Structure and organization
Some assemblies have a conventional leadership structure; others have none. A commonly held belief in the modern-day house church "movement" is that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough to demonstrate a New Testament belief in the "priesthood of all believers" and that Jesus Christ alone is the Head of the Church, and the believers the body. The absence of hierarchical leadership structures in many house churches, while often viewed by the Protestant church at large as a sign of anarchy or rebelliousness to authority, is viewed by many in the house church movement to be the most viable way to come under true spiritual authority of love, relationships, and the visible dominion of Jesus Christ as Head of his own bride (i.e: the church). This does not mean that they reject all leadership, however.
Many house churches recognize elders and deacons who serve the members. Often, the elders function as a plurality where each elder holds the same authority as the others. There is a deliberate attempt within many house churches to minimize the leadership of any one person to reduce the chances of an authoritarian leadership structure developing within the church. Having a lone pastor is generally considered unscriptural by a percentage of house church attendees and such meetings foster an openly plural responsibility of leadership. Some house churches also accept ministry from church planters and itinerant workers whom they consider to be apostles.
House churches that follow a more traditional leadership structure include a senior pastor in similar fashion to larger, traditional churches. Groups following this format can be traditional churches in the early stage of growth or churches that do not want to incorporate under the 501(c)(3) structure.
Many house church gatherings are free, informal, and frequently include a shared meal. Meeting formats can vary from week to week due to the relaxed structure of the church service. The progression of the church service frequently follows a participatory style where there might be several short teachings offered by multiple attendees. Participants hope that everyone present will feel invited to contribute to the gathering as they are led of the Holy Spirit to do so.
The house church movement today also owes much of its networking and exchange of information to the use of the Internet; HC is generally used as an abbreviation for "House Church" and IC is used to designate "Institutional Church", which is the generalized term for more traditional church structures, including a church building and/or sermon-centered church services directed by a pastor or minister. More recently local networks of house churches have begun to form, with gatherings of house churches in an area getting together periodically for celebrations.
The origins of the house church movement are varied. In North America and the UK particularly, it is often viewed as a development and logical extension of the 'Brethren' or Plymouth Brethren movement both in doctrine and practice where many individuals and assemblies have adopted new approaches to worship and governance, while others recognize a relationship to the Anabaptists, Free Christians, Quakers, Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, Moravians, Methodists, and the much earlier Waldenses and Priscillianists. Another perspective sees the house church movement as a re-emergence of the move of the Holy Spirit during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s in the USA or the worldwide Charismatic Renewal of the late 1960s and 1970s. Others see it as a return to a New Testament church restorationist paradigm and a restoration of God's eternal purpose and the natural expression of Christ on the earth, urging Christians to return from hierarchy and rank to practices described and encouraged in Scripture.
Relationship to established churches, mission groups and society Historically, there have been tensions between house church movements (along with other restoration and revival movements) and traditional churches. Therefore, many house churches do not have formal links to larger Christian organizations as a matter of principle. (This does not apply to home groups which are connected with a denominational church, often referred to as cell
Recently, however, a number of established Christian denominations and mission organizations have officially supported efforts to develop house church networks. These include the following: The Free Methodist Church in Canada, The Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, Partners in Harvest, The Southern Baptist Convention (USA), Dove Christian Fellowship International, DAWN Ministries (Discipling a Whole Nation), The Progressive Christian Alliance, and Youth With A Mission (YWAM), Eternal Grace, and the recently launched Underground Churches among others.
In a social sense, the movement towards house churches may be linked to other social movements as well, such as the "emerging church movement", missional living, the parachurch movement, and perhaps even larger social phenomena such as panocracy and intentional living movements.
House Church Movement Abroad
Today, the spread of house churches is largely found in countries such as China, Vietnam, India, Cuba, Brazil and African nations, but they are also seen in small, but growing, numbers in the Philippines, Europe, and North America. A modern day example of the house church movement is the group known as "the local churches" which began in China with Watchman Nee and spread all over the world through Nee's co-worker, Witness Lee. The local churches have grown to hundreds of thousands of attendees congregating together patterned after the New Testament example and have been commended by several Christian leaders in the United States.