A megachurch in Florida is using house churches to expand its network, showing that reaching out on a smaller scale doesn't mean retreating in the multisite movement.
Northland, A Church Distributed, based in Longwood, Fla., currently has 15 to 20 house churches in several states that virtually participate in the worship services held at the main campus every Sunday.
"House churches are the next extension of the multisite movement," said Dr. Dan Lacich, pastor of Distributed Services at Northland, to The Christian Post.
"They participate very much like a multisite does, only meeting at a smaller venue, usually in a home, community room, or a condo association club house."
Each house church has a "site minister" that hosts the gathering using the Internet or a Roku box to stream church services from Northland's main campus.
Lacich, who regularly talks to site ministers, said that worshippers of house churches actively participate in the services as they would if they were physically at one of the multisite locations. They greet one another, stand and sing during worship and hold communion, he said.
"When people first come they think 'this is sort of strange,'" admitted Marcy Burth, who runs a Northland house church in Venice, Fla., together with her husband Ron, to The Christian Post.
"But after one or two weeks they think 'this is fine' because we have the benefits of the closeness but still the quality of the preaching from Northland," she said.
About 15-24 people meet weekly for services in the Burths' living room. They hold a potluck dinner together before watching the service from the couple's large screen TV.
Burth said the intimate setting allows for deeper conversation and relationship building, which can sometimes be more difficult to have in larger churches.
"We have a number of folks who do attend other services in the morning but they are hanging on by a thread because they love our church," said Burth.
In Venice, the house church doesn't just meet on Sundays but also Thursdays for Bible studies. The group also plans to go through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University next month.
Burth said members are also serving the local community. Last year, they volunteered for an event and provided Christmas for a family in need.
A year ago, Northland followed the same multisite model used by many other tech-saavy megachurches. Different church campuses held large worship services every Sunday at their physical locations but listened to the Pastor Joel Hunter's sermon through broadcast.
But the church started to consider the idea of house or simple churches, which would help Northland reach more people in their communities without paying the heavy price tag associated with multisite buildings and staff. Through the house church approach, it could also take steps toward Hunter's vision of making Northland a catalyst church for one million new churches by 2020.
"Both the large church gatherings and the house or simple church gatherings need each other for effective ministry," said Lacich.
"In the early days of the church, they did the temple court services and house to house services. The house to house time was worship, it was having communion, getting people baptized and praying for one another. That's what these folks are experiencing."
Over 12,000 people attend Northland every week, including 4,000 who worship regularly online through Facebook, smartphone apps, or the church's Roku channel, which has been installed in 5,000 homes so far.
"Our whole thing is for the church to be distributed out beyond the walls," said Lacich. "We use technology and get the Gospel to where people are."