Living Room Liturgy

ByABC News
January 9, 2007, 9:21 AM

Jan. 9, 2007 — -- Every Monday night, Meredith Scott and eight of her friends get together at one of their homes in St. Paul, Minn. They cook a meal, share what's going on in their lives and pray together.

But Scott and her friends don't call this a Bible study or a support group -- they call it a church. They are part of the growing number of Americans who are shifting from traditional churches toward more informal, intimate settings, dubbed house churches.

"How do you form a community in a church of 4,000 people?" asks Scott, who used to attend a megachurch in St. Paul. "Sometimes it's hard to get really connected. What I've really been looking for is community."

And so are many others. The number of adults attending house churches in the United States has grown substantially over the last decade, according to George Barna of the Barna Group, a Christian ministries market research firm. Though official numbers are hard to pin down due to the nature of these churches, Barna says a conservative estimate is that 5 million adults attend a house church every week.

Forgoing pastoral leadership, formal liturgy and, most often, tax-exempt status, house churches redefine what it means to be a church.

"People are asking, 'What did Jesus say?'" Barna tells "We made all this stuff up -- the priests, the building, the programs none of that is in the Scriptures."

At first blush, the term "house church" may conjure up images of an underground movement of believers in Cuba or China, worshiping in secret away from a government that doesn't allow freedom of religion. But believers in the United States have different reasons for meeting in their homes.

Barna's research shows one reason for the growth of house churches in the United States is the desire for more spiritual depth. The baby boomer generation, he says, has grown frustrated with the "spiritual lite" of traditional churches.

Tony Dale, founder of House2House, a nonprofit organization that provides services to house churches across the nation, describes traditional sermons in which one person dispels wisdom to the group as "rather infantile."