By Allen Palmeri
BOLIVAR—One of the older house churches in Missouri is Living Stones Baptist Fellowship here, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday as a congregation of six houses running 120-150 worshippers.
More than a decade ago, Kurt Caddy, now 45, envisioned the model to be simple and reproducible. He serves as one of seven elders in a flock that is fed by a lively spring of Southwest Baptist University (SBU) students. His job is also a plus when it comes to sustaining the house church; Caddy works as director of university ministries, with one of his campus duties being to oversee what takes place at Mabee Chapel.
The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), with its emphasis on church health, is open to the idea of the house church model catching on in the mainstream of Missouri Baptist life. MBC State Church Planting Director Ben Hess is aware of Caddy’s approach and speaks in general about how Biblical it can be, not only in Bolivar but in other settings across the state.
“When I look at Jesus and his 12 disciples, house church—single cell,” Hess said. “They had their inner core group, and that was sort of like a house church. They all knew each other very well.”
Knowing each other well is a hallmark of Living Stones. Caddy explained how this happens.
“People appreciate simple things,” he said. “Because of the house church, we’ve integrated it in every part of our lives. In other words, we go to somebody’s house that I’ve been to for supper, and now I’m doing worship there. It’s not like it’s a new kind of thing. We spend a lot of time really talking about the idea of sharing life together.”
Typically this means putting 15-20 people in a living room, doing meals together, learning how to love each other from the heart.
“It’s not institutionalized,” Caddy said. “It’s just very organic. So that word simple becomes a huge thing. How do we make this thing as simple as possible?
“To me, an optimum group is like 12-15 people. That’s great. Some of them get to 20-25.”
Church starts with a Sunday gathering from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. that leads into a blended worship service. Children play with toys in the middle of the room. Adults drink coffee. Someone may play a keyboard or a guitar. There’s very little structure when it comes to all of this.
“We have a guy who just started coming from SBU,” Caddy said. “He plays violin beautifully. His second time coming to church he brings his violin and he just starts playing.”
The next part of the church service is “taking care of each other,” Caddy said. People share, move around, and listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in ministry. Prayer requests are weighed according to their intensity; a really serious matter can trigger the Bible teaching time.
In other words, the lead pastor does not always come to church expecting to deliver his sermon. The word for that day might be contained in the prayer concerns of a member. The pastors just deal with it “because we can,” Caddy said. “We’re simple enough. We can mold and do that.”
The sermons tend to be expositional, with the goal, like the Apostle Paul, of bringing the saints to full maturity. A potluck comes next.
“To me, it’s an ongoing metaphor of the church,” Caddy said. “Everybody brings something, no matter how small or insignificant it is.”
Hess said that when the International Mission Board talks about church planting movements, most are house churches.
“If you look at our rural Missouri churches, our small churches where you have 35 people maybe, that’s really a house church, only somewhere along the line we decided to build a building and put it in a building we call a church,” Hess said.
Caddy said the time is right for the house church model to thrive.
“I think this postmodern context is begging for this—genuine, simple expression of faith,” he said.