Why the Big Emphasis on Home Churches?

How we do things is similar to what we read about the early New Testament churches described in the book of Acts. This raises a natural follow-up question:

“What are the qualifications and requirements for home church leadership in Dwell?"

Our home church leadership requirements are far higher than normal. It seems insufficient that churches manage to train competent leaders during a one- to eight-week training program. Our training program takes several years of classroom and field training.

Our typical leader has:

  • Completed 210 hours of classroom instruction with homework and graded exams;
  • Completed two to five years of personal mentoring from an older believer;
  • Helped a non-Christian begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or they have brought people to meetings to hear about God who later accepted God into their lives;
  • Introduced one or more individuals to a personal discipleship/ mentoring relationship;
  • Led a cell group (ongoing mens or womens group) with growth and spiritual advancement in the participants’ lives;
  • Proven character like that required for deacons in 1 Timothy 3.

Why do we insist on such a high level of training for leaders?

Dwell home group leaders are responsible for leading and caring for groups that typically range from 15 to 60 people. These groups are “home churches,” not small groups like in most churches.

We believe raising up lay leaders is the primary responsibility of our pastors and teachers.

A home church is a medium-sized group with a team of leaders. Each home group takes care of its own leadership training, evangelism, pastoral work, teaching and worship. Therefore, we believe leaders need to be competent spiritual ministers (deacons) who are well-trained and capable of handling sophisticated issues. When you think about what leaders do, you see why.

What are some examples of what leaders must be qualified to do?

  • Motivate their group biblically, which entails not relying on group-think or sociological pressure, but actually persuading members that Christian goals are correct and urgent;
  • Know the Bible well enough to be persuasive in all major areas of Christian teaching;
  • Answer questions about areas of Christian teaching and thought;
  • Lead their home church in spiritual warfare, so they must know about Satan and how to avoid aberrant teaching in this area;
  • Be competent to counsel people through typical non-clinical problems;
  • Show the character requirements of deacons as detailed in Scripture, which often entails some years of spiritual growth;
  • Be mature enough to work on a leadership team without competing or fighting;
  • Train upcoming leaders in evangelism, follow-up, 
    discipleship, pastoral work and Bible teaching. This implies they know these areas;
  • Serve as models of Christian living. In other words, their own lives must be stable and their relationships (including marriages) basically healthy.

In summary, we believe raising up lay leaders is the primary responsibility of our pastors and teachers, just as the apostle Paul instructed the early New Testament churches in Ephesus. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”  (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Why Are Home Churches So Important and What Are They Like?

Dwell is a movement of hundreds of house churches, which are grassroots groups that meet in people’s homes. Most cell-based churches in America today have a two-level structure. The large meetings are the corporate worship meetings, and the small meetings are the cell groups.

Three-Level Structure

At Dwell, we have a three-level structure. We have our big meetings (Central Teachings or ‘CTs’) like other churches, although they are not worship services. We also have home churches, which are groups of 12 up to 60 adults. Home churches are open to non-Christian guests, and are really small communities.

Within each home church there are typically two or more cell groups. Our cell groups are usually four to 10 men or women. The men’s or women’s cell groups are typically for Christian believers only, and usually have a fairly rigorous study schedule. They share and pray for each other as well. These are groups devoted to discipleship (mentoring) and spiritual growth.

Thus, with our three-level structure, we have home group meetings devoted to sharing about God with people investigating Christianity, as well as some devoted to spiritual growth. For many groups, this means a third meeting each week or every other week. Other groups alternate the home church and the cell group meetings.

We have experimented with two-level approaches on several occasions, but the groups always seem to go back to three-level arrangements after a time.

Leadership Guidelines

All staff and elders are required to be in a home group. Particularly important to us is that our top leadership is fully involved and actually leading regular home churches.

Leaders’ Personal Lives

We also believe the realities of group leadership and personal discipleship often bring to light the truth about Christian leaders’ lives. We have seen repeatedly that when a Christian leader begins to develop a personal spiritual problem, it comes to light first in that person’s home group.

Likewise, leaders who are drifting into negative territory spiritually are usually the first to begin to downplay the importance of home fellowship ministry, discipleship and personal evangelism. Large-group preaching can be ego-enhancing, but personal discipleship is quiet and obscure background work. That’s another reason we consider effective discipleship to be a prerequisite to public ministry.

Finally, we want our paid staff to live the same struggle the rest of our leaders do: balancing career, family and volunteer ministry.