Home church: Fellowship in the living room

1 Cambridge, Minnesota, has two formal home church groups. This one, known as the Blue Fish Group, meets in the living room of member Bob Roby on Saturday, December 4, 2010. A typical home church "service" consists of music, prayer, theological discussions and a shared meal. 
2 On this Saturday evening, Bob Roby was the host for his group's weekly home church gathering. He says he'd "choose a handful of Christians in my living room over hundreds of Christians in a big church. It's much more intimate." Plus, "it costs a lot of money to keep something like a megachurch going. Financially, home church makes a lot more sense." 
3 Part of each home church meeting is set aside for research. Each week, the members choose a specific Bible passage to explore. They then break into small groups and try to find out everything they can about that passage -- from its social context to its linguistic nuances. Some consult historical dictionaries. Others rely on religious reference books. After about an hour, the groups reconvene and share what they've learned. 
4 Lonnie Gay researches a Bible passage in the rec room during a home church meeting. He'll return to the living room to share what he learns with the rest of the group. "The house church network," says Gay, "is way cool. It's laid back. It's more comfortable. At a big church, you're a number. Here you're a person. And you can contribute." 
5 There are two separate home church groups in Cambridge, Minnesota. Once a month, the two come together at the Corner Cup coffee shop for music, prayer and fellowship. These evenings also serve as open houses for area residents who are interested in learning about the home church movement. 
6 Some religious leaders address the congregation from a pulpit; Rick Buckingham shares his thoughts from a chair in front of the television in member Bob Roby's home. Buckingham is quick to point out that "there isn't one specific person leading the home church service. We're all equals. The discussion goes wherever the group takes it." One of the main missions of most home church networks is to break away from the hierarchal approach to religious leadership. 
7 At this gathering of Cambridge, Minnesota's home church network, lattes and soda pop replace communion wine. But the traditional practice of praying for those in need is an integral part of the informal service. 
8 For Fancey Lorsung, home church is about "taking ownership. At so many churches, you sit down in the pew and listen to what someone else has to say. At home church, you can take control of being a Christian. It forces you to ask what you really believe, to find out what you think about a Bible passage." Plus, says the 26-year-old, "a lot of times when I went to a church, it was what all about what you were wearing. At home church, you put on whatever you've got and you come. It's what it should be about -- about Jesus and God." 
9 For members of the Blue Fish Group, home church is about building stronger human connections. During each meeting, members have an opportunity to share what may be troubling them that week -- be it a spiritual dilemma or a financial setback. On this evening, Becky Roby mentioned that her car wasn't working correctly and worried that she couldn't afford to pay for repairs. Immediately home church member Rick Buckingham volunteered to fix the problem, essentially taking the evening's fellowship out to the garage. 
10 For many of the network's members, home church is about helping each other grow spiritually. "I'm not trying to disparage anybody," says Fancey Lorsung. "But I think pastors have been up on a pedestal for too long, It's much more effective to be real with people. I would say the most important thing is that people are connecting, not who is standing in the pulpit. We can all help each other get closer to God."