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.
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  • Eric Davidson says on

    I have been preaching for years about the “error” among Southern Baptist pastors and churches regarding how we measure success. My list, similar to many others, has five “success” components: Bodies, Baptisms, Budgets, Buildings, and Busyness. None of these five, in and of themselves, is wrong, only the idolatry they can become if we are not careful to leave our ego out of the assessment. I believe the fifth component, busyness, a “works” methodology for salvation, is what many individuals use as a benchmark for success. Not to mention the “trap” set for normative size churches when people say, “Look at ALL that church is doing; why can’t we be more like them? If we would only do more, we could be successful, too!” I am thankful for Dr. Rainer’s article and the attention he brings to an issue that greatly needs our spiritual discernment!

  • Rev Marva Usher-Kerr says on

    Loved the simplify blog. Yes it is time to work on realignment and return to what our ministry should be about: making disciples .

  • Christine Stout says on

    What an excellent article! Thank you!

  • James Malla says on

    Thanks for the post Indeed your article is true to the the best of my knowledge. It really inspires change in the way we do church today. Too many programmes are driving serious believers away from the church. We must change.

  • Rev. Annie L. Williams says on

    Thank you so much, for the spirit of god is one, god is beginning to speaking to loud and clear, for us not to hear. If we are fully intuned to him. It is not our position or titles he is speaking to, but to those whose hearts are wth him. We saw how the holy spirit flew out of the window of the church during this period of the pandemic. The church lost her forcus, our looks and the best g offerings. Too many of our churches are eating from the king’s table. The church has became the illunatic cult. I believe god is done with church manipulations and hypocrisy.
    As we regain our focus, (if we do), the church is entering a new era or dispensation. The church need to get out of the buildings and into the streets, commmunties and neighborhood and eventually reach the nation and the world. Jesus was out in the streets, communities, villages and boats. Not buildings. The tabernacle not made by hands. Thanks for bringing this out, that we should cut down all the programs and activities and concentrate on the salvation of the lost. Jesus is comming soon and threr is so much work to do. Lets strart working again. God bless you.

  • Emma Pearson says on

    Thank you. God want us to put Him first. When we come as Christian come to worship God together then it is much power. We are to be out in the community afterwards as we go to the store, park, jobs, etc. witnessing. Let us not get it confused. We are social beings and as we meet others we let the light of Christ shine. We need to not allow our facilities to be our social clubs.

  • Excellent article and very true. Less is more and if you want to be effective you need to be selective. For a number of years some of the church leaders in our city offer programs that they are running to one another so we don’t all need to duplicate the same things and we can each focus on what we are good at.

  • Hi Thom,
    This is a great article and I agree 100%. Your objectives here are quite clear however, how do you get perhaps the most institutionalized organizations who are stuck in their traditionalism to change? So many churches are wrapped up in their constitutional rights to free assembly and speech that they are not seeing much beyond the church doors at this time. We truly are at an adapt (possibly numerous times until we get it right) or die juncture in the history of the organized church. If we aren’t flexible and agile to deal with these complex and dynamic challenges without compromise to the central message contained in the Gospel, then the church will die where it stands.

  • Terry Baggett says on

    Brother, I feel you are hearing from God and have been empowered through the Holy Spirit to have the guts and resolve to present this again to the Body of Christ regardless of past reception and attitudes. Jesus himself set the example in His 33 years on this earth. We need to look at His focus as He walked among us, it wasn’t to gather at the Synagogue each day but to be among the people, the hurting, the whos who needed a physician. Glory to God I will stay tuned!

  • Keeping people busy was a mistranslation of the Proverb which resulted in “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Also, church leaders wanted people busy with church work since it made them better church members and gave the leaders evidence of their effectiveness.

  • Tim Johnson says on

    This is excellent, Thom! I have used/referenced Simple Church innumerable times over the years. The one thing I would add to what you have here is the critical feature of missional clarity as the lens by which you would engage in those five steps. In fact, I think that without that central mission focus being the guide that one could move through those steps and potentially attend to any number of different priorities. My experience is that far too many churches do not have clarity around their church’s unique mission. And, oh my, what a time to be working to be clear about that!

    Again, thanks!

  • I read that book and LOVED it – and we put it into use years ago and maintain that. The positives is it funneled us into putting more of our talents, time & treasures into less. We turned into a church serving our community in practical ways that are constant yet varied and with breaks in between. It also helped me as a bi-vocational pastor. We were a 70+ attender/member church and didn’t have mega church busyness anyway but it reduced us to what was necessary and best.

    The negatives for us? First, they had more time but did not use much of it for kingdom purposes no matter how much we preached, taught, and exemplified. Second, from that they did not use the added time for evangelism/discipleship as we had hoped (again, regardless of friendship evangelism constantly presented). Third, when new beneficial and focused-to-our-mission things came up to do they were so used to the “extra” time they were lazy by then and few participated.

    So it has been a two-edged sword. But as much as it may sound like it, I don’t blame it on Simple Church, I’d do it all over again. It is just our cultural shift to so many believers’ following fleshly nature. Kids’ sports, trips every weekend, etc. are just too powerful attraction.

    Now COVID hits and we are doing all we can to keep the cats herded thro online service. We went back to online only under pressure to let people feel we care, and yet even leaders are out on the same Sunday to kids sports and day trips in spite of it. Sad.

    For now, we keep pressing and after COVID is down we’ll see what happens – but to be honest, my hopes aren’t high for a big turnaround. I pray and work hard hoping it will.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You are not alone in your concerns for a turnaround, Walter. It may take longer than we ever expected. God’s got his timetable, and it doesn’t always align with ours.

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