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HIGHLAND Some folks here don't have far to travel for church on Sundays. In fact, it's a walk down the road to Mike's house. "The church has become a building and it was never intended to be that," said Mike Fallon, a 30 year old associate pastor with Riverside based 777 Church. "The church is the people who are gathering and meeting Jesus." For many in the fellowship, Fallon's home has become the place where they gather regularly to worship. The group hopes to start several house churches where Christians meet primarily in homes instead of traditional sanctuaries throughout the Inland area. They're not alone. Between 6 million and 12 million adults in the United States are involved in a house church, according to the Barna Group, a Ventura based research organization focusing on faith and culture. Fallon and others in the movement say it's a return to church as practiced by the first Christians 2,000 years ago. "Growing up in church, I always felt something was missing," Fallon said. "You sit down in a pew, Nike Men's Cortez Basic Leather '06 Fashion Sneaker

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´╗┐Worship from home

you listen to a good speech and then you go home. It seems like people are looking for something real. That's kind of like what we'd like to do." And while exchanging pews and pulpits for couches and coffee tables may at first glance seem to be a radical departure led by relatively young Christians such as Fallon, many have done so deep into their journey of faith. Some are pastors who have left behind visions of large congregations in order to oversee networks of small churches of a dozen or so believers. "I was a pastor in a megachurch, and I just basically got tired of being involved in programming the church versus discipleship," said Bob Erickson, who in 2001 started Vine House Church. The network of house churches meets throughout the Inland area, including Moreno Valley, Fontana and Claremont. Erickson, who holds a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada and has been in ministry for 37 years, believes the house church model is based on examples seen in the New Testament. "As I studied the Scriptures, I saw in the first 300 years or more the church met predominantly in homes," he said. "The concept of the church being a location where you go is somewhat foreign to the teachings of Christ." A typical house church meeting will begin around a common meal and then transition into a time of prayer, worship and teaching shared by various members of the group. It's a different approach than the traditional Sunday morning service almost always led exclusively by a trained musician and a professional preacher. "The nature of the church is full participation, so when you gather, each one comes together with a Psalm or a hymn," Erickson said. "That never happens in a (traditional) church setting, where three or four people come prepared and the rest observe. We wanted a church open enough for others to participate." Unlike modern churches that seek to gather as many under one roof as possible and then start another church that will grow in like manner, house churches such as Erickson's want to keep their groups under 20 people, and split into another house church before they get bigger. The concept has been carried into the mission field, where Vine House Church has been instrumental in planting 75 similar churches in Brazil and 15 in Liberia. "That's the other advantage of simple churches or house churches," Erickson said. "It frees up Nike Cortez Black Crimson a lot of resources for missions. Our overhead is very small so we can put a lot of resources in the expansion of God's kingdom." More than 64 percent of the church's tithes and offerings went Cheap Nike Cortez Trainers

to mission work last year, Erickson said. Those who are training the next generation of ministers are closely watching the impact of the house church movement on traditional church attendance and finances. "The impact is pretty apparent," said Clay Schmit, professor of preaching and worship at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. "Mainline denominations are decreasing in size and it's making everyone concerned." Schmit said a lot of congregations that once were thriving now see small groups of people trying to sustain a building in which to meet. The turn away from traditional churches is part of the American culture's growing dissatisfaction with institutions in general, he said. While many young students at Fuller have an eye on traditional church ministry, Schmit said a growing number are looking for solid theological training that can be applied in a house church context. "My sense is that people are looking more and more towards house churches and small groups of believers gathering together Nike Cortez Grey Sale

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as a means to create authentic Christian community," he said. Indeed, some pastors are transitioning their churches into models that, if not full blown house churches, at least are emphasizing small gatherings over the big Sunday morning meeting as the main places of spiritual transformation. Northpoint Christian Fellowship in San Bernardino has developed 19 so called "life groups" that meet in homes around the city, with about 165 people involved. Pastor Paul Reinhard said the church has been in a three year process of winding down its Sunday morning programs and emphasizing the life groups. "What is interesting is, we've had many Christians decide this is not for them, but the people that are with us are telling us this is the most profound Christian experience they have ever had," he said.

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