Rad Zdero, in his Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader does about as good a job as anyone in answering this question.
Many believers today participate in 'small groups', such as Bible study groups, prayer groups, accountability groups, affinity groups, etc. However, 'small groups' are often utilized differently in various types of...traditional churches, cell churches, and house church networks. Small groups in all three styles of churches usually meet in homes and encourage the participation of believers. But, that's where the similarities end. While we must clearly recognize and celebrate the hand of God in all manner of churches, there are important differences between traditional churches, cell churches, and house churches that should be understood.So, does any of this differentiating about small groups really matter? I think so. How we define the church has huge implications as we are finding out here in Ecuador.
On one end of the spectrum, for instance, is the traditional church...[that] uses small groups (often misnamed 'cell groups')--this can be described as a 'church WITH small groups.'
Further along the spectrum is the cell church that places an equal or greater emphasis on its mission-minded small groups (properly called 'cell groups') compared to its weekly large group services--this can be described as a 'church OF small groups.'
However, the house church network sees each house church as a fully fledged, autonomous, church in itself--'church IS small groups'.
A few months ago Ecuador voted in a new Constitution. While it will take months to clarify which aspects of the many social changes get attention and actually get implemented, what is clear is that the duly-elected social government in power is intent on having its say in religious and church affairs. One of the first steps is to determine who is, and who is not a church according to secular criteria. Those deemed NOT officially recognized churches will be closed, and even face confiscation of properties. Those that cooperate by aligning themselves to the new laws, will have the government's blessing and be allowed to continue.
While I am still trying to understand the full implications of the changes being implemented, what I am seeing is a concerted move to try and slow down the tidal wave of people turning to Evangelical Christianity over the past 10-15 years. This is just the latest twist on what has been Satan's opposition to the Gospel from the very beginning.
So back to the original question. When the church handles large sums of money, hires staff/employees, manages properties, and coordinates ministries such as schools, day care centers, etc. then the government can easily intervene and dictate norms. But if the church IS the small home group, then how is a government going to try and regulate what is simply the gathering in homes of people done in Jesus Name? When the church is a 'liquid' non-bricks and mortar body of believers, it is much more difficult to slap upon them secular regulations.
Stay tuned. There is surely much more ahead in this ongoing unfolding of events. Keep us in your prayers, and if any reading have insight or experience in these matters, please feel free to comment. We need to hear your voice.