|Two paths diverge in the N.C. Botanical Gardens in Asheville|
Where DID the cockamamie idea of a “house church” come from? I wish I could remember. I do recall thinking that the church did not have the energy to purchase land and construct a new building. The construction of the conflict-riddled but beautiful sanctuary three years ago had used up what congregational energy was left for such a thing, as well as exposing the terrible church myth to which members had been clinging, of: “If we build it, they will come.”
What was the point of buying a “used” church building, not that one ever comes up for sale in Chapel Hill, and then taking one declining congregation and moving it into another church building?
I asked myself: Pastor, wouldn’t we be doing the same thing by moving a declining congregation from its current edifice into a house? When I thought it through, the answer was “no.”
Relocating the congregation into a house would change everything, even if the worship service remained essentially the same. But I was most intrigued by the idea of how potentially to use a house’s bedrooms. The adult Sunday school at Aldergate collapsed not long after I arrived when the person teaching it followed the former pastor across town to his other church. There are no children at Aldersgate, so there is no need for Sunday school space. What if the bedrooms were used for ministry?!
Because Aldersgate has a long history of volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and the SECU House (both of which provide low-cost living space for the families of those hospitalized at UNC Hospitals), members understood well the concept of providing compassionate living space for a family. What if at least one bedroom was devoted to such a use, but for free?
What if some of the other bedrooms could house…. Oh, I dunno. Duke Divinity or UNC Wesley Foundation students? Free, in exchange for devoting themselves to Aldersgate? What if we used some of the proceeds from the sale of the current building to create a ministry fund to give wings to their ideas? The idea thrilled me, although I’ve supervised enough Divinity students to know the idea has both opportunities and potential pitfalls.
I prayed and prayed, and thought and thought. When I prayed, the concept of a house-church felt like a wonderful new thing that God might be offering. When I was in thinking mode, the idea of the congregation merging with a large church seemed to make much more sense.It was time to take the two possibilities to church leaders.