The Independent Bible Study Movement

In 2006 George Barna predicted that we would see a huge rise in what some call house churches: independent home Bible study groups. He wrote it up in a book called Revolution.

When I hear the word House Church, I tend to think of disgruntled rebels. This is not always the case. Some of these are active members of a "normal" church. They do a house church during the week and normal church on weekends.

By the way, what is the difference between a house church and an independent Bible study group?  I love a good question!

We had a Bible Study in our home for some time, although it isn't going now. Missy participates in a Bible Study with some ladies. My kids have a Bible Study that meets on Wednesday night. They told me last week they have officially run out of room at the place they are meeting.

Point: there does seem to be a growing popularity of independent. Bible Study groups. This raises a few questions:

Why the sudden increase in this movement?

I can think of a couple of reasons. This generation is less "institutional" than our parents. We are more independent. We are also more relational. Independent Bible Studies play into this.

Another issue has to do with available resources. My wife's group is using Beth Moore studies. My son's group has used several Tim Keller resources. Dawson showed me one at Barnes and Noble the other day--book and DVD for $30 bucks. With resources like this so accessible, it makes it easy to lead a group.

I was talking to a friend the other day about house churches. He pointed out the obvious problem: the availability of teachers who can teach. If the resources are good enough (particularly DVD resources) it lowers the bar as to how good the teacher has to be. In Missy's group everyone takes turn leading. They watch Beth Moore and discuss it. How bad could it be?

This is one of my visions with Good Questions. I want to provide such good content that anyone can lead. If you can read 20 questions, you can lead a Bible Study. And with stories and commentaries from world-class writers, the discussion comes alive. Plus, they are affordable: less than the price of a cup of coffee for each lesson.

Where is the accountability with Independent Bible Study Groups?

Church leaders seem to be almost universally fearful of home groups. How can we control them?  How can we be sure they won't go wacko?

The truth is, we can't. And, some will go wacko. But, it is actually pretty rare. People are not nearly as fascinated with heresy as you might think.

It raises another good question. Which is more likely to go south theologically: a tightly controlled system, or a loosely controlled system?

Take two denominations: Methodists and Baptists. Baptist are much more loosely controlled. We believe in the autonomy of the local church and soul competency. We are fiercely independent. Who controls Baptist churches to make sure they stay on the straight and narrow theologically?

No one does.

Methodists, in contrast are much more tightly controlled. The denomination owns the property. If a local church goes off the deep in, the denomination can actually take back the building. (Many Baptist churches have a similar concept built into their deeds, but it is voluntary.)

So who has drifted farther into liberalism, Baptists, or Methodist?  From a Baptist perspective, the answer is clearly Methodists.

Catholics are extremely tightly controlled. But evangelical would say they have drifted badly from their roots.

100 years ago Roland Allen trumpeted the message that if we are going to see the spontaneous expansion of the church, we must give up control:

"We fear that it [the spontaneous expansion of the church] is something that we cannot control. And it is true. We can neither induce nor control spontaneous expansion whether we look on it as the work of the individual or of the church. . .‘The wind blows where it will,' said Christ."

If we cannot control it, we ought to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great, not because it is too small for us. Therein lies the vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ: our control cannot reach as far as that. We constantly bewail our limitations: open doors un-entered; doors closed to us as foreign missionaries; fields white to the harvest which we cannot reap.

Spontaneous expansion could enter open doors, force closed ones, and reap those white fields. Our control cannot: it can only appeal pitifully for more men to maintain control.
-Roland Allan
 The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church

What advice or encouragement do we give to those who participate in Independent Bible Studies?

First, tell them you are for them. Cheerlead them. Tell them they are doing a good thing. Assure them them they have your blessing.

Encourage them the way you encourage every Bible Study group. Encourage them to think outside themselves. Encourage them to reach out. There will be people who might come to that Bible Study that won't come to church.

A great time to do this is at the beginning of each study. You might even have a block party or something like that in between every series. Get to know folks in your neighborhood. Perhaps you could do some kind of service event. Resist the temptation to have Bible study just for us.

On the whole should we encourage, or discourage Independent Bible Studies?

In the end, it doesn't matter. The Wind blows where it will. God is clearly doing a new work in our day. George Barna predicted it a few years back and we are starting to see more and more of it today.

Henry Blackaby taught us to join God in what God is doing. God is clearly doing a new thing with an Independent Bible Study movement. I say we join Him. I say we fan the flames.