Review – Frank Viola: So you want to start a house church

Present Testimony Ministries, Salem, Oregon : 2003

The title is misleading. The preoccupation of this book is the conviction that what the house church movement needs are extra-local church planters who model their ministry after Paul’s. Viola describes it like this:
As was the case in his own life, the men that Paul trained were: 1) Called by God, 2) Prepared in the context of church life, and 3) Later sent through the Spirit by Paul himself… Thus the divine principle of being called, prepared, and sent unshakably holds throughout the entire NT.

These apostles plant a church and stay with it for six to eighteen months, bringing it to enough maturity to be able to leave it and move onto somewhere else. Despite the fact that he spends so much time on explaining this, I remain unclear about the benefit of church-planting in this way, beyond the fact that it follows the New Testament pattern and, in Viola’s eyes, will help create enduring churches.

Having said this, I am fairly convinced by Viola’s account of how Paul ministered (drawing as it does on Roland Allen’s book Missionary methods : St Paul’s or ours?). I am also challenged by the criticisms Viola makes of the way house churches operate today. Chapter 4, “The modern house church movement” is worthy of a long book. His description of house-church subcultures is stinging in its insight. He identifies seven unhealthy subcultures which dominate the movement –
· The glorified Bible study – marked by endless fruitless debate.
· The special interest group – formed around a particular interest, whether organic farming or Holy Ghost laugher.
· The personality cult – formed around an individual.
· The bless-me club – a collection of individuals.
· The socially amorphous party – a church without direction, who don’t progress beyond meeting for fellowship.
· The disgruntled malcontent society – dominated by a negative spirit about the mainstream church, and ending in attacks on each other.
· The unwritten liturgy driven church – there is an unspoken requirement for a certain type of worship meeting; each week it goes through the motions.
After reading through these and finding a part of my church in all of them, I’m left feeling bad and not really offered an alternative. (The alternative, Viola tells us, is to be centred in Christ; a good thing, but vague.)

On Viola’s website, I read that he publishes two books a year. This could be part of the problem. The whole book feels rushed, incomplete and half-baked. Maybe if he wrote one thorough book every two years, they would be much more helpful.

6 thoughts on “Review – Frank Viola: So you want to start a house church

  1. Frank Viola has captured many truths about the biblical church but when it comes to the role of the elder he throws the baby out with the bathwater. He is correct to want to jettison religion. The religion that calls itself “Christian” (both catholic and protestant) is not the true church. The rightly divided word gives wonderful direction for the true church. The true church does not have a denominational name: It is the body of Christ. No middle men, no popes, no go betweens, just the one and only Jesus the anointed one as the head. Members of the true church have Christ in them (Col 1:27) and have an unbreakable relationship with God through Christ.

    Will there soon be yet another new denomination based on Violaism? It like the rest of the modern ”emerging church” has a strong emphasis on social gathering with all who come welcome to spew their weird religious doctrines while the bible is avoided? We need the rightly divided word of God now more than ever. In 1 Peter 5:1-3 elders are exhorted to “feed the flock of God.” There is only one source of food for the flock of God: The Word of God. See chapter 4 Partnership One With Another: Neil Tolman 1993 at:

  2. Philip, “Who is Your Covering?” by Frank Viola is no longer in print. His new book, “Reimagining Church” has replaced it. “Reimagining Church” is the sequel to “Pagan Christianity” which was authored by George Barna and Frank. “Reimagining Church” is a detailed theology of organic church, over 300 pages. Endorsements by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, Tony Dale, Felicity Dale, Jon Zens, John White, Rad Zdero, and others. You can read a sample chapter at
    The book is also available on

  3. i agree with viola on the house church movement its biblical ,if they removed the pulpit and its pastor people would not know how to have a church meeting according 1cor 14;26.any way if gifted preachers should leave they pulpits and follow n.t. pattern and be church planters like paul ,leave the church in its diapers gathering around the

    1. SON of G*D the H.S the anoithing would teach the born again deciples .and send the comfortable pastors and ministers to plant churchs and go back and see how they doing under H.P set biblical Elders not lording over them acts 20;28 there is more s.miranda

  4. I believe Frank Viola has really opened up answers to many of the questions I have asked myself and others over the 50 odd years that I have been part of 3 different churches. When Jesus chose His disciples, he taught them to gather informally around Him while He taught them about Heaven and about God, listened to and answered their questions, and had fellowship with them just as He had with His Father in Heaven. Jesus was establishing the pattern, and so were Paul and the other apostles. The “house” is not significant – the informality of gathering in His Name is….the churches I attended when I was younger generally took the form of one man (the “minister”) sharing what he believed was laid on his heart to share.The congregation, and most certainly the ladies and children were not given a hearing at all in these “traditional” churches. I do believe that these ministers were, indeed called by God, and were sharing the Truth, but what I see in the New Testament Church, is leaders conferring with one another. They did not have the New Testament to refer to, so they relied upon the Holy Spirit’s leading in one another, and for themselves. Ladies were also involved in sharing the Gospel, but Paul drew the line at ladies teaching or usurping authority over men who are spiritual leaders, or becoming argumentative in church meetings. This is according to God’s divine order and His plan to express Jesus as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride. The Bride doesn’t tell the Bridegroom what he should do in God’s order. The Bridegroom loves his bride so much that he cares for her and lays down his life for her. In turn the Bride loves her bridegroom and obeys him because she sees her truth and protection embodied in him. There is so much to write…..

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