If you are like the many people that I regularly hear from who are searching for a small home fellowship in their area, there are a few things that I would like to point out. First of all, if you have found one (or if you eventually find one), I respectfully recommend that whatever you do, you first take the necessary time to personally get to know the people that you intend to fellowship with before joining them as participants in any actual “formal” assemblies.
Before I go on to tell you why this is very important, for the record let me say that it is almost impossible to fellowship properly in a large church. At best, in their hunger for more personal fellowship, Christians form subset cliques and mini churches within larger churches, but the prevailing authoritarian structure almost always quashes any real progress that these “home groups” could make. For many reasons, which I plan to hopefully write about another time in more depth, home groups like this just don’t work.
Now that said, when it comes to meeting with other professing Christians, you have the freedom in Christ to take your time. There is no rush. You are not rebelling against God by being a good steward over yourself and your family.
Most Christians are in such overwhelming fear that they might break the command “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is…” (found in the first half Heb 10:25), that they rush madly into random fellowship with just about anyone, and they utterly fail to read and carefully consider what the rest of the Bible teaches on the same subject of who we should and should not fellowship with (e.g. Rom 16:17-18, 1Cor 5:9-12, 2Thess 3:14-15, etc.).
The very fact that the Bible tells us exactly who to stay away from (meaning professing Christians who are disobedient to the Bible) is proof positive that we need to know more about these people than just the superficial front or false facade that they often present. Few Christians realize this and instead they elevate the one “not forsaking the assembling…” verse to the exclusion of the clear balancing verses, and they fail to realize that the “ourselves” that the Bible is referring to in Heb 10:25 strictly means disciples of Christ not disciples of men. Yet Christians everywhere are rushing like mad to randomly assemble with disciples of men.
Maybe first get to know the people that you would like to fellowship with by emails, letters or phones calls to start and then if you are comfortable that they are safe sane people, maybe have dinner with them out at a restaurant or something. These are just some ideas. You may have some different and better ideas.
Regardless, this gives you an opportunity to watch and see how they actually behave “in real life”. This also gives them an opportunity to watch you. See if their walk, lifestyle, interests and what they like to talk about most of the time matches up with their claims to Christ. Of course no one is perfect and we all make mistakes at times so some inconsistencies are obviously expected and lovingly tolerated, but we should at least try to be on guard against goats and wolves in sheep’s clothing.
More importantly, find out what these people really believe about Jesus, the Gospel and the Bible. This doesn’t have to be a heated or overly confrontational thing, but we need to be careful because there are a lot of clever actors and actresses running around calling themselves Christians. So we must be very discerning regarding those who call themselves Christians to make sure that they actually have a true profession of faith. And, while there is nothing wrong with people claiming to have a dramatic or emotional conversion experience, such experiences must be a byproduct of true faith in Christ in order to be valid.
See if they understand the basics of the Gospel because if someone does not understand the simple Gospel message, there is no way they can believe it and be saved. These are not things that should be left to "chance". This is not a thing for guesswork. I think guesswork is pretty much what landed a lot of us Christians in the dangerous churches that we have thankfully come out of.
Now here’s the bottom line:
It is often a very dangerous thing to haphazardly try out new random churches and jump right into Sunday morning assembly with unknown people.
Why is this dangerous? There are many reasons. Here is just one:
A lot of churches have a pretty decent “What We Believe” statement on paper. But often what they really believe concerning many secret “behind the scenes” things is not discovered by most people until it is too late (or at very least much later) after they have already joined and formed strong social and emotional ties to the people there, often exclusively ties to the “leadership”. It is very difficult for many people to escape such abusive churches after they have already joined and been members for some time. These kinds of problems can almost always be discovered ahead of time if Christians will just do their homework.
Further complicating matters, we have been incorrectly taught that “church” is a place or building, but in fact church is a people, specifically Christians, those who are called out unto God through faith in Christ. So it is common yet incorrect to think that we can just go visit and observe a church facility and sample a service in order to see if what they teach and do there is acceptable to us, but this is actually an inaccurate and misleading concept.
We must first get to know the people, not a service. The New Testament does not remotely teach the idea of church “services”. Those who buy into this (on the providing end of things) tend to think that they must always be ready to put on some kind of plastic superficial show in the event that someone visits. Most larger churches (and unfortunately some home churches as well) are always putting on shows in one way or another regardless.
We need to understand that even though there is no bed of roses and we will always have some interpersonal difficulties to deal with, all kinds of more serious problems disappear when we commit to only fellowshipping intimately with those who we know, as far as an “official” church assembly. Certainly we can meet with and eat with sinners and tax collectors and we should! But church assembly is for the edification of believers, not for the entertaining of unbelievers. And, it is best whenever possible to know any outsiders who wish to visit in order to know who is who. Otherwise things can get taken way off track very quickly as everyone shuffles to try and meet the desires and expectations of visitors.
In my opinion, for the most part, the membership of a local fellowship should be a group of family members, good friends, friends in progress and other loved ones. Unknown visitors are certainly welcome but we do not see this overly encouraged or promoted in the Bible. Promotions and advertising that attempts to attract unknown visitors to church services is a major hallmark of the false church system and it causes a lot of trouble.
On the other hand, known “visitors” (known to be safe Christians) are very common in the Bible and can easily be received with much rejoicing for the blessing of fellowship and maybe even at the possible opportunity for expansion of God’s local church. For the most part, the people in Bible times knew each other far better than we usually know each other today. Unlike today, they lived in small, much closer tighter-knit communities where almost everyone was very familiar with everyone else.
We must ask ourselves, how can we have spiritual intimacy with those who we don’t even know? Not to be at all crude, but that is like two people who don’t know each other getting married and then trying to be intimate. That’s ludicrous. In the same way, how many times have we jumped the gun and begun to fellowship with people that we didn’t even know? Many of the problems we have suffered are a direct result of this foolishness.
According to what the Bible teaches, the only kind of local fellowship that is good for any Christian is a simple loving non-authoritarian relational Christian fellowship where the Bible is upheld as inerrant and sufficient for all things that pertain to the Christian life, where no manmade traditions, teachings, rules, regulations, requirements or personal agendas are added to the faith.
These kinds of fellowships are very rare and tend to meet house to house, but keep in mind that there are some counterfeit home churches in disguise so we must also be on guard here as well. I think more often than not, good assemblies are comprised of people who spend quality and quantity time together, truly getting to know each other and finding out what each other really believes, many of them becoming close friends.
Skipping the important “orientation” step (which can take quite a bit of time) and jumping right into Sunday morning assembly with unknown people is not wise. And then when things blow up we wonder what went wrong. The problem often has something to do with the fact that we never really knew the people they we were fellowshipping with. We never knew what they really believed in various critical areas. I have made this mistake many times in the past.
Finally I must ask, do we really think that if we just “throw a dart at a map”, that it is likely for that dart to just randomly land on a healthy church? No. It is far more likely for that dart to fall on a dangerous church. This is because there are far more dangerous churches than there are healthy ones. Jumping randomly from church to church is a very common and often devastating mistake that Christians commonly make today. They usually pick churches based on what they perceive as personal “benefits” for them and their families. I wish instead they would go home and study the Epistles in the Bible for a few months first to find out the difference between a healthy and unhealthy church, before ever embarking on another futile quest for fellowship.