At most churches, it’s embarrassing to show up late. But if you arrive early at Greg Stultz’s church, you might interrupt the hosts’ last-minute preparations as they put away homework or toss shoes up the stairs.
Stultz and his family are part of a house church. They typically meet on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, though the week that I visited they were meeting in Dover, Del. Each week, their small group crowds into a private living room for dinner and fellowship — and their church is no rarity.
With new church construction at its lowest point since 1967, and with more religiously unaffiliated Americans than ever before, many congregations say they’ve become more committed communities by losing the pews and stained-glass windows of a central building.
Stultz himself explains that he’d long felt a dissatisfaction with the church hierarchy.
“The Bible says, ‘What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has has a hymn, a word of instruction, or an interpretation’ — all of this done for the strength of the church,” Stultz says. “Where is that being done?”
Nowhere — at least as far as Joleen Zimmerman could find. Three years ago, she had been praying for a close-knit church community when she met Stultz. He had quoted that same verse to her.
“That was the verse that God had given me,” she says, “that when we come together, not to come to pew sit — but to actually come to give.”
During their new church’s meetings, anyone can call out a song suggestion or read a Bible verse. Instead of a sermon, everyone just talks about what’s been weighing on them that week. This group says that the only guidance they need to run a church can be found in the New Testament.
And there were no church buildings in the time of the New Testament, says L. Michael White, a professor of Christian origins at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Where do they meet?” White asks. “We do have references in … the letters of Paul to meeting in someone’s home — or, basically, the church in your house.”
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