For example, Kreider notes that “young people” or “Generation X” are looking for a church experience that will motivate them to enthusiastically participate (he defines “young people” as 18-35, in 2001 — so that would include up to early-40-something today). He also notes that these people are looking for a church family and dependable, meaningful relationships. And that they are unwilling to finance huge buildings, advertising campaigns, or a leaky church roof because all of that seems simply irrelevant. He includes this question: “Can you justify putting $20-30 million dollars into building a church just so that you can add another 1,000 people to a church that already has a couple of thousand people?” Gen-Xers would say no because they believe the “church” is people, not a place where people meet.
In these respects, Kreider is spot on. We are looking for authentic relationship, purpose, and impact.
Kreider also argues that the mega churches (1,000+ members) and community churches (up to 1,000 members) do not meet the needs of many Gen-Xers. In contrast, Kredier argues that “house church networks” effectively meet the needs of Gen-Xers. A house church (small fellowship of believers) that births and spiritually parents several other house churches becomes a house church network. While each house church is an independent, fully functioning church, they benefit from a common leader (who shepherds the entire network of churches) and larger community. Kreider likens house churches to a “new wineskin” for new wine (a new generation) — if we try to fit the new generation (wine) into the old church structures (wineskin), then the wineskin will burst.
Sometimes referred to as “New Testament” churches by other authors, Kreider argues that house churches’ primary focus should be on discipleship and outreach rather than fellowship. I agree — fellowship without discipleship is empty. He also notes that a healthy house church focuses on loving the Lord, loving each other, reaching the lost, and loving the rest of the body of Christ. I agree with that, too.
The concern I have with Kredier’s argument is similar to others that I’ve observed in writings on house churches: it is the unstated presumption that this “new wineskin” that Gen-X is seeking looks a certain way or is structured a certain way. While Kredier doesn’t state this explicitly, he uses several pages to argue for networks of house churches; for house churches to focus on multiplying into other house churches; and for house churches to meet in a specific location — a house.
However, I believe many kinds of churches can effectively meet the needs of Gen-Xers. Kreider stated that a healthy house church focuses on loving the Lord, loving each other, reaching the lost, and loving the rest of the body of Christ. But if that sentence was re-written to omit the word “house,” it would be universally applicable to all churches — from mega churches to house churches. Shouldn’t all churches emphasize these values? I believe mega churches can meet the needs of Gen-Xers as much as house churches can, if they emphasize the values that are important to those people. These churches could meet in restaurants, at workplaces, or in hotel meeting rooms.
Perhaps a better term for the concept Kreider is advocating is “church unplugged” (with “unplugged” connoting “authentic” or “simple” versus “not connected to the larger Church”). That’s how I think of our church — it’s church unplugged. We might meet in a house for now, but our identity and values are not tied to our location. We may someday move to a community center, or a movie theater, or a building of our own. We might be small now, but we may someday be much larger. Our location, structure, and size may change, but our values won’t. We will focus on authentic relationship, purpose, and impact.
I also disagree that “church unplugged” must focus on multiplying other churches. While that’s our heart, it might not be the heart of other “new wineskin” churches. But that doesn’t make them illegit. Moreover, I disagree that house churches appeal to everyone in Gen-X or are appealing only to people in Gen X. Some people in Gen X are looking for something more traditional in church (many of our friends have recently converted to Catholicism), and some people in older and younger generations are looking for something new. Similarly, I disagree that house churches have to create house church networks. While I like the concept and find it appealing, that won’t work for every church or every pastor.
That isn’t to say, though, that house churches should not be tied to the larger Church. I strongly agree with Kreider that every house church must be intimately connected to the larger Church — whether that’s through networks, partnerships with other churches in the area (which Kreider advocates), or affiliation with and authority from a denomination (which is our situation). Without such relationships, churches run a great risk of falling into heresy, pride, and exclusivity. A pastor cannot have authority without being under authority.
I believe the aspects of Kreider’s arguments with which I have concerns were unintentional on his part. In short, the message about these “new wineskin” churches that should be taken from Kreider’s book was stated by Kreider himself: It is not the structure itself that is significant, but the relationships occurring within it.