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Going to Church by Staying at Home

Worshiping Outside the Traditional Church Walls

Paul Strand
Washington Sr. Correspondent

CBN.com –WASHINGTON – Church, as most of us know it, may shrink more than 50 percent in the next couple of decades.

That's one of the major findings that top pollster George Barna focuses on, in his new book Revolution.

But what is most surprising is that it is not that Christians will be fleeing God, but instead, leaving to find more of Him elsewhere -- to have personal experiences with Him, to serve Him.

Barna, the head of Barna Research Group, said, "For a large share of those people, they're saying 'I've tried to get that out of a local or conventional church, and I just can't get it.'"

Barna's researchers are finding that some 20 million Christians are looking outside traditional church walls. They are developing new forms of fellowship and new ways to worship, such as marketplace ministries, homeschool communities, and mass worship gatherings that blow away denominational walls.

"It's these kinds of people who are saying 'I'm even willing to buck the established church if that's what it takes to honor God with everything that I do,'" Barna explained.

More than two million Christians no longer going to traditional churches can be found thriving in house churches, what some call "simple church."

They meet in living rooms, dens, backyards, even in a park or along a riverbank, like one house church in Austin, Texas, although meetings are not the point.

"You know, Jesus didn't say He was come to give us meetings, and meetings more abundantly..." said Tony Dale of  House2House Ministries.

Tony and his wife Felicity Dale, push the revolution through a print and on-line magazine, House2House, and by helping organize conferences where house church members can network and learn from one another what's really most important in life.

"How do we live for Him 24/7?” Tony asked. “So, house church is about living for Jesus in my home, in my family, in my work -- no distinction between sacred and secular. It's every part of what you do being involved for the Lord."

The point is, to live like those early believers in the Book of Acts: eating many meals together, worshipping together, studying the Word and praying together, wrapped up in each other's lives , and accountable to one another in close-up relationships.

"How do you love one another, forgive one another, bear one another's burdens, confess your faults to one another, teach and admonish one another except really in a small context?" Tony asks.

But Dale and Barna are getting plenty of resistance to this revolution they champion.

"There are some churches that are banning the book," Barna said.

Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a “Revolution" critic.
Dever said, "There's a kind of consumeristic individualism in the book that I regret. I don't think it's much like a Christian."

"I think what's going to happen is, people will read this book who don't want to go to church anyway, and they'll get a justification, and I'm sorry for that," Dever said. "How many times have we heard someone say, 'I can worship God out on the golf course just like I can in church?’ Well, that's not really true.”

But other pastors are foursquare behind the Revolution.

James Ryle, who helped start Promise Keepers commented, "It merits more than a disdaining blow-off by the religious elite."

Ryle started Promise Keepers with Coach Bill McCartney, at the time a member of Ryle's Boulder, Colorado congregation. Ryle says that his booming church was too much about him.

"I fed portions of my ego off the growing mass of people who were scrambling to get a good seat to hear James Ryle preach," Ryle admitted.

But Ryle walked away from all that, and believes it is crucial that much of the Revolution is happening outside the traditional church because "we've created a monster that we have to feed,” Ryle explained. “And the monster is the institution of the church, which has taken the place of the mission."

He now lives in Franklin, Tennessee, getting much of his fellowship from a group of mostly businessmen who meet weekly in the side room of a Franklin restaurant. They call themselves "The Holy Smokes."

Ryle said they "...share scripture with one another and have profound experiences in the presence of the Lord, in sharing truth with one another. I mean life-defining experiences."

Just down the road about a mile, Michelle Borquez promotes the female side of the Revolution, in the pages of Extraordinary Women magazine.

She was living a so-called "normal" Christian life three years ago, when her marriage started falling apart.

Borquez recalled, "I was in a huge church and nobody knew what my life was like. I went every Sunday and smiled and said everything was fine...which is what we do."

But now Borquez is involved with a tight-knit group of some 30 women who get together for frequent meetings and meals.

"These women! I mean, they get into your life,” Borquez remarked. “They get into your business. There is definite accountability. And I'm with very real women, so they're like, 'Okay, what's going on?'"

The group often meets in the home of Joanne Miller, who's revolutionary enough to say she is not going to church lately, because she is too busy trying to be the church.

"If I'm sitting in a restaurant with two or three other people and we are having a good, spiritual discussion, and we're talking about how God is working in our lives, that's church," Miller said.

Some other “Revolutionary” women met with us to tell us why they have been wandering outside the church walls.

Alicia Snyder of Franklin, Tennessee commented, "Church has been safe to me in the past, very safe, and nice and clean, and it was wonderful to grow up in. But...God is untamed, and He's wild and He's radical, and He is unbound."

"There's nothing wrong with traditions, Christian traditions. But when that's your focus, instead of God and His people that you're all around, then you have a different look,” said Nancy Pureer, also of Franklin, Tennessee.

Barna remarked, "There are now literally millions of people who are saying they want more of God in their life, and they're willing to do whatever it takes to get that."

Another interesting revolutionary form many believers are taking advantage of, is mass worship happenings.

All across the country, people Barna calls "worship gypsies" come together by the thousands to network, rock out, and extravagantly worship God.

Jason Rodriquez said, "All over the earth, God is calling people to 24/7 worship."

Rodriquez is a budding worship gypsy, going from house to house, church to church, spending hours pounding the keys and cutting loose in worship.

CBN News caught up with him at a Maryland home, where the family living there was hosting dozens of believers -- young and old, from all sorts of churches -- coming together just to praise and fellowship.

"Man, the manifest presence of God...it's a weighty presence,” Rodriguez said. “He just so is there, inhabiting the praises of His people."

This Revolution has even transformed the lives of many golden-age Christians.

Norm and Suzy Audi expected to lead quiet lives in retirement. But, Suzy stated, "Thought we might do that, but God had different plans."

"It's just exciting when God's in charge," Norm observed.

They were recently spun around by a revolutionary ministry called Global Awakening that trains common, everyday folks like the Audis and thrusts them out all over the world to bring miracles, healings and deliverance to millions overseas.

What happened in one service there really grew their faith.

Norm said, "We prayed for 20 people, and they were all healed."

Now the Audis say they have journeyed to a dozen countries, praying for thousands of people and watching God perform hundreds of miracles.

"They'll actually take your hand and put it on their head. There's an expectation that God's going to work," Norm declared.

Suzy explained, "We want the covering of our pastor, but these are things God wants us to do in addition."

They are trying to bring some of the wonder home, by holding a monthly gathering at their house. People from a number of churches gather there, and just wait to see how God will lead them. And the Audis say He shows up every time.

"God's going to go wherever He's welcome, wherever the people are listening to Him and doing whatever He tells them," Norm said.

Now, none of these Christians we spoke to say they're anti-church. Indeed, they hope everyone leading or going to conventional churches will open themselves up to hear what kind of revolutionary things God would like them to do.