How to plant a house church?

A friend of mine, Hamilton Filmalter of River of life ministries, currently staying and working in California in the USA, recently gave me some wonderful insights into proper and effective New-Testament church planting. He has been planting house churches in Asia during recent years.

From his pen:

In 2004 the door opened into Asia for the in-gathering of the harvest. Hundreds of thousands accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior in large open air crusades. The blind saw and the lame walked as the Good News about Jesus was preached. The harvest we had so longed for was unfolding, but how do you gather and disciple? Multiplying house church networks became the vehicle for gathering the harvest and soon thousands of people were being trained with every crusade to plant house churches. These house churches are in fact ‘harvest houses’, built around a ‘man of peace’ as Jesus described in Luke 10.

Harvest burns in our hearts. Many prophesies indicate that a shift has taken place in America and that we are standing on the brink of the greatest harvest of souls in history. It is towards this harvest that our ministry in America is directed. We are equipping churches here to start harvesting in new ways, with a new wine-skin of harvest houses, as we are continuing the work in Asia.

– Hamilton Filmalter

Hamilton particularly focused on the planting of house churches in Pakistan during the above-mentioned outreach.

I was introduced to the Luke 10 method of planting house churches during a seminar that Hamilton conducted in South Africa recently. The seminar was really a wonderful and a very illuminating experience. The model that Hamilton introduced to me has inspired me so much that I decided to write this short post. Mainly to inspire and to motivate as many people as possible to move into the harvest and plant proper New-Testament based churches.

The harvest is ripe and the laborers are few but to me it is all a matter of focus. I could not help to immediately realize that the focus in the house church community of South Africa needs to be altered and corrected to embrace the method that Jesus Christ taught His disciples. Since I started planting house churches my focus has always been the following: Get a few Christians together. Go for mature Christians currently involved in the institutional church but who showed signs of wanting to get out of the system. Convince them to come together once a week in a home somewhere. Teach them the principles of house churches. Help them to detox, in other words, help them to lay down the ways and the doctrines that they learned through the years in the institutional church. Help them to learn the new ways and new methods and principles that govern New-Testament based house churches. Also teach them to function in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:26 is an important part of house churches:

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What then is it brethren? When you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a language, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

My focus was to gather these people in my house or in the house of a fellow worker.

Once I have achieved this, the next step was to invest everything that I learned into this small group of people. The main focus after detoxing these people was to do my part in “developing” and “perfecting” these people in their faith walk with God and to equip them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We all know that the institutional church does not focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and therefore the gifts of the Spirit are usually not developed in these people. House churches focus primarily on the gifts of the Spirit in their gatherings as 1 Corinthians 14:26 tells us. This is Biblical.

The plan has always been to spend between six months or a year or two with the group until they have spiritually grown enough for me to leave them on their own. This was my focus and this was the way that I thought proper New-Testament based churches should be planted. Until of course, Hamilton Filmalter introduced me to a far better way of planting churches.

The traditional way of evangelization that the institutional church is still adopting today was already proven not very effective in Pakistan. This method was abandoned after the outreach team Hamilton was involved with attempted to put new converts in an institutional church after leading them to Christ. The strategy was to go to these communities in Pakistan, visit them in their houses, lead them to the lord, get their friends and families in the area saved and then move them to the nearest institutional church. This plan failed. Only one woman attended the local church and also only once.

What then is the biblical way or method of planting churches? How did Jesus teach the apostles? How did the apostles plant churches? What was the focus? Hamilton Filmalter and the team that he was working with was introduced to this biblical method and they successfully planted hundreds of New-Testament based house churches in Pakistan. These house church networks are still growing and everybody are still following this method. Why? Because it is the Biblical method of planting churches and it works!

What did Jesus Christ teach on this subject?

One of the most profound revelations to me was to discover that Jesus Christ and the apostles always used new converts to do the work. These converters were equipped as they carried out the work of the ministry. They were not equipped by means of extensive training, Bible courses or Bible school or anything of the sort. In the book of Luke we read that Jesus sent out his twelve disciples and later the seventy to go preach the gospel all over Judea. Please take note according to Luke 10:1-24, that the disciples went out two-two. They had to go out to every city and every place that Jesus intended to visit. Then also take note that they were not supposed to take anything with them.

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Nowadays there is this belief that we should first and foremost invest some material resources in the area or in the community that we want to evangelize. Please note that in Luke 10 Jesus told the disciples not to take purses with them or anything else for that matter. Yes at a later stage Jesus told them that they may take purses with them but that was only for personal use.

Also note in verse two that the seventy had to pray for laborers to assist them to gather in the harvest. Just picture it in your mind; two people on their way to a small town to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. On their way they pray to God to help them and to send laborers into the harvest. Apart from others these laborers were not only the two disciples but also the new converts that will hear the call of God and who will make themselves available to work in the fields to bring in the harvest with the disciples. These new converts will, without any delay, be taught by the two disciples on basic Christian doctrines and principles in order to prepare then for the in-gathering of souls.

These basic principles will immediately enable these new converts to do the work of the ministry almost from day one. What were the basic doctrines or principles the new converts were taught?

A. Salvation: The incarnation of Jesus Christ, His crucifixion for our sins, His death and burial, repentance and faith in Christ.

Practical guideline: When we go back to a house that we visited during outreach, we first want to affirm what happened to them when they asked Jesus into their heart. Share with them John 1:12-13:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Make sure that they understand that Jesus is in their heart and that their sins are forgiven. Also have them read from John 3:1-6 about Nicodemus and being born again. If they do not have a modern translation of the Bible, give them one. Explain to them after they read these verses aloud to you, that they are now born again.

B. The water baptism: What happens when we follow Jesus Christ. The importance of getting baptized immediately.

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Practical guideline: Explain about water baptism, how you associate with the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and that it is the cut-off point from your old life according to Romans 6. (Go through the bible study on water baptism before the visit to refresh your own knowledge) Then make arrangements with them to be baptized, either in a friend of theirs’ pool or Jacuzzi, a big bath tub, a river, lake or the swimming pool at a local hotel. Encourage them to invite their family and friends to celebrate this awesome act of obedience with them.

C. Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The purpose of being filled with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The ministry of the laying on of hands. Delivering people in bondage.

Practical guideline: After talking about salvation, share about the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We have found new believers to be very open, so just say;

“Jesus has saved you, and now He wants to give you His Holy Spirit to empower you to walk in this new way. Think of when you’ve made New Year’s resolutions. It did not last very long, because you did not have the power to change. This is why Jesus wants to baptize you with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will fill you and empower you. I’m going to lay hands on you and pray for you, and you will start speaking in tongues. Tongues are a new way to communicate with God.”

Lay hands on them for the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

(If more understanding is necessary, use the ‘Gift of the Father’ pamphlet)

D. The importance of prayer: The personal relationship that every believer is suppose to have with Christ and the Father through prayer.

Practical guidelines: Share a few basic things about prayer. Share with them that prayer is simply talking with Jesus and telling Him what is in your heart. Tell them to ask Him to help them with everything they do everyday. Encourage them to thank Jesus for every good thing that comes their way.

E. The importance of the word of God: The power of the word of God to be taught to the new converts without delay.

Practical guidelines: Make sure they have a KJV or a Bible translated from the original and authentic “Textus Receptus” translation of the Bible. If not, give them one. Explain to them how to read and study the Word of God.

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Have them open their Bible and start reading from Mark 1:1. Demonstrate the method as you go along. Reaffirm salvation, baptism and baptism with the Holy Spirit – it is all there in Mark 1.

They were only taught the basics. The rest was imparted into their spirits by the Holy Spirit whilst they were advancing the kingdom of God along with the five-fold ministry. The new converts knew exactly what the above-mentioned basic doctrines of Christianity entailed. They were taught within a few weeks as they took part in the process of church planting. They were equipped while doing the work of the ministry.

The only experienced workers were the two apostles or disciples that planted the church.

The initial focus

What was the initial focus of the two disciples when they approached the city or the places they were visiting? This is a keyword in church planting. The answer is in Luke 10:6 where we read that they had to find a man of peace:

And if the son of peace be there…

Why a man of peace? What is a man of peace? A man of peace is a person who is willing to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a person who is willing to receive the disciples of Christ in his house. This house will be the “base” of the particular evangelical outreach and church planting process. Firstly this man will be led to Christ. Then his family staying with him will be led to Christ. Then his friends and family in the area will be led to Christ.

The disciples will waste no time in leading them to Christ, baptizing them in water and laying hands on them in order to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. After this the disciples will, if necessary, cast demons out of these people and lay hands on the sick. This is the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark 3:14-15, Luke 9:2, Matthew 6:12-13, Mark 16:17-18, Matthew 10:18, Acts 10:38 and Matthew 10:1 all emphasize that what I described here is what the apostles were supposed to do when they plant a new church.

This is the basic gospel of Jesus Christ: Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, heal the sick and cast out demons.

This man of peace is like Cornelius of Acts who accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. Cornelius and his whole family converted to Christianity after Peter visited them in his house. They were all baptized in water and they were all baptized in the Holy Spirit immediately. They were in fact filled with the Holy Spirit even before they were baptized in water.

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There is another very important comparison or similarity between Cornelius and his family’s conversion and the instructions that Jesus gave the seventy. Cornelius did not go to Peter. He did not go to the man of God. The man of God went to him. That is how the Holy Spirit orchestrated Cornelius and his family’s conversion.

Jesus sent the seventy to the cities. They were to look for a man of peace and they had to go to his house once they found him. The church has this all wrong. We invite people to church. We invite people to our home. The five-fold ministry invite people instead of going to people. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the fig tree, what was his words to him? Luke 19:5, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down for today I must abide at thy house. This is a very important key. Jesus Christ invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. This is exactly what we must do. We must invite ourselves to the man of peace’s house. We need to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people.

What is the work of the ministry?

Now it is very important to understand that what I described above is the work of the ministry. This work takes place in houses. It does not take place in a church building. Secondly it is very important to understand that everybody is involved in this. This is the core function of every believer and every worker in the body of Christ. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is exactly what the apostles did. This is what the evangelists did. This is what the teachers did. This is what the pastors did and this is what the prophets did. They were all involved in the work of the ministry mostly in houses.

Yes, in public places also like the marketplace and street corners but this work was carried out mostly in houses. Remember that the Christians started off evangelizing the Jews in the hallways of the temple. This however always led to them visiting these people in their houses. They did this until they were banned from the Jewish temple. They then carried on evangelizing people in the Jewish synagogues until they were also banned from the synagogues. All this time they were also but mostly evangelizing people and planting churches in houses. Do not forget that the first church was built by Constantine in 327AD when all this changed.

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The five-fold ministry all did the same thing. Although their focus differed they all worked together to equip the saints (laborers) for their work of the ministry. The laborers were equipped by the five fold ministry as they ministered. Even the greatest apostle of them all, Paul of Tarsus, went from house to house to advance the Kingdom of God. Acts 20:18-20 is prove that Paul preached the gospel in public places and in every house.

And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, 19 Serving the LORD with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house

Note the words “from house to house” in this scripture. Paul himself preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and he planted churches in houses all over Asia.

This puts the five fold ministry back on ground level. The five fold ministry should not be busy with administrative duties. They should not be busy managing people. They should not be busy preparing sermons. They should all be busy with the core function of ministry. They should be busy doing what every believer is supposed to do. That is visiting people in their houses, leading them to Christ, baptizing them in water, laying hands on them so that they may receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They should deliver them from diseases by the laying on of hands, they should cast out demons and lastly they should teach them what Christ taught them. In the process they are planting New-Testament based churches in houses. In the process they are building and advancing the kingdom of God.

Now take note that all these actions may be carried out and must be carried out by all believers. In the institutional church the work of the ministry is a function or a job-description of the five-fold ministry. God’s instruction was however given to all believers to carry out this work.

Yes, I do understand that a church and the community should pursue holiness as a congregation and as the church of Christ. We should focus on helping each other to grow and to mature in Christ. We should however not forget about bringing in the harvest. Our focus to grow spiritually and to flow in the gifts of the spirit cannot replace a constant focus on bringing in the harvest. Maybe the whole point is to mature and to grow to enable us to bring in the harvest more effectively.

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Many house church planters focus on gathering people from the ranks of the institutional church. This appears not be the right thing to do. Often, in such cases, everybody in the group are so much focused on correcting the liturgy of the institutional church within the house church environment, that they completely forget what they were called for. This almost always results in even house churches missing the point.

Maybe we should not focus on perfecting the way we gather but on the real instructions the Lord gave us in Mark 16:15-18 and Matthew 28:19. Maybe true spiritual growth and true holiness are founded in the basics of the gospel. If the basics are the foundation that we build upon, maybe that causes real growth and in the process the kingdom of God is advanced. Maybe instead of focusing on one group of people, who does not increase or multiply, we should focus on the harvest first and then on spiritual growth. I know that many people prefer growth and development in terms of quality and not quantity, but just maybe this model that Jesus taught his disciples does in fact accomplish spiritual growth in terms of quantity and quality.

In Luke 10:2 we read that we must pray that God sends laborers into the harvest. The Greek word for “send forth” in this scripture means to “eject” or to “throw” or to “cast” or to “thrust”. In order to effectively plant churches and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, laborers need to be “thrown” into the harvest. The laborers must all report for duty so that God can “cast” them into the harvest. This implies that these people must be equipped for the work of the ministry and then taken into the field to harvest the fruit. The “laborers” are those that are equipped by the five fold ministry. This is exactly what Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us. It suggests that the five-fold ministry is there to equip the saints (laborers) for their work of the ministry. It implies that there are more laborers than five fold ministry members. It implies that the five-fold ministry needs the laborers to bring in the harvest. That is why Jesus Christ told the seventy (Five-fold ministry) to pray for laborers.

The five-fold ministry needs the laborers to gather the harvest. They must bring in the harvest. That is why the five fold ministry must equip them for this work. God cast, eject or throw these laborers into the harvest. He does it through proper, effective and progressive church planting. There is this “structure” that needs to be put in place in order to evangelize the community. He cannot do this through a bunch of believers who sit on a church pew. He cannot do it through a house church of believers who are focused on perfecting themselves in terms of their personal spiritual growth. He does it through a handful of believers who are actively gathering in the harvest while teaching others how to mature in Christ.

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Would you agree that this is a totally different focus? Even if we just alter our focus slightly, it will bring different results. I think church planters should concentrate entirely on new converts. Then they should concentrate on bringing in the harvest. The rest will follow.

Church planting strategies!

  1. Plant new churches the Biblical way: The five-fold ministry go out two-two and they plant New-Testament churches from scratch. They find a man of peace and they plant a new congregation in his house. Read more about this method here.
  2. Plant new churches through modern teaching and equipping: Gather people in a School-hall or similar venue. Hold two services on Sundays to teach people the proper way of planting house churches. After thorough teaching (about a year) on planting and maintaining proper Biblical house churches, start cell groups. After proper equipping and training for approximately one year, convert the cell groups (now one year old), into full-fledged house churches. Never stop your weekly services in the School-hall because you need to train and equip new members on a continuous basis.
  3. Convert old institutional churches into New-Testament house churches: Traditional full-time pastors to adopt the strategy discussed in point 2 above. Read more about this method here.

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