Is this Baptist church polity?

Yes. A church isn't a church until it is actually a church and that requires formal constitution with the requisite elements. Typically a church plant is part of a mother church until they actually constitute and can receive members into itself. That was a major concern I had with part 1 of this article. I am glad he clarifies it here.

Perhaps it's just a lack of clarity in the way it is worded that bothers me: "But a church needs to be under some kind of spiritual authority, preferably of another church."

The author didn't say (for example) "a home Bible study group...".

Bert Perry's picture

Seems to me that the church in Ethiopia only had a few minutes with a deacon from Jerusalem before it got started, no?  In the same way, Paul was generally sent out alone or with one or two partners.  There was of course great respect for the council of the apostles in Jerusalem among these churches, but I'm not quite sure I can state unequivocally that "churches beget churches" is Biblical.  In some ways it comes a step closer to Landmarkism than I'd like to go--we can retain our doctrine and order through documents, starting with the Scriptures, rather than through the institutions of men.

TylerR's picture

What do Acts and all the Epistles teach us about (1) what the church is, and (2) what it should be doing? We've all probably read about the "marks of a church," and have seen how there is wide disagreement over what they are. It seems to me a Pastor should take some time and make his own biblical theology of the church from a study of Acts - Revelation, and see what he comes up with - then look at the ecclesiology books.

I'll add this to my list of projects!

For what it's worth, I'm having an interesting discussion about Landmarkism with a gentleman over at Bro. Brandenburg's blog. Read the article, scroll down to the comments section, and feel free to jump in.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rob Fall's picture

daughtering off. And while not required, it is a good idea.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Larry's picture

Seems to me that the church in Ethiopia only had a few minutes with a deacon from Jerusalem before it got started, no?

Where did you get this from?

 In the same way, Paul was generally sent out alone or with one or two partners.

Paul was sent out by the church at Antioch and reported back to the church at Antioch. 

apward's picture

I'm a little confused by the order of events given here. Why is it good to start a Bible teaching ministry or home church and then seek spiritual authority for it afterwards? If you are going to seek out a mother church for support, why not do that first? I understand that a church plant may not arise intentionally, but if you are writing a "how to" guide then we aren't talking about an "accidental" church plant but an intentional one. 

And are we assuming that the person starting this home church is qualified to be a pastor/elder? Are we starting this home church without anyone Biblically qualified to shepherd the flock or is this the function of the "sponsor" church?

Bert Perry's picture

Larry wrote:

Seems to me that the church in Ethiopia only had a few minutes with a deacon from Jerusalem before it got started, no?

Where did you get this from?

 In the same way, Paul was generally sent out alone or with one or two partners.

Paul was sent out by the church at Antioch and reported back to the church at Antioch. 

Larry, by tradition (no perfect source to be sure), the Ethiopian church traces its origins to the Acts 8 meeting with Philip (one of the original deacons per Acts 6:5) and the eunuch.  We might (rightly) respond by noting that the Coptic church did afterwards have some contact with other churches, and moreover developed some doctrines that (to put it mildly) you and I both would grimace at, but its origins do not have a clear "church sponsorship."  It did of course have a clear Holy Spirit sponsorship, which is exactly the same thing that Paul had.

I would agree, of course, that the church did send Paul out, but at the same time it's not a close relationship like one might infer from the article.

Bert Perry's picture

Appreciated Andrew's comment, and Paul's comment to Timothy--I sent you to appoint elders in all the churches--comes to mind.  Certainly leadership/instruction/etc., is crucial.  For selecting them, you've got Paul's example--OK, not too many of us are ambassadors of apostles right now in the sense that Timothy was--or you can select them out of a body that is, or will become, a church.  And the question is then whether it must be a church that selects the elders, or whether a church that is forming can select this.

I tend towards the "less formalized" version, but would agree that if indeed we can count on a "real church" having a touch more maturity (not always the case to be sure), then the formalized version would usually be better.  But part of this question appears to be "adiaphora", not entirely determined by Scripture.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Hmmm.  That's not the way I read the account in Acts.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Hmmm.  That's not the way I read the account in Acts.

Do a Google maps search from Antakya, Turkey (ancient Antioch) to Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessaloniki, or other places Paul visited on his missionary journeys.  You can have close personal relationships from his time at Antioch, but even with rather ambitious distances traveled of 20-50 miles per day, you're talking weeks to months for even a letter to get from one place to another.  Hence, the theology and direction of the new churches would have depended very, very strongly on the persons of Paul (Silas/Mark/etc..) and the documents they had with them.    It's a far cry from today, where we can theoretically have an hour-long Webex every morning at 9.  

Hence I conclude that practically speaking, ancient church planting depended far more on the supervision of the Holy Spirit than on the supervision of a sponsoring church.  It is also worth noting that in many cases, churches decided to neglect that supervision, which is why Paul ended up writing a lot of his epistles.  

Larry's picture

The Ethiopian account is not entirely clear. But it seems to be, at best, an exception. I don't know of any other NT church started that way. Paul, however, seems clear and I am not sure how you concluded it wasn't a "close relationship." Obviously distance in those days was a big factor, but it seems clearly that the church sent Paul and Barnabas out on the mission and they came back and reported to the church because that was who sent them out. It was a church who approved them for ministry and sent them out, and it says that by the church sending them out, it was the Holy Spirit who sent them out.

If by "close relationship" you mean something geographical, then I agree. But I don't think that's the point of having a sending church.

Bert Perry's picture

...I'm simply saying that Paul and others simply were on their own.  They couldn't skype their sending church with questions and the like.  It places certain limitations on human interaction, and in doing so, places certain requirements on the church planter, and given the crazy fact that it worked, we simply might do well to pay attention.

In the same way, while it isn't a slam dunk with the Ethiopians, the same geographical and relational issues apply.  Somehow based on very limited interaction with someone who wasn't even technically an elder at the time (as far as we can tell from Scripture), a church got started.  

Larry's picture

Maybe we are talking past each other here but I would say Paul and his companions were not on their own. They were commissioned by the church that they were a part of and sent out by them. The text notes that when the church sent them out, it was the Holy Spirit sending them out. It is an indication that the Spirit works through the church to send out missionaries and church planters. And the fact that Paul and his companions come back to report to the church seems to indicate that they understood a level of accountability to them.

If by "own their own" you mean they weren't in daily close contact, well of course. But I don't think anyone means that, do they? I think the point is that they were vitally connected to a local church who sent them out of the work of mission after having examined them.

Bert Perry's picture

....is more or less that when I read people endorsing the sponsor church and all, the implicit message seems to be, at least to me, that there will be a significant degree of oversight that will tend to greatly reduce the kind of errors often seen in church planting.  However, a quick look at the New Testament record doesn't seem to bear that out.

And really, what do we have in the NT where specifics are given?  More or less, we've got the early church in Acts, and then we've got Paul with his partners on one hand, and Philip on the other.  Fairly thin gruel to establish doctrine on, to put it mildly. 

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