Minimal Church: Where the Future Church Is Headed

The calendar of most churches in America is scary.

There are so many activities, programs, and events that some members feel like they have to live at their church to be faithful and involved. Add to the busy calendar all the digital requirements adopted during the quarantine, and you have a church too busy for its own good.

Almost 15 years ago, Eric Geiger and I wrote a book called Simple Church. We dealt with the challenge that most churches don’t have a process of discipleship. We presented that process in four major categories: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. It was that last category that got a lot of attention. 

“Focus” dealt with doing a few things well in the church and discarding the rest. A lot of leaders love the concept. A lot of church members did not and pushed back, some with anger.

It is time. It is time to revisit the need to simplify. It is time to look at how effective churches of the very near future (like in the next few months) will do only a few things well and eliminate the rest. 

Many of our churches have become so busy that we have hurt our best families. Many of our churches have become so cluttered with activities that we don’t give margin for our members to have a gospel presence in the community.

The pandemic, for the most part, provides us a blank slate. It’s time to rethink our busy schedules and become a minimal church.

Where do we begin? Let me suggest five starting points: 

  1. Bring this issue to four to seven of your best leaders in the church. Their titles are not as important as their influence among the members. Get these few leaders together to discuss and take seriously this issue.
  1. Review the church’s calendar or some similar log of activities. Obviously, you need to look at the calendar from a pre-pandemic perspective. But add all the new requirements, like providing a livestream service, to the pre-pandemic list. 
  1. Focus particularly on those activities that required people to come to the church’s facilities. Those are the activities that consume your members’ time. Decide which are essential (like gathered worship), which could move to digital, and which could be eliminated.
  1. Consider this question: If your church expected your members to be at the church facilities four hours a week, what would you put in that four-hour slot? The exercise would be hypothetical at first, but it could move closer to reality. What is absolutely essential in terms of on-site attendance? What could be eliminated?
  1. Begin the process of elimination immediately. Now is not the time to have a long-range planning committee decide something that will be ignored three years from now. Now is the time to eliminate so much of the busyness that hinders our churches and our church members. This post-quarantine era is the blank-slate opportunity. Don’t let it pass. 

A minimal church is not a church of minimal impact. It is a church that has decided that we need to unleash our members to have more time to disciple their families, to become a gospel presence in the community, and to develop relationships in their neighborhoods.

So, a minimal church is really a church with maximum impact and influence. It’s not about a wavering commitment to do less ministry; it’s about a commitment to use our time more wisely for God’s mission outside the walls of the church facilities.

It will take courage to lead your church to become a minimal church. I will have more to say on this matter in the weeks ahead. 

Stay tuned . . .

Posted on July 5, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • So glad to read this. Thank you! Looking forward, Lord willing, to hearing more on this matter in the weeks ahead: )

  • Your comment about how certain actions (activities, ways of doing things, and even music) can become idolatries is profound! It is difficult to recreate the style, content, and mode of expression of any expressive form – and church is such a form in that it provides the context for the expression of faith. How can we recreate when we are stuck in the past? When do we realize that The Whole process of liturgical action can actually become something that is idolized? This is part of the whole issue of discrimination that faces our nation today. When is determining the fashion or style of expression also the way to discriminate against those who have different ideas. Isn’t this why we have so many different churches? Well, I don’t have the answer…. but you certainly have asked the question. Anyone else have a response? Jan Magray

1 2