I approached his house with a bit of apprehension, the same kind of apprehension I feel when stepping out of my comfort zone. As I rapped on the screen door, I caught sight of Shayne Daughenbaugh sitting on a couch in the living room. He was smiling. Typical Shayne. He bid me let myself in and, as I entered, he stood from the couch to give me a hug.

“Welcome, brother, glad you could make it.”

I looked around the room at the others seated on the love seat, wooden chairs, and even the floor. There was something so casual about it that I felt my apprehension lift. Shayne informed me of coffee in the kitchen and, naturally, I made a beeline. After I found a place on one of the couches, I listened as everyone chatted about their lives, about outreach programs we could be involved in, and pretty much anything that came to mind.

The early journey

This all started about two years ago when Shayne gave up his position as youth pastor at College View Church, a job he’d had for over 10 years, and decided to start a house church. I interviewed him back then, and now that some time has gone by, I sat down with him again to see how things have gone since he began the house church.

First, let’s rehash. It was a long journey for Shayne to get to the place he is now. Before deciding to pursue a house church, he described himself as being stuck in a bit of a wilderness experience where he felt like he was wandering for two years. He felt dissatisfied, even though he was doing what he thought he should be doing. Despite being in a great church, with a great budget, and ministering to great young people, he felt like something was missing—like he didn’t know where to go or what was next.

His wife encouraged him to pursue a PhD program. There, he was exposed to new authors and ideas, some of them specifically dealing with the way the early church in Acts conducted themselves. This made him realize that the institutional church was ill equipped to reach out to newer generations and people with different mentalities.

Building community

Whether they are young people, middle-aged, or older folks, the established church isn’t quite doing it for them. At the same time, they still hunger for spirituality and long for a way to find it. Shayne let go of his dream of being a youth pastor in order to do what God was calling him to do: Start a house church.

When they first started, attendance was high, which he attributes to the buzz it all created. As summer came, things dwindled some, but now his church tends to average 15-20 people. Of course, the focus is not on numbers; they meet in his living room!

It’s a grace-oriented community, where people create relationships with one another that allows them to disciple. These close relationships are more easily formed in close-knit groups, especially for certain personality types.

In a house church, it’s easier to connect on a closer level and ask those awkward questions that nurture spiritual intimacy. “You can’t hide in my living room,” Shayne said.

As I talked with Shayne, I asked him if he thinks house church is for everyone. He told me that house church could meet everyone’s needs, but not everyone is prepared for it. Shayne noted he isn’t suggesting we do away with the big churches, but house church has something to offer those who are ready.

House church isn’t just about creating something like a Sabbath school group. It’s not just a meeting.

Beyond gathering on Sabbath mornings, they make plans with one another during the week, keeping connection and communication open so they can better grow together in Christ. Not everyone is ready for that in-your-face aspect of being open with others in a living room.

Being the kingdom

Youth retention is a huge issue within Adventism, so I asked Shayne if he thinks house church is a more effective method of reaching the youth, as far as providing community and a laid-back environment.

What he said was interesting: “The main benefit of house church is not just community, because youth can find community anywhere: Sabbath school groups, sports teams, bars, whatever.”

The beauty of house church is that it decentralizes leadership and ownership. It prompts everybody in attendance to engage and share. It’s very interactive.

Knowing membership growth might not be the focus, I asked a simpler question: “Do you have any goals in mind?”

He responded with his motto: “Be the kingdom, grow the kingdom.” Being the kingdom means getting deep into discipleship, and imagining what it would look like if you were living in heaven right now. Though that mindset doesn’t make life easier, it certainly provides another option of how to respond to it.

By being the kingdom and losing yourself in that way of thinking, you start wanting to invite others into God’s good news. That’s how you grow the kingdom. Be the kingdom first, and then grow. Shayne’s hope right now is that God will be glorified in Lincoln, but he’s also excited at the prospect of inspiring others and thus multiplying. He’s even been asked to mentor house churches in other states. “The house church movement is pretty significant,” he said.

“We found out how broken people really were,” Shayne added, “people that looked like they were really good church members.” Yet as they got comfortable and opened up, they realized that they were angry at Jesus over life’s circumstances. A year later, that same person had exchanged hatred toward Jesus for trust and love.

“We know it’s the power of the Holy Spirit, and it’s humbling to know that we, as a community, played a part in that,” Shayne said.

Beyond ourselves

Back in Shayne’s living room, Shayne directed us to a passage of Romans that we read together. Truly, the specific chapter and verses didn’t matter. It was the process, or rather, lack of process that took place as we pored over the text, while sharing our opinions and wonderings about it. There was something freeing about the way things went along: anyone could speak at anytime, no need to raise a hand and wait to be called on by the leader, because nobody was actually leading. Nobody was in charge of spiritually feeding us. We were all gathered there, as individuals, in search of something beyond ourselves. I think that’s really important.

Josh Marshall previously wrote Taking Spirituality Beyond the Sanctuary, chronicling the start of Shayne Daughenbaugh’s house church. Josh lives, works and releases his creativity in Lincoln, Nebraska. Go to our Facebook or visit bit.ly/Daughenbaugh to watch the director’s cut of this interview.