Chicago house churches: The power of thinking small


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 13th.  Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the power of thinking small.

Many churches deploy big programs and big budgets to try to improve race relations. But not everyone believes that’s the best way to bring about change.

REICHARD: One pastor and his family think transformation happens best when it happens one family at a time. Here’s WORLD reporter Laura Finch.

LAURA FINCH, REPORTER: It’s a cold winter morning in the Roseland neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. The smell of bacon wafts through the house as a dozen people mingle in the home of Lamar and Sade Simms. As they greet each other, the family dog sees his chance and snatches a piece of bacon off a plate on the floor. The visitors aren’t just here for breakfast, they’ve come…for church.

Many micro-church proponents say the strength of the house church model is you just can’t hide, everything is out in the open. So maybe it’s appropriate that today, they’re singing this song, with a YouTube video providing worship.

SINGING: I surrender all to you…

The pastor of this church is Lamar Simms, a thirty year old with four kids. He’s skinny as a rail and wears a canary yellow Steph Curry jersey and hat. The atmosphere here is informal and relaxed, but when Simms gets up to speak on Ephesians 2, it does not feel like we’re in a living room any more.

SIMMS: A color blind theology isn’t a biblical theology. (Come on.) The answer isn’t not to see color, it’s to see it through the lens of Scripture. (Murmurs)

After the sermon, there’s time for questions and feedback. A young woman shares that a friend is trying to read the Bible, but frankly finds more in common with Louis Farrakhan than with Jesus. Simms makes the point that a racially just society is the fruit of the gospel.

SIMMS: Any time you take a people group and place them as the center, man, hurt will always follow. Destruction will always follow.

Later, the young woman describes how Lamar’s sermons and the post-message discussion helps in the everyday.

GINA: I ask Lamar or Sade and they give me advice on how to handle people biblically, and not just how I naturally would handle people.

The congregation that meets at the Simms home is part of the Legacy Christian Fellowship, a network that hopes to plant at least one family based micro-church in each of Chicago’s 77 racially diverse neighborhoods. Legacy believes small churches hold the key to transformative discipleship.

Every house church in the network studies the same passages of Scripture, at the same time. Another gathering in Lawndale, about 35 minutes away, needs a pastor at the last minute. So Simms packs up and heads to deliver his message of unity a second time.

As he travels, Simms describes the intimacy of hosting church right in his home.

SIMMS: There are times when me and my wife have an argument right before service…our two options was, alright, we need fake like we love each other or we can deal with this disagreement within our marriage within the community of a people.

That intimacy brings with it accountability, something he says is missing in many of today’s larger churches, where the senior pastor can so easily become isolated from daily life with his congregation. And since house churches meet in homes, it sends a strong message about the church being a family.

SIMMS: This narrative of destroying the family of God has always been the priority of Satan and his demons… and so what models like the house church which I go to… it’s a direct retaliation, or answer to the strongholds that plague our nation and our communities.

There are currently eight house churches in the network. They gather together once a month for a combined service, but the elders also share the weekly speaking responsibilities when needed. On this particular Sunday, that includes the house church in Lawndale.

SIMMS: They’re probably having fellowship right now, and then I’ll preach right away.

In Lawndale, about 20 people are already gathered and ready to start.

LAWNDALE HOST: Lamar is gonna kick us off. After that we’ll kinda do some worship and prayer and then I’ll give you all an update.

After delivering his sermon a second time, Simms gets back in the car to head to a third house church in Humboldt Park to do the same thing all over again. Not every Sunday is this busy for Simms, as he’s on a four-week preaching rotation. Plus, he has a full time job.

SIMMS: None of our elders actually take a paycheck. We have seven elders, each of them have occupations.

But he’s happy to share his time with other house churches when he has prepared a word, and sees this sort of home-based, circuit riding ministry as a powerful way to address racial divides in the city and the erosion of trust within the church family—something he speaks to in today’s sermon.

SIMMS: The qualifications of an elder has a lot to do with your relationship he has with his wife, the upbringing of his children. Y’all see a theme there? Every time we’re called to be reconciled to God, the result is to be reconciled to someone else? 

At times Simms might be tempted to return to a larger congregation. After all, the city of Chicago is facing some pretty big issues and most of the church leaders addressing those concerns come from large ministries.

But Simms is okay with a different role. He says the key to gospel transformation is moving one family, one house, at a time.

SIMMS: Being great in the kingdom of God doesn’t look like what the world says it does. So we look at passages and when we look at Christ we see that the greatest in the kingdom is a servant. The real work of the cross is discipleship. It’s not about preaching and having this big old church as it is about reaching one or two individuals…

For WORLD Radio, I’m Laura Finch reporting from Chicago, Illinois.


(Photo/Laura Finch)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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