"Home churching" is a growing phenomenon that has some Christians worried.
Family worship gatherings where Dad preaches are "precious" when done on a daily basis, but they should not substitute the church, said the elders at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, N.C.
"When we talk about the home church movement we've lost what the definition of a church is," said Dan Horn, according the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. "I think Calvin probably had it correct when he defined the church as having the preaching of the Word, there's a right administration of the sacraments and there's church discipline.
"The problem is most of the home churches that I know of failed in one or all of those, especially the last one."
The Baptist church elders acknowledge there is a wide range of home churches and that there are legitimate churches that meet in homes. Meeting in homes per se is not the issue.
But a home church where only the biological family meets or one where even several families meet but is missing the marks of a New Testament church is not biblical, the Wake Forest Baptists contended.
"We shouldn't confuse things by putting the tag of 'church' on it," said Steve Breagy.
The church leaders' concerns come as studies show a growing house church movement in the U.S. along with a growing acceptance of the legitimacy of house churches as an alternative to conventional church.
A Barna Group study in 2008 found that a majority of American adults believe participating in faith activities at home with one's family and participating in a house church is "a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does not participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God."
Scott Brown, who leads NCFIC, has bumped into many people who say they are home churching. He found that some are engaged in it because they're in a transition period and have yet to find a church community.
Others are home churching because of a bad experience they had at a church or a dissatisfaction with the churches they attended.
Though the New Testament contains accounts of churches meeting in homes, Brown stressed that it wasn't just the biological family who gathered.
"It's really not appropriate for us to create our own kind of church life," he said. "God has prescribed it and it's a beautiful prescription and it's really what we need."
What constitutes a biblical church, the Baptist elders and ministry leaders asserted, is: biblical preaching, church governance (including qualified elders), church discipline, the sharing of spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ, and sanctification through relationships in the church community.
"Frequently, the reason people are home churching is because they don't want to be under authority," said Horn. "When we reject authority, we're rejecting the Gospel."
A well-prepared sermon is also key, they indicated.
Simply gathering to share "what's on their hearts" is not really a biblical concept, "at least not in the way [of] what is comprehensively needed by the local church," said Breagy.
"What the church really needs is that a man of God would bear down on a text during the course of the week and really labor hard so that the sermon on Sunday is more than just sharing from his heart," he noted. "It's the output of a week's full of study."
The elders encouraged home-churchgoers to find a biblical church.
"Love the church as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her," Brown urged.