Eight years ago, worship began in a most unlikely location: in front of the Guadalajara, Mexico, central market, a bustling place with 3,000 vendors.
Saturday-night worship at Marily and Santos’s place
Wayne and Sandy DeYoung, who were new missionaries with Christian Reformed World Missions, began holding services in an attempt to build relationships and interest in the gospel. Little did they expect how relationships begun there would grow into small house-church groups throughout the city.
One evening the DeYoungs met Julio and Mary Moreno. The Morenos had spent 20 years on the streets, begging, borrowing, and stealing to support alcohol addictions. After the last of their eight children was removed from their care, the Morenos decided to enter a Christian rehabilitation center. Three months later they arrived at the Wednesday-night service as new Christians and recovering alcoholics.
“Marily talked to people while she sold vegetables in the farmers’ market.”
Wayne’s relationship with the Morenos grew over the next year, and the DeYoungs began holding worship services in the Moreno home. At first it was just family in attendance. Then others joined. Soon the group was big enough to begin another house church. As that house church grew, it in turn led to the establishment of new ones.
Marily joined one of the new house churches. She had become a Christian several years earlier, but had not been welcomed by several churches. At the house church she found a home. She started bringing her sons, then her husband. All were gripped by the messages they heard. Last June, the whole family was baptized.
Marily and Santos began sharing their faith with others. Marily talked to people while she sold vegetables in the farmers’ market; Santos discussed his faith with customers on his water-bottle delivery route. Soon several of their friends had become Christians and started meeting in their homes.
Julio and Mary Moreno and their three youngest children in front of their home, the first house church in their neighborhood.
“[House churches] all start differently,” says Wayne. “There is almost nothing set as a model. The Holy Spirit does his work in many different ways. It could be as simple as a coffee break with the ladies in the neighborhood for the start.”
Designed for Growth
By their very nature, house churches are designed for spontaneous growth. Each begins with the purpose of reproducing itself. Each begins person by person, home by home, drawing people into an intimate community of fellowship focused on discovering God.
Worldwide, house churches are growing as a way of “doing evangelism and church.” The house-church movement emphasizes flexibility and participatory worship. Members gather in someone’s home to pray and study the Bible. Often, no one person serves as the house church’s pastor. Instead, members fill leadership roles according to their particular gifts.
In the Guadalajara house churches, World Missions mainly has pastors or evangelists lead the weekly teachings. These leaders receive training for their roles. Pastors go through the Bible League’s two-year church-planting course; evangelists through the four-month evangelism-and-discipleship course. The training provides them with practical tools for their ministries.
Wayne sees himself, pastors, and evangelists as being more “overseers” than anything else. They teach during worship services, help new groups take off, and either offer or point group leaders to training opportunities. Instead of filling the traditional pastor role, they keep an eye on what’s happening within the churches and offer advice.
This house-church-planting strategy is gaining momentum in Guadalajara. Wayne estimates that over the past seven years, 130 people have become new believers through World Missions’ related house groups. The DeYoungs and their colleagues are connected with about 35 church plants, but hundreds more from other denominations dot the city.
One of the house church groups in Guadalajara
Exciting times lie ahead. In the past few months, new groups have formed without any direct missionary encouragement. Although the model is still being tested, Wayne says, “We are learning a lot through the process.”
Planting churches is never easy. Leaders stumble, believers fall away, and the results don’t always meet human expectations. But God is faithful. God works through ordinary people and situations to make himself known. And in Guadalajara, a growing number of house churches are spreading God’s name across the city.