Five Common Barriers to Becoming a Simple Church

January 15, 2018

Yes, many of our churches are too complex.

You’ve heard my advocacy of the simple church on more than one occasion. Too many congregations are wasting precious time, money, and energy doing too much.

Simply stated, many of our churches are complex churches. In fact, the churches are so complex that they have ceased to do ministry effectively.

Too many programs. Too many meetings. Too many events. Too many ministries.

You get the picture.

Now the question is: Why? Why do we allow our churches to become complex churches? Or to state it differently: What are some common barriers to becoming a simple church? I see five of them again and again.

  1. Traditionalism. We do the same things we’ve always done because we’ve always done them that way before. If that sounds redundant, it is. We just can’t get out of our boxes of comfort and false security.
  2. Lack of clear vision. We pile on program after program and meeting after meeting because we have no clear plan or vision. A good vision will lead the church to say “yes” or “no” in a healthy fashion.
  3. Fear. Many leaders fear the consequences of even suggesting the elimination of some programs, ministries, or activities. I know of no simple church without courageous leaders.
  4. Coasting. This barrier is similar to fear. Some leaders don’t want to rock the boat. They just want to hang on to their jobs or their peaceful existence. But the courageous leader is never a coasting leader.
  5. Failure to evaluate. I have encouraged churches to consider a zero-based ministry every year. Ask the question: What ministries, programs, and meetings would we have if we had a clean slate? How would it look differently than our current schedule? Too many churches are eager to add but fearful to subtract.

Complex and busy churches are normative for too many congregations. And, ironically, the complex church is a church that is simply too busy for its members to minister effectively.

The simple church gives members the time they need to minister to their families and to the communities in which they live.

And those are the churches that are truly making a difference.


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13 Comments

  • Raphael Agharuwa says on

    Thank you Thom.

    I think the simplicity of a Church can be achieved by:
    1. Having specific mission,
    2. Having specific structure,
    3. Having specific ministries,
    4. Having specific meetings…

  • respected Thom

    could you explain what is zero based ministry?

  • Jonathan L Hanna says on

    Hmm, I would have to read your argument further to see what you mean by “simple.” Though, I run into over-simplicity allot especially when dealing with fideism and/or anti-intellectualism in the church. For example, oversimplicity in biblical exegesis and developing a hermeneutic. Though salvific doctrines are understandable without much work (simple), much of the rest of the biblical text takes some to allot (this is a spectrum) to start to properly understand. However, one runs into oversimplicity from many laymen who want to stay at the milk and not get into the meat (Heb 5:11-6:3). Some to much of Scripture is “hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16) and is not “simple.” Though, much of the salvific essential doctrines (which there is much overlap between the different soteriological schools of though that have been deemed essentially orthodox who are trained to make such judgement).

  • If the church is too simple, you won’t need to be over 55, groomed for decades, and in the inner circle in order to be in leadership.

  • robert h wright jr says on

    In doing the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we must be bold and innovative. Above all, we must put our faith and trust in the Lord. He will guide us.

  • THERESA SIMMONS says on

    Great list! We were members of a church about 15 years ago who had a new pastor. The first thing he did was ask every ministry and auxiliary group to give a mission, vision and biblical basis for their existence. It stirred the pot, but it was such a wise idea. Too many churches, dare I say especially AfAm congregations, have auxiliaries that serve little purpose than to provide a social outlet. The great commission doesn’t say “Go and Fellowship and have lunch”, it says “Go, teach and baptize”.

    • Gloria Austin says on

      Yes! The authentic ministry of our Lord has been replaced with Christian social clubs in the church disguised as “ministry ” and having no genuine effect on advancing the Kingdom of God. The nervous activities, and calendars full from January December of meetings, “special events,” socials, dinners, “revivals “, and the “program.” Authentic ministry is lost in complicated “biblical resources.” Scripture is clear in the Simplicity of the ministry of our Lord. Let us revisit A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, D.L. Moody, E.M. Bounds, R.A. Torrey. Let the church “return to it’s first love.”

  • pradeep ivon says on

    hi Thom its a good subject to explore. By the way what does the Bible or Jesus advice us the ideal for a church; since the time of apostles, the church has become a totally different entity altogether with emphasis on several departments, pastoral management and revenue generation through emphasis on increasing church memberships- much like any other corporate set up. Is there an ideal “church of God”?

  • Elizabeth W. says on

    I agree that churches need to be wary of hanging on to programs just because of tradition. However, another problem I see is churches ignoring their DNA to jump on the train of simple church (or more accurately, trying to copy the new guys in town that are pulling away some members). It doesn’t make sense to try to be what you are not. If you have great facilities for Sunday School and a long history, you can’t copy the start-up that meets in a school (or has just built new facilities based on the simpler model).

    The harder thing to do, and ultimately what will be more successful, I think, is to figure out how to be a better you (and not how to be someone else). You learn from some of the trends, but you have to apply them locally, not being a slave to tradition, but also not ignoring the strengths in your tradition that may set you apart in a good way.

    • Well said, Elizabeth. Your points match well the issue of being aligned with the specific vision of your specific church.

    • I don’t think it is just the simple model for facilities. Sometimes churches just need to be more nimble. This is seen in the corporate world too where the small company can move much faster than the conglomerate. I believe more than once Dr. Rainer blogged about churches’ policies that cause more problems than they are worth. One that comes to mind is a committee that must prepare a report for another committee to review with required number of readings at consecutive meetings before a vote. Ridiculous if you ask me.