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Originally Published as:
Romulos Molong Nacua, “Case Study (Philippines): The Wanderer – Unplanned House Church Planting,” in Rad Zdero (ed.), Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader, (William Carey Library: Pasadena, CA, USA, 2007), pp.315-319. (Nexus available from www.missionbooks.org)
Case Study (Philippines): The Wanderer—Unplanned House Church Planting
Romulos ‘Molong’ Nacua
Molong Nacua is a house church planter in the Philippines. He also travels extensively training Christians in saturation house church planting as a strategy to reach his nation for Christ. He has ministered in the context of both traditional churches and the house church movement for many years. Email: [email protected]
Over 90% of people in the Philippines are affiliated at least in name with some form of Christianity. Great strides by evangelicals have also been made in the 1980s and 1990s in terms of numerical growth and unity. However, the challenges the country faces include shallow discipleship at the grassroots, second-generation nominalism, and poverty. A strategy of house church planting can be a viable alternative to meet these challenges. In this article, I hope to give a brief but adequate account of my own story as a ‘wandering’ house church planter and how our regional apostolic team has helped give rise to 400 house churches in the Visayas region of the Philippines.
A Solid But Traditional Christian Background
I have been in the traditional church ever since I became a Christian. For over 10 years, I served the church with my whole heart. I had been literally joining Bible studies every night with my pastor, being a part of a worship team, and doing evangelism myself or with a group. I have also been a church stage decorator, a church painter, a church electrician, a church caretaker, a church round-the-clock security guard, and a church janitor. It was the best place I ever found on earth to offer my ability, talents, gifts, time, and energy. I did this all as a volunteer. And for all those years, I never missed a single Sunday church service. Yet, I remained deeply unsatisfied.
I got saved at a camp, and that very day I knew the Lord was calling me to pastor a church. At the same time, I was aware that it would be a process. It was not until nine years later that I finally started a traditional church in our house. For the first couple of months, I was involved with 21 Bible studies each week, 12 of which I led. I was also engaged in prayer meetings, youth night, Sunday night services, a twice weekly crusade that stretched out for six months, weekly discipleship training, overnight prayer meetings, and other special events.
However, it was all draining my strength. I began to feel bored and confused and finally asked God “Why?” I believed that when God called someone to pastor, he would tell them what kind of church it should be. And I began questioning myself too. I told God in my prayers, “Be it a traditional church or a cell church, as long as it comes from you, I will do it.” The house church concept, though, at that time never came to my mind. This was simply because, in my view, it was merely an immature way of doing church. The phrase ‘house church’ here in the Philippines is often seen as a ‘not yet’ full-grown church, a ‘baby church’, a ‘phase one’ church that someday may become a ‘real’ church once it has enough members to warrant a larger meeting place, like a hall or building.
‘Homes’ and ‘Houses’ Everywhere!
To deal with my confusion, I began seeking the Lord and searching the Bible for a way of doing church for me. I did find books on church planting, but they did not fit what I was called to do. As I continued reading, especially the Gospels, Acts, and the letters of Paul, my mind always stuck on the word ‘homes’ and ‘house.’ Jesus ministered in the house, preached and taught in the house, healed in the house, ate in the house, and trained his disciples to find a house of peace. There were also households of faith, the household of Stephanas and others, the church in the house, and just “houses” everywhere! And then I also began reading phrases like, “they have turned the world upside-down,” and “they have filled Jerusalem with their teaching.” I concluded, then, that if I wanted to see their results in evangelizing my world, then I had to follow their principles!
Trial and Error Can Start House Churches
In the year 2000, a few of us began the adventure of starting house churches, with only the word of God as our training resource. It was simply quite exciting. We decided not to rent or build any church buildings and started thinking of our gatherings in homes, not as Bible study ministries, but as church in a revolutionary way. We started 13 house churches in our first year! We gathered our groups together to meet in one place, and we numbered around 180 people in three cities. This was quite a large gathering, especially since traditional church membership here in the Philippines is from 50 to 120 people.
“If you mix the rabbits with the elephants,” as someone said in the house church movement, “the rabbits will die eventually.” We indeed mixed the traditional church concept with the house churches we had started. We did get rid of the building, but traditional mentality prevailed. We had a program with a master of ceremonies, a Sunday school teacher, a worship team, a testimony time, a preaching time, a tithe, an altar call, and a benediction. In other words, we became a traditional church that was meeting in houses!
We did all of that for three long years from year 2000 to 2003. While doing this ‘trial and error’ church planting, I continually visited Christian bookstores in search of books on house churches, but failed to find even one book. I really thought I was alone in this journey, but I held on to what I felt to be the right thing. Then, one day, a friend handed me a copy of Acts Magazine. It was an old 1995 issue. The article was entitled “The Church in the House”, by Robert Fitts, Sr. Then and there, I found myself floating in the air reading his article from cover to cover! Then I reached the end of the article where Robert said, “I predict that in the year 2000, house churches will spring up all over the earth…” And, indeed, we were part of this in the year 2000 without realizing it. Later, I found Wolfgang Simson’s book Houses that Change the World in one of the bookstores and also Rad Zdero’s book The Global House Church Movement. Since then, we have been in constant communication with these people.
The Visayas House Church Network
Since that time, I have become part of an apostolic team that meets monthly for the purpose of discussing our vision of starting house churches in the Visayas region of the Philippines. There are now 400 house churches associated with the work of this team. We are looking forward to doubling this number yearly as we continue training house church planters. We have developed the H.O.U.S.E.C.H.U.R.C.H. strategy for our network of house churches.
H—House of Peace. We encourage our house church planters to find people in the community that ‘offer a meal’ as an initial sign from Luke 10 that they are open to the gospel. Eating is still a mark of hospitality to most Filipinos and, thus, speaks a message of acceptance.
O—Ongoing Follow-up. Leaders should visit those families twice-a-week to really listen to their needs.
U—Unsaved People. Experience has taught us that is it much easier to start a house church with non-believing people, rather than those who already have a background of religious affiliation. The exceptions are those Christians who are truly hungry for ministry.
S—Someone Needs to Go with You. Jesus sent the disciples two by two. We want to make sure that people have the chance to learn from each other and support each other while house church planting.
E—Establish Your Relationship with the Family. Most of those we train are young people, so we implore them to respect their elders by addressing them in culturally appropriate ways, such as ‘Nanay’ and ‘Tatay’, ‘Mam’ and ‘Sir.’
C—Congregate. After a month or two of visits with an interested family—which involves eating, sharing, praying, and listening—we encourage them to invite their neighbors to these get-togethers or other more special events like birthdays.
H—Huddle. Some sort of singing or games are used to make the host family and any newcomers feel at ease. We try to create a celebratory environment when we start house churches.
U—Unify. After the host family has become friends with their neighbors and a critical mass has been reached, we would encourage a regular get-together in that house. We might say something like this: “Since we know each other already and we live in the same community, why don’t we gather together in this house once or twice each week?”
R—Represent the House Church Concept. This is the time when we introduce the idea of having a simple church in the host home. We share basic concepts of what the church is and how they can meet in someone’s home as a Christian church. Sharing some verses from the Bible helps them understand more.
C—Create Your Own Time Management. Flexibility is the key to cater to all kinds of people, especially those who have different schedules and lifestyles that may not be mainstream, like street people, taxi drivers, inmates, the hospitalized, the elderly, etc.
H—House Church Established! And finally, after getting to know each other’s needs and availability, a house church can be established.
On the Road Again
My calling is to start house churches, train others to do so, and link with other house church planters wherever the Lord leads me in the Philippines. One traditional church, for instance, where I have been invited to speak many times, eventually asked me about house churches. We held seminars on house churches and, at the same time, modeled house church meetings during dinner. This traditional church has had a heart for reaching the mountain people, but has failed to bring people to their church building and has faced financial challenges in funding another building in the area. But now, they plan to start planting house churches among the mountain people.
Similarly, in another city, a church struggles because their building will be reclaimed by the owner. After my speaking engagement there, they called the leadership and had a short meeting regarding what their next move was. The pastor called me and asked me to share about house churches. The night before, he and I had a little discussion about house churches, but I did not know that they were facing a building problem. What happened as a result was a rapid planting of five house churches in five different neighborhoods with five of the church’s leaders leading them. Later, the pastor asked me about what he should do now. I suggested that he start a house church in his own house, gather all the house churches in a big place once a month, and have weekly church planter training and progress reports. From time to time, I have also had the privilege of teaching house church principles to 15 to 25 students in one of the Bible schools. They have decided that, during their year long studies, they will start planting house churches in their community until they graduate. This has become a sort of practical ministry workshop for the students. The dean of the school and the small band of student church planters has allowed me to coach them as they continue in these endeavors.
Though I work closely with my team and travel often, I also work with other house church leaders in the Philippines for greater impact. Some networks have focused on college students. Some leaders are in particular cities or towns. Another dear partner works in the mountain area. We have different assignments, yet work together for a greater purpose—saturation house church planting. Our next move will be to have a corporate gathering of house church leaders and have the Lord’s Supper together to speak for unity in the Body of Christ. This will hopefully lead to citywide gatherings of Christians in each city, so that we can speak as one voice to the world that we love one another.
1. Can you recall what each of the letters of the H.O.U.S.E.C.H.U.R.C.H. strategy represent?
2. Can planting house churches by ‘wandering’ work effectively in your context?
3. What does this story tell you about God’s ability to spontaneously open doors of opportunity?
4. What specific lessons from this story can you apply in your effort to plant house churches?