Researcher says mainline US denominations losing members to “new form of church”
Is there a “transformation shift” going on in American Christianity? George Barna, founding director of the Barna Group, a Ventura-based firm that researches religious trends, says there is. “We predict that by the year 2025 the market share of conventional churches will be cut in half,” he told the July 23 Los Angeles Times. “People are creating a new form of church, and it’s really exciting.”
Barna has written a book, Revolution, about this “new form of church,” which goes by various names -- house church, living room church, underground church – but basically marks a departure of many Christians from conventional church structures, such as parishes or the mega-church. People gather in homes in small groups averaging anywhere from a dozen to twice that number, where they worship, pray, and engage in Bible reading. A 2006 Barna Group survey estimated that 9% of U.S. adults attend house churches every week, nine times the number that did so in the 1990s.
Proponents of the home church say it is the way the early Christians met. “There were no church buildings in the first 300 years of church history,” a house-church planter, Dan Hubbell, told the Times. He said people like these gatherings for their intimacy and their egalitarian quality.
Milt Rodriguez, whose Rebuilders ministry starts such gatherings, told the newspaper, “It’s not just one person preaching with everybody following. Everyone has a function, and everyone shares.”
Barna says the house churches reflect a philosophy that values relationships over other goods – such as doctrine and tradition. Critics say the phenomenon leads to insular groups that develop club mindsets and will not be open to the wider world.
Such home churches reflect a Protestant Evangelical mindset, according to Penn State University sociology and religious studies Roger Finke. “If you are Orthodox or Catholic or Lutheran,” he told the Times, “you wouldn’t think of having the authority [to worship] without being part of a larger hierarchy. For evangelicals, the ultimate authority is the Bible. They don’t depend on ordained clergy to provide ritual or give them sacraments.” (Barna grew up Catholic, but later became an Evangelical Christian.)
A 4,000-member Irvine mega-church, New Song Church, has branched out to include 15 mini-churches in its ambit. Members of these groups meet normally in their homes, and once a month at the central church for services. According to a 2004 Christianity Today article, New Song members are young (average age 28) and, though mostly Asian, have in recent years included growing numbers of other groups, including Hispanics.
Are Catholics immune to the home-church allure? Apparently not. A home-church founder in Austin, Texas, Dr. Cecilia Schulte, a “lifelong Catholic,” told the July 29, 2005 Religions and Ethics, that she went the home church route because “I wasn't finding... all of what I needed by attending Mass or just following ritual, etc. We're spiritual beings, and that means exploring and changing and growing, and I felt inhibited in a traditional church setting.”
Article from: CalCatholic