Monica was like a lot of women who come to the growing network of house churches Paul Gonzales leads on the west side of San Antonio. She was struggling in her relationship with her live-in boyfriend of 10 years and didn’t know where to turn.
She found support and encouragement from the roughly 20 Christians who gathered weekly. They talked about what God desires in a relationship between a man and a woman, including marriage.
Little by little, she shared what she was learning with her boyfriend, Matthew Flores. Once or twice he even acquiesced to her requests to come with her to church. After a year, Gonzales married the couple in a park.
Eventually, Matthew and Monica came to church together. One day, Matthew surprisingly stood up. With tears in his eyes, he thanked his wife for being so patient with him. He had given his life to Christ. Soon he’ll be baptized, and he and his wife will open their home to their neighborhood for Bible studies so others can hear the gospel as well.
Gonzales beams as he shares the couple’s story as well as the life transformations of others who have become part of the house church network. God is changing people through prayer, Bible study and relationships.
“When we look at church gatherings, it’s a wide open field,” Gonzales said. “We don’t look at church buildings. Church doesn’t mean building. It means people or the assembly. It has nothing to do with the location it’s going to be, brick and mortar or whatever. Where believers gather, that’s where church is.”
In Texas, more than 500 houses churches are reaching people that likely would never come to traditional churches. With the help of the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists is training these church leaders, equipping them to make disciples of those around them.
Gonzales’ network began in 2002, when he and his wife opened up their home to relatives for a Bible study. More and more people came until 50 individuals were filling his small home. At that point, the group needed to make a decision: Do they look at renting or buying property or do they multiply by opening another home?
They settled on a combination of the two. House churches would meet throughout the week for Bible study and worship in neighborhoods across the city. Once a month, they’d host a game night to encourage connections between members. And every week, the house churches would come together for worship at a traditional church where they’d rent space for a small fee.
“When we decided to open up different homes, it grew to at least 200, 300,” Gonzales said. “I don’t keep track of the numbers. They open up their homes and do a lot of ministry within their neighborhoods and have Bible studies.”
Now Gonzales helps 28 house churches that spread across San Antonio. The congregations reflect the communities they serve. They’re largely Hispanic and include singles and families ranging from young children to older adults.
In many ways, they feel like family gatherings. The meetings are rather informal and often include food. Leader's guide a group conversation about the Bible passage of the week. Because it is relaxed, many people regularly share. Members learn from each other and grow together.
“There’s a hominess to it,” Gonzales said. “It’s family. We’re together. You don’t have to wait until Sunday to get in contact with the church members. Most everyone feels comfortable calling each other up asking for help or advice. That’s difficult to build up in a typical church setting.”
As each house church grows and individuals mature in the faith, they want to open their homes for worship like Monica and Matthew. As a result, a wave of disciples are being made much like they were in the New Testament.
“One of the first things I tell people who open their homes is this is what we aim for: Acts 2,” Gonzales said. “They received the apostles. There was Bible teaching. There was sharing the word. There was baptizing.”
John Hall serves as a freelance writer for Texas Baptists.
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