Megachurch, meet microchurch.
Growing numbers of Colorado residents believe the tiny house church, also called a simple church or an organic church, might be the mightier transformer of Christian lives.
A recliner becomes a pulpit. A sofa and some armchairs serve as pews.
The key element is that the group is small enough for everyone to participate fully and to connect intimately. In this, the new followers believe, they are like the earliest Christians, who also met in small groups in homes.
A house church is not about one person standing up and talking for 45 minutes, says former Presbyterian pastor John White, a consultant who helped launch the house-church movement in Colorado 12 years ago.
“Traditional church works fine for a lot of people, but there’s a growing number of people for whom it’s not working,” White said.
Religion surveyors, theologians and other experts say millions of American adults are abandoning traditional church because, among many reasons, the Americanized church has become, for them, too corporate and consumeristic.
“House church can be messy, but it’s never boring,” White said. “It requires you to be a spiritual grown-up. You have to do the work.”
Western states are some of the most fertile ground for the new organic churches, according to The Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based faith research and marketing group.
These homemade churches are easy to find because of online directories.
“Those in the house-church movement see themselves as reclaiming the early church’s vision of closely connected fellowship,” said Phil Campbell, visiting assistant professor of congregational studies at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology.
Darren Boyer’s house of worship, several years old, is Brighton House Church. One Thursday evening, Boyer, a business trainer, made waffles for the six of 12 congregants who turned up. Their ages are mid-30s to mid-50s.
“Is anyone feeling thankful?” Boyer asked before the meal. Someone was and expressed it in a short blessing.
After breaking bread and talk of record-size trout, the upcoming Heaven Fest concert, Zumba dance class, Rockies baseball and hot weather, the group moved from the kitchen to the living room for more than an hour of intense Bible study and prayer.
United Methodist minister Catherine Kelsey, visiting professor and dean of the Iliff Chapel said mainline and conventional evangelical churches are threatened by the movement only if they perceive it as a threat.
“Younger adults know we’re living in a time of enormous change happening rapidly,” Kelsey said. “They’re not waiting for (conventional) church to change to reflect what’s happening in the culture.”
The Barna Group found that 74 percent of American churchgoers attended conventional church while 5 percent attended only house church. Another 19 percent attended both.
Researcher George Barna predicted the house church and other variants will, over the next two decades, continue to draw followers away from conventional churches.
“There’s nothing magical or mystical about a big building, but there’s nothing wrong with having a big building either,” said Brady Boyd of New Life Church in Colorado.
The vibrancy of the faith and worship is what counts, he said.
Barna said those most likely to attend conventional church are women, people older than 60, evangelicals and Midwesterners. The people most likely to attend house church are men, home-school families and Westerners.
The Barna Group also found that regular churchgoers, people who attend small groups and church volunteers are likely to be politically conservative or moderate. By contrast, at least one-quarter of house- church participants describe themselves as liberals, and nearly half are registered Democrats.