Simple Church Considerations

Roughly two weeks ago one of the authors of Simple Church came and spoke at our church community to equip us in the book’s premise. Essentially the main emphasis of the book and presentation was that the healthiest churches typically have a very simple process for making disciples, and so simplicity in disciple-making is essential.

As the presentation was well delivered, helpful, and challenging, I will list a few internal, current, and undecided “wrestlings” for consideration:

  • Simplicity vs. Focused: I think this book lends itself to be misunderstood by using the title “simple” vs. “focused.” The challenge for church leaders is to be intentional, strategic, and focused about what they are doing. This does not mean that it still won’t look organic or “messy.” Again, the Christian life is a both/and when it comes to simplicity and chaos. (NOTE: I was sitting next to a church leader who admitted his small church of 60 was very simple by the author’s definition…however, they were simple not by strategic decision, but by default.)
  • Yahoo vs. Google: The presenter made reference to Google and Yahoo’s front pages, asking church leaders which format their church best represented. Again, I think this is partially shortsighted. The issue again is being strategic and intentional, which in turn could look like a Yahoo page. [NOTE: I think to camp on the current “simplicity” trend of Google and Apple, while not also acknowledging the VERY chaotic trend of the open system (i.e. Apache, Skype, AA, Wikipedia), seems to be imbalanced. I would also argue that the church in scripture better reflects the open system trend of our business culture, vs. the simplistic one.]
  • Model vs. Process: The presenter seeks to make the claim that this project/book is not about a “model” (blueprint for discipleship), but a process. I disagree. There is no question “Simple Church” is a model (and a linear one at that). Every example listed for a “simple church” is a presupposed model of having an attractional worship environment, moving them towards a community group, and then having them serve (the very traditional funnel model of the 70’s/80’s.) [Note that Simple Church speaks in terms of having a presupposed model of having your worship service become the main open door to the unchurched, having a philosophical decision that this will be your main “invite place” for friends, and the service will be catered to the “seeker.” I have no problem with this model, but recognize that there are other valid approaches too (i.e. allowing your community groups to be the main evangelistic engine.)]
  • Macro vs. Micro: I think where Simple Church best helps churches is at the macro-level. It forces churches to think about big picture, strategy, resources, and where the extra fat of inconsequential initiatives sit. At the micro level of creating a process or programming is where Simple Church speaks too specifically, giving a preconceived formula and model for ministry that may counter the direction some churches are designed and even ordained to go.
  • Behaviorist (formulaic) vs. Existentialist (organic): Simple Church approaches discipleship with a behaviorist, factory-driven mindset asking the question, “What kind of disciple do we wish to make?”, and thereby creating an assembly line, linear model of discipleship. This isn’t a bad question, but one that I beg to ask and decide on following a more developmental, communal, & eschatological question, “What is our church’s vision?” (based on presupposed and biblically prescribed values, purpose, and a contextually-based vision—who are we?, where are we going?, how will we get there?). Taking this step first allows for a blend of both the formulaic (at the macro level) and the organic (at the micro level), in which you can then implement the “product question” further down the road of ministry model development.
  • Hiring Model-Clones vs, Hiring DNA-Clones: The presenter made a big deal about hiring people that know, do, and own your ministry model. I agree with this to a point. I believe you ultimately need like-mindedness at the more general level in regards to your church’s DNA (theology, mission, etc), which will almost never change. The bottom line is, models change, and should, based on the changing context of your ministry (i.e. cultural shifts). If you hire a “simple church” clone who only knows only one way and one model, when a strategic/cultural shifts occurs within your church, their inability to critically think about ministry philosophy and adaptive strategy will become grossly apparent.
  • Concrete vs. Subjective: If you have read the book The Halo Effect, it is quite apparent that much of today’s research revealing the formulas or practices of healthy organizations are terribly misleading. The book’s premise shows that for the most part, corporation success is simply random and chance (very Darwinian, I know). As I do think we can learn from “healthy” churches or organizations (dependent upon how you define “healthy”), we have to take heed to this warning that for the most part there are factors out of our control for ministry success, and that a quick formula won’t be the answer. Within our biblical worldview, we obviously seek excellence, focus, and strategic ministry, while recognizing the “subjective force” of God’s grace, the movement of His Spirit, and the various niches and specialized roles we all play in the universal church.

In the midst of these cautions there was much my church community needed to hear in regards to trimming the non-strategic fat, honoring our resources, and realizing that discipleship isn’t a one-track program, but the entire ministry model as a whole.

Further help with these “wrestlings?” Areas of needed insight? Shortsightedness on my part?


~ by Dave Smith on October 18, 2008.

2 Responses to “Simple Church Considerations”

  1. Very well thought-out, Dave. No way do I have time to respond to it all. However, I think the key is, in fact, the word FOCUSED. Google’s front page is simple, but their technology and “the algorithm” is extremely complex. Better to say they are FOCUSED.

    Focus, by Al Ries, remains one of my favorite books. It has influenced us heavily here at North Point Ministries. It’s okay to be complicated, organic, or messy behind the scenes. But the outsider coming in should see a process that is easy to figure out. It should be obvious what the next step is, and that step should be strategic.

    Wikipedia is complex, yes—but not to the end user. To the end user it’s obvious: “Click here to edit this page.”

    I would differ with you on your assessment of model vs. process. I think you can apply this to any model you choose. So, if you make groups the front door, then what is the next step? Is it easy, obvious, and strategic?

    To mix posts, I go back to the Worship, Community, and Mission (X-Men). It is a SIMPLE way of describing a complex system at The Chapel. The church is very complex and took 80 years to get that way. But it can be explained very simply if you make it clear that your developmental desire is to see believers who are experiencing personal & corporate WORSHIP, investing in authentic COMMUNITY, and using their resources and influence to further God’s MISSION. Then, it doesn’t matter so much what your “front door” (or foyer) is.

    It seems you might also be making too much of “our church’s vision.” I think it’s high time churches stopped worrying about what God might be speaking uniquely to them and just get busy with what he has already commanded the Church Universal!

    “Within our biblical worldview, we obviously seek excellence, focus, and strategic ministry…”


  2. Yes, agreed on the strength of focus for sure…and good point with Wikipedia, showing it needs to be a both/and.

    I like how you positioned it: simplicity on the outside, an allowance for complexity on the inside.

    Your point about the Xmen surfaced today in another meeting about our ministry model discussion. Thanks for your input here as it is helpful.

    Good cuation on maybe being too detailed with the church’s vision. Agreed we have a prescribed calling from Scripture…yet of coarse we want to be “FOCUSED” in how we do that with our context too. A balance for sure.

    Not sure what you mean by the “really” reaction to the quote? Maybe confusion in regards to how we would each define those pursuits? I think you and I would be similar for sure.

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