Q: #568. How many "house churches" are mentioned in the Bible?
A: Of course, since the “church” did not officially begin until after Pentecost, and the giving of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts Ch. 2), we only see the church mentioned in the New Testament. Technically, all believers in Christ are called “the church” (Eph 1:22-23)(Eph 5:23-32)(1 Cor 12:12-13). However, the places where Christian believers met, and still meet today, are also called “churches.”
In the early stages of Christianity, believers are shown to have met in the Temple or Jewish synagogues, as well as houses (see: Acts 2:46, Acts 5:42, Acts 9:1-2). However, as persecution against Christians increased, they were forced out of the Temple and synagogues, and moved almost exclusively to meeting in “houses.” Today, in certain parts of the world (i.e. China, Iran), believers still meet in secret in houses for this reason. (***Note: I have read estimates that up to 80 million Chinese Christians meet in this way!)
When we look at “churches” in the New Testament, we see “churches”associated with a city or region in the plural: i.e. “the churches of Galatia” (1 Cor 16:1), “the churches of Asia” (1 Cor 16:19), “the churches of Macedonia” (2 Cor 8:1), and in the singular: i.e. “the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1)(Acts 11:22), “the church which was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1), “the church of God which is at Corinth (1 Cor 1:2)(2 Cor 1:1).
Whether in the singular or plural, the “church” or “churches” mentioned in these and other verses are speaking of the one “church,” consisting of all believers, meeting almost exclusively in “house churches” within those cities or regions. Therefore, when Paul addresses a letter (an Epistle) “unto the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Th 1:1), the evidence is strong that he isn’t simply addressing it to a single church in Thessalonica, but rather to a group of “house churches” meeting in Thessalonica, which together make up the “church” in Thessalonica. Paul would have expected his letters to be shared amongst each “house church” within the city or region he addressed it to.
Keeping what I have said above in mind, when the question is asked, “How many house churches are mentioned in the Bible?” you basically have to say that “every” church mentioned in the New Testament is likely a “house church” or group of “house churches.” However, what I am going to do is narrow this down. I am going to share a list of churches that are specifically said to have met in a certain person’s house.
So, here is a list of these “house churches” mentioned in the New Testament. (***Note: The first 4 are clearly “house churches,” the last 4 are not as clear.)
Priscilla and Aquila: (Rom 16:3-5)(1 Cor 16:19)
Gaius: (Rom 16:23)
Nymphas: (Col 4:15)
Archippus: (Phile 1:1-2)
Not as clear:
Mary (mother of John Mark): (Acts 12:5,12)
Lydia: (Acts 16:40)
Justus: (Acts 18:7-8)
Unnamed person: (Acts 20:7-8)
Two sections of Scripture are often used to give us a picture of what these early “house churches” looked like: (Acts 2:40-47) and (Acts 4:32-37).
***Note: See (Acts 20:17-21) for an example of Paul saying he taught “from house to house.”
Today, there is a growing movement by some to bring back “house churches,” like what we see in the New Testament. Some reasons given for the desire to bring back “house churches” include:
Greater intimacy, fellowship, and accountability
More emphasis on the Lord’s Supper (Communion)
Less spending on buildings and programs, and therefore more money for missions
Greater ability for Christians to use their “spiritual gifts”
The ability to quickly place “churches” in new places
At this time, in the United States, Christians are blessed to be able to freely meet in churches to worship our Lord. However, as persecution against Christians continues to increase in these last days, Christians may one day be forced to return to the New Testament formula of meeting in “house churches.” Actually, this may not be such a bad thing.