Having Church With Just Your Own Family
By David Crank
MANY believers just drop out of church at some point and decide that "organized religion" is not for them. This is certainly nothing new. Sometimes, it is a response to a bad church experience. Other times, it results from just seeing no benefit of church, at least not one sufficient for the time sacrificed. Some of these believers may decide to “have church” by watching it on TV or listening to church on the radio.
More recently, many home schooling families have been leaving their churches, deciding to "home church". This term can be a little confusing as it is often used in two different ways. Sometimes it means being a part of a small church - a “home” or “house” church - that meets in homes rather than in a church building. At other times it means the family has decided not to participate in any church at all, but instead to have church services with just their own family in their own home. It is this later meaning that this article is about.
Why Are Home Schoolers Leaving Church?
Why would believers who desire for their families to grow in Christ, choose to not participate in any church? Sometimes it may be the traditional "dropping out" because of a bad experience or not seeing the value. Often though, it is something else. In spite of the large numbers of churches of seemingly every “flavor”, there is a lot of frustration about available church options. Home schoolers who are truly seeking to raise godly children, often complain that they cannot find a good church for their family.
What are the problems many home schoolers are having with the available church options? They are many. Sometimes it is the constant segregation of the family by age groups (i.e. nursery, Sunday schools, children's church, youth groups, etc.). Sometimes it is concerns over the influences of other children. After protecting their children from the influences of the public school children and peer pressure, some families have encountered the same at church. Other church children have adopted the bad habits, vulgarity and poor behavior of many in the public schools.
There may be serious differences in others areas, such as the type of music used in the services, or the types of leadership roles allowed to women. There may be concerns with the youth group or even having a youth group at all. There may be a feeling of isolation, with few other like-minded folks in the areas of home schooling, full quiver, courtship, modest clothing, etc. In some churches, there is also a real pressure to conform or face rejection for being different. Add to these all the normal doctrinal differences and differences concerning church organization and practices, and it can be very hard to find a "good" church.
So what happens? A family decides to leave a church because of growing frustrations such as mentioned above. They begin visiting other churches only to find more of the same problems. What do they do? Some will go ahead and join a church that seems better than most, while perhaps avoiding certain church programs. Some of these will choose to participate in leadership and try to influence the church positively. Others will avoid leadership specifically because of their differences.
Other families will decide that there is no acceptable church option nearby. They will see more harm than good from joining any of the churches, and choose to worship at home with just their own family. Is this a good thing? Does the Bible support this? Would the Lord ever have us break off from all local churches?
Reasons for a Local Congregation
A key part of the evangelism efforts of the apostles was the formation of local assemblies of believers. The work of evangelism was not complete when people came to Christ, nor when they had sat under an apostle's teaching for 6 months. The job was not done until there was a functioning local body of believers that could perpetuate itself. This assembly served the purposes of: maintaining unity, maintaining correct doctrine, evangelizing unbelievers, discipling new believers, and correcting those who strayed. It also offered a family of believers from which to receive love, encouragement and practical assistance. The church was to be the main vehicle for Christian growth and for serving God together.
Sadly, many churches do not perform these functions well. They become social clubs with little true spiritual encouragement. The Sunday gathering is mostly just sitting in a pew, passively listening to one man preach or teach (who may or may not have much to say). For children, church often becomes the place for doing crafts, listening to Bible stories and playing with other children. With many churches, the whole focus becomes growth for growth's sake. More members mean more boasting rights, more money for pastors and staff and larger and more beautiful facilities. Growth is encouraged with recreation facilities and endless varieties of programs, classes, and church sports. Though many churches have many failings, is that sufficient reason for us to abandon church altogether? Did Jesus make a mistake in deciding to use churches for the building up and spreading of the kingdom of God?
What the Bible Teaches About Church
It is within the church that the saints are to be equipped for the work of service, attaining to the unity of the faith and reaching Christian maturity. We are to function as one body, being built up together in love. (Eph 4:11-16). In Hebrews 10:23-25, believers are specifically exhorted not to forsake assembling together. Rather, we are to assemble regularly in order to encourage one another and to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. In Matt 18:15-17, we learn what we should do when a brother sins. If he refuses to listen to us and also to several witnesses, the matter is to be taken to the church. In Acts 20:28-29 we see that God has appointed shepherds over the church to guard and lead us. Countless other passages can be cited that at least assume that believers will be regularly assembling in local bodies, serving Christ together. There is no way we can fulfill our God given responsibilities to other believers without being in their company on some regular basis (consider all the "one another" verses).
Why Do We Need More Than Our Own Family?
We need the fellowship, encouragement, and accountability that comes with a church body. We also needs the prayers of other believers and often the support and assistance of others. A church family should provide close relationships with others, who care about your family and share many of the same goals, values and convictions. A church family can come to your aid in times of financial trouble, major health problems, or when you need the advice and expertise of others. A good church can be a great blessing to your family.
We also have an obligation to the Lord to serve and minister to the needs of other believers. We ought to be there for them in their time of need. We should be good examples, offering encouragement and godly advice. We should be keeping others accountable and sharing what the Lord has taught us. To isolate ourselves from regular fellowship with other believers is to neglect our duty as members of the body of Christ. Others need the benefit of our gifts. It is not just a question of whether we need church - the church needs us!
A Good Option?
So is "having church with just you own family" really a good option? No, it is not. It is better than having no church services at all. It may sometimes be better than becoming part of one of the churches around you. Yet, the problems of the given church must be weighed against the problems of having no church family at all. Having church with just your family should best be thought of as a very temporary measure, while you seek the Lord's will, or perhaps heal over a very bad church experience, or explore options for starting a new church. You should continue to check out new churches and fellowships or consider how you could start a new church. Even one other family who will join with you is sufficient to begin a new church.
What To Do?
What should you do when you cannot find a good church option for your family? First, you should probably take a very hard look at why the local churches are a problem. Are you being too perfectionistic? There is no perfect church - not even close! Is there some way you can partake of the good while avoiding much of the bad? Are you being too intolerant of differences?
Might there be the possibility of starting a new church? There are likely at least a few others like your family, somewhere within driving distance, that are facing a similar dilemma. If you can find them, the start of a new church - especially according to the home or house church pattern - may be possible.
In the meantime, determine that your churchless state will be only temporary. You will not allow your family to become comfortable with isolating itself from church and other believers. Seek out opportunities for Christian fellowship with other families. Be hospitable. Encourage more than just social interaction, seek to offer encouragement in Christ to others. Build what relationships you can with churches that you have some commonality with, even if the differences are significant enough to keep you from being able to join and be a regular part of their services. Do not long remain worshipping alone with just your family, if you can help it. We need each other and we need the accountability that comes from being members together in a local church. Working together we can be more effective for the cause of Christ and can be a better testimony to the world around us.
Traps to Beware Of
Beware thinking that either worship or teaching is "church". Church is much more than either of these elements. If you think of "church" as simply worshipping together, why look for any group larger than your immediate family? If you think of church as simply good teaching - well you don't have to be part of any church to get that! If church is only for getting yourself fed with spiritual truth, you can just turn on the radio or TV or read a book. Some of the best Christian teachers and preachers in the country are readily available through these sources. Now you can even read scores of good sermons on the internet!
The easy availability of good teaching is a real blessing for those unable to attend church or those needing better teaching than their local church's pastor typically supplies. Who couldn't sometimes use further good teaching and encouragement while driving to work or at other times? Yet the blessing can become a curse for those who fall for this fallacy and see little need of church when teaching is so easily available.
Beware becoming lazy. After not going to church for a while, you can get lazy. You would rather sleep later and use your time according to your own preferences than to take the family to church. You would rather stay home (or go somewhere for recreation). You quickly forget your obligation to serve the Lord by regularly serving the body of Christ. You might not think you could ever be tempted by this, but beware!
Also beware becoming selfish of your free time. We live in a very "me" centered society. People are always asking, "What's in it for me?" This is hardly the attitude we should have towards church! We can become very jealous of our free time, reserving it for hobbies, sports, recreation and entertainment. If we are going to fulfill our proper roles within the body of Christ, we must make assembling with the saints a priority. We must consistently put it above our pleasures.
Beware individualism and not connecting with other believers. We place too much value on individualism. God intends for us to be closely connected with other believers, both for our spiritual growth and for theirs. We need to seek out Christian fellowship and be willing to open our lives to others. We need to become committed to encouraging, helping, and practically loving specific other believers. This requires becoming less individualistic and less private with others.
There may be times when it is best to temporarily remain outside of any local church, while you seek direction for where to go or whether to try to start a new church. In keeping with Biblical exhortations and the purposes for the church, your separation from church should be very temporary, with regular sincere efforts to find or create a church body of which you can be a part. We may sometimes need to separate our families from certain church activities and settings, for the good of our family. However, we should still desire as much unity and fellowship with other believers as possible. Our goal should not be to separate ourselves from everyone who is not exactly like us.
Don't remain long unattached and without real Christian fellowship. Search diligently for a new church or try to start a new work. If nothing else, try to start some type of fellowship group. Don't continue in "home churching with our family only" for an extended period unless you really have no choice. Church is important. There is much more to church than just being taught or singing or praying. We all have a role to play in serving God and one another. We are all needed and we all need a good church.
Volume 2 Issue 6: November / December 2001, © Unless The Lord ... Magazine