Should some assemblies consider meeting in a house instead of a hall?
There will be many assemblies where the possibility of meeting in a house would not be a practical option due to the significant number of believers in fellowship. Sadly, this healthy situation is not true everywhere. It is not uncommon to hear of assemblies consisting of just a handful of saints meeting in large buildings that are a financial burden to maintain. In many instances halls are old, in urgent need of upgrading, and are noncompliant with legislation covering buildings open to the public. Whilst the risk of anyone suing an assembly because of its failure to keep in step with statutory obligations may be small, the scriptures afford us no exemption from obeying ‘the powers that be’.
Most of these halls were built in the late nineteenth or first half of the twentieth centuries when congregations were considerably greater than is seen currently in western society. Over the last six decades, there has been a continual numerical decline, coupled with an ever increasing average age of those in fellowship. Many brothers and sisters have laboured strenuously to keep their hall secure and presentable, but with weakening health and rising costs the task is becoming impossible to sustain.
In all probability the experience of most readers of this magazine will be that of attending meetings in a building known currently, or formerly, as a ‘gospel hall’. From childhood days we were taken to such a place, and any fellowship we have known with other assemblies was no different to what was commonplace, each company met in a hall somewhere. However, an examination of the New Testament reveals that there were a number of assemblies which met in the homes of believers. Philemon was probably a wealthy resident in Colossae, and the assembly he belonged to met in his house, ‘Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ … unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer … and to the church in thy house’, Philem. 1-2.
Within the metropolis of Rome there were possibly several assemblies, and one of these companies met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila, Rom. 16. 5. Prior to that, they had resided in Ephesus, and the church there also met in their home, 1 Cor. 16. 19. In Colossians chapter 4, we read, ‘Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house’, v. 15. Opinion is divided as to whether Nymphas is a masculine or feminine name, and further uncertainty pertains as to where Nymphas lived. Some suggest the home was in Laodicea, others believe it was Hierapolis, but, for the purpose of this answer, these queries are not important. What is certain is that the home was used as a meeting place of the assembly.
Whilst these examples do not set before us a biblical principle that is binding on anyone, they do present a very clear precedent and practice. In the first century, several assemblies, across a wide geographical area, met in the homes of God’s people. Of course, to emulate these practices someone has to be willing to open their home, and this will necessitate their house having suitable access and space to accommodate those that will come along. Due consideration would also need to be shown to neighbours. Noise disturbance, or parking problems, would not enhance the testimony of the assembly, and they would certainly deter unbelievers from expressing any interest in coming to a meeting.
None of the foregoing considerations are insurmountable. I fear that our biggest barrier to vacating our halls, and reverting to what happened in Colossae, Rome and Ephesus, is the reticence to even think about it. We can easily produce several reasons why we may not want to do it, but many of us are reticent to consider the benefits and viability of such a step. Where there are saints facing the dilemma of how to maintain their present building, may they have the courage and foresight to seriously consider the possibility of vacating their hall and becoming a ‘church in thy house’.