Jesus Army is ultimately a hourse church movement. While the revival that birthed the movement started in a small Baptist chapel in Bugbrooke, the Jesus Fellowship Church didn’t build new chapels or church buildings as they grew; instead they organised themselves in their community houses. Thus, the same buildings that were used for worship and preaching were used for living and sleeping, which of course reduced costs and increased flexibility. This is how the early church did it as well – they worshipped in their homes and had everything in common.
The church is simply organized in “households”, which generally corresponds to a community house plus church members that do not live in community. Generally this means between 30 and 50 people. They are often divided into cell groups of around 10 people each that have their own meetings once a week (just like cell groups in many other churches). All the church households in one city make up a congregation, which meets sometimes for regional events, and about six times a year there are national celebrations where the whole church gets together. In the 80s they bought a big tent for some of these occasions, the Golden Marquee. Other times, like on Jesus London Day, they simply celebrate in public on the streets.
So apart from the Bugbrooke chapel, which they actually bought to have for weddings and funerals, the Jesus Army has not had any church buildings. But in 2000, the Northampton congregation decided to by a cinema and convert it to a Jesus Centre. The idea was to mainly use it as a social centre to help the homeless, immigrants, elderly and other groups while also having it as a place for worship, prayer meetings and big celebrations. It has been quite succesful and they have started Jesus Centres in Coventry, Sheffield and London as well.
Me and Frida visited the Northampton Jesus Centre today. They’re definitely using their facility and doing more stuff than many other churches I know of, and I love how it is equally a social centre as it is a church. Still, the actual cinema hall is huge – seating 1000 people, and I was sad to hear that it’s empty except for on Sundays. They’re trying to rent it out, but to my understanding it’s quite hard. On top of that, the whole building was closed a few days a week.
I know several people from the Jesus Army are reading my blog, and I want to remind them to be a bit careful with buildings. I’m not a house church fundamentalist, I think buildings could be useful sometimes for the Kingdom but if – and only if – they are used effectively, not standing empty. In fact, I think it’s problematic to have a church building empty at night when homeless people are freezing on the streets. Don’t lose your identity as a house church movement, JA. Have smaller Jesus Centres rather than empty ones, is my recommendation.