One idea that his been floating around the church for about 30 years, but it still amorphous is the “home group” or “cell group.” The two are not synonymous although they may the same thing in a particularly incarnation. A cell church is really a church of churches. This cell idea was popularized by Paul Yonggi Cho’s Korean megachurch, and has been a part of other megachurches especially in the less economically developed areas. In addition there is the idea of the “home church” which is based on the idea that in the NT days all meetings were based in a home, and so we should be too. First of all, I don’t think this was true. Paul always started with a synagogue. Secondly, I personally find large (not huge) meetings to really great places to encounter God. The “home group” is a home based group which is part of a church, but not a fundamental replacement for it. What are we to do with these concepts?
Home groups are often implemented by leaders of large churches as a way to pastor their people, and of giving second tier leadership something to do. People are encouraged to come to a home group as a mark of spirituality, and these second tier leaders are encouraged to start one. I don’t think this fundamentally works. It’s like trying to paste something onto the church. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed a meeting like this, but I recognize that that is partly personal preference. One of the dynamics of a big meeting is that it exposes passionate people to people with bigger anointing and can be a real catalyst for growth.
Sometimes cell groups/home groups are implemented as the way of getting big like Dr. Cho. Let’s not even discuss that, since our goal is not to get big like Dr. Cho. He’s done an amazing work in Korea, but I would be more honored to know that I started a network of 100 churches, than one 100000 member church.
Where I think home groups are needed is as an evangelism vehicle. They should be thought of as a specific outreach vehicle. This is the kind of thing that the Alpha Course has done, and it’s worked very well for them. Getting some believers and non-believers together in some kind of comfortable setting can get people saved. My neighbors will not come to church, but they might come to dinner every week to talk about God. some people, especially from other cultures are so touched that you would invite them to your house, that they are practically ready to get saved on this testimony alone. If you tailor the home group toward reaching a set of friends and acquaintances, things can happen.
In terms of the goal of “pastoring people” I just don’t think the home group is the most efficient or natural way for this to happen. A lot of energy gets sucked up doing something that is essentially navel gazing. I prefer the combination of discipleship and ministry activities. For example, if the leader of a singles group, wants to have weekly meetings in their home as a way of reaching and raising young leaders, then great — but grabbing some random church members and having them just start to hang out with some other church members is a misplaced hope.