By David Dawson
This can be true for leaders and organizers of “simple church”— a form of ministry that gives attendees an opprotunity to “do church” in a low-key, low-cost setting outside of a traditional church building.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board recently hosted a webinar for simple church leaders. The event was designed to give attendees a platform to exchange ideas and discuss the challenges and successes of this ministry, as well as providing information and details for those who are potentially interested in planting a simple church. (See graphic below this story to read how several pastors at the webinar defined the concept of ‘simple church.’)
The webinar was led by TBMB church plant specialist Lewis McMullen and moderated by TBMB collegiate ministries director Bill Choate.
McMullen said he believes simple church enables churches to find a new outlet for reaching the spiritually lost.
“Some of our churches feel that they cannot be a part of planting a church because of cost or size of their congregation,” said McMullen. “Simple church is a method of church planting that any church can participate in.”
In addition to McMullen and Choate, leaders at the webinar included: Rick Stevens, missions director strategist for Cumberland Baptist Association, Clarksville; Zach Medlock, Midsouth Baptist Church plant catalyst; William Burton, TBMB new churches team leader and ethnic church planting specialist; David Kaufmann, TBMB new church catalyst; and Chris Gaskin, pastor of Antioch Fellowship.
McMullen said one of the main messages from the webinar was underscoring the effectiveness and legitimacy of simple church.
“I think one of the biggest takeaways was establishing that simple church is a valid way of planting churches,” he said.
“Also, gaining a better understanding of the biblical definition of church was very important,” McMullen added.
In some cases, worship services in a simple church setting are held in the home of one of the practitioners, which makes this ministry in some ways similar to “house church” — another movement that incorporates low-cost church.
However, simple churches do not meet exclusively in homes. They also meet in restaurants or public parks or simply wherever is most conveinent to the attendees.
Some other ways in which simple church differs from traditional church include:
• Little to no cost for facilities, maintenance or staff (90 percent of funds go to missions and ministry).
• Greater accountability in missions and discipleship engagement.
• Greater modeling of missional engagement and growth as a believer.
• Often led by laymen instead of professional ministers.
Several simple church networks around the nation are seeing growth and productivity. The Soma network and House2House network, for example, have healthy simple church models and networks. Also, The No Place Left coalition has several networks of simples churches around the U.S. and the world.
The recent TBMB webinar included several guests who are leading successful simple churches, and they were able to share their philosophies and ideas with those who might be interested in starting similar ministries.
“With the webinar, we brought together practitioners who are doing this to share ideas of how to do this well — wherever it is being done,” said Choate.
McMullen said the webinar was successful on several fronts, noting that there was “synergy and agreement” among the attendees.
He also said several people have contacted him since the webinar to find out more information about possibly starting a simple church.
McMullen encouraged churches to view simple church from a new perspective in terms of defining what is working and what isn’t.
“Success is not measured by attendance capacity but by spiritual growth and missions and ministry engagement,” he said.
Burton, the TBMB ethnic church specialist, said church leaders who are considering planting a simple church need to consider several variables.
“Before beginning a simple church — or any church, for that matter — one should consider target groups, demographic trends, persons of peace,” said Burton. “And just like any church plant, simple church needs to have a mother church to help guide them, provide spiritual coverage and to help with administration and other needs.”
Burton said the challenges and hurdles for simple churches include the reaction that some outside the church will have to the concept. He said hearing comments such as “this doesn’t look like a church” and “you don’t look like a pastor” are to be expected. However, he said these comments should not deter those who are seeking to find new ways of reaching the spiritually lost.
Burton noted that the TBMB “is a great resource for networking, training and resourcing” for churches who are interested in starting a simple church plant.
For more information on simple church, contact Lewis McMullen at firstname.lastname@example.org. B&R
What exactly is simple church?
Although it is hard to nail down an exact definition of simple church, the panelists at a recent TBMB webinar described the concept in their own words. Here are a few of the responses:
• Simple church is an expression of the local church with minimal overhead, designed with the goal of penetrating lostness, with a model of making disciples while multiplying in situations where a traditional church model and building may be highly difficult or poorly received.
• Simple church meets anywhere with or without trained leaders, formal liturgy, programs or structures. Church “programs” are virtually nonexistent and small/missional group participation is essential.
• A decentralized gathering of people who desire to walk in the way in which Jesus walked for the purpose of edification, discipleship, and the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth.