What is a Simple Church?

Note: In a recent post I shared some of the story leading me to plant a small, simpler church. The post resonated with many. A few left comments, and several emailed me. I want to share some thoughts from Keith and Elizabeth Ward’s book, Is It Really That Simple? Keith and Elizabeth have been walking alongside mentoring Megan and I for a few years. We’re indebted to their wisdom, encouragement and openness as they’ve invited us into their story. In this excerpt they address the important question, ‘What is a simple church?’

– Darryl Eyb

“So, what will you be doing exactly?” This question was raised on many occasions in the weeks ahead. It was all still theory for us even though we knew we were to head in this direction. For us to understand Simple Church and to be able to explain it to others, we knew we needed to go back to basics and re-define church. In its very essence, church is simply a group of people who follow Jesus. It is where two or three (or more) people gather in recognition that Jesus is in their midst… “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Irrespective of what format or ingredients the gathering together may have, this desire to centre on the Lord God is worship and as individuals listen to each other and encourage one another, they are built up in their faith and spurred on to live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

what is a simple church?

Over the centuries as societies have developed, so too have expressions of how the above is translated. Mixed in with the basics, several traditions and religious practices have been added. Some of these have been quite helpful and added a meaningful expression to the Christian faith. Some suit some people but not others and this in turn has led to a rich diversity of church expression.

One thing we were very clear about. Diversity is good. The breadth of Christian expression is great. There is not one shape that fits all. We were not abandoning the traditions of our previous expression of church but rather experimenting with an alternative method that may reach those to whom the existing church was foreign or uncomfortable.

In our early attempts to define Simple Church, we found ourselves explaining it by what it wasn’t in comparison to a traditional church (or what is now in several spheres referred to as “Complex” church). Simple Church, we would say, is without an emphasis on the 4 P’s of programmes, property, paid pastors and preaching. In other words…

  • Simple Church does not have a programme dominance. There may be none at all.
  • Simple Church does not have a property dominance. Church might meet in someone’s house or in a café, in a library, under a tree…
  • Simple Church does not have a budget focus. There may be no wages or overheads.
  • Simple Church does not have a preaching dominance. Bible truths are more likely to be discussed rather than a message presented by one person.

Churches over the centuries, in whatever size, shape or form, have been established and operate on the undergirding words of Jesus. In the book of John He gave what is referred to as “the Great Command”…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus spoke these words which we express as “The Great Commission.”

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

what is a simple church?

At the heart of every church, whether simple or complex, is the centrality of Jesus Christ as the three principles of Loving God, Loving others and Making disciples are fleshed out.

In the NSW Baptist Together Summer Magazine (2012), Grant Morrison, church consultant and coach, summed it up well…

“Simple Churches, with their smaller numbers, find simple ways to undertake the three principles. Complex Churches, usually dealing with more people, add programmes and facilities, staff and finance to accomplish these principles. These in turn create the need for additional programmes and staffing to support the principles…

Grant Morrison continued…

“Although Simple Churches may not have a sermon or regular teaching segment, they do place a high importance on the word of God, seeking to live out the mandates of scripture and being obedient to the commands of Jesus and the promptings of the Holy SpiritWorship is also seen as important but is often more varied than in established or ‘Complex’ Churches and may or may not involve music and singing.”

The following diagram by Roy McClung was a helpful little tool in these early days to explain the basic differences between the two models.

This simplified diagram by Roy McClung though, is only a tool. There are many churches that don’t quite fit into any category. Some churches are complex yet may not have property or even a paid Pastor. There could also be a church that is simple in many areas but has programmes and a church building. The following diagram can also be helpful in understanding the completely simple at one end, the highly complex at the other end, and the many hybrids and mixtures in between.

what is a simple church?

It is hard to really know where the crossover line from simple to complex occurs but things were becoming clearer in our minds as to the pathway we were heading along. Our desire was to keep things very basic, totally simple.

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