10 hurdles to overcome in making the transition from legacy to simple church

If the Lord shows you that you are to make the transition from legacy to a network of simple/organic churches, there are a number of obstacles to overcome. (This post assumes you are in a position of church leadership.)

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  1. Many people in your church do not share your vision for the transition. It’s not what they signed up for. As the parable of the wineskins says, “they think the old was better.”
  2. People are scared they will lose the friendships and sense of community  that’s been created over the years.
  3. People are used to a professional standard of church: a worship band, well-prepared sermon etc.
  4. There is no Sunday school program in simple/organic church. People enjoy the freedom to drop their kids off for an hour or so and having some thinking/spiritual time for themselves.
  5. People like decisions being made for them. They don’t want to carry the personal responsibility entailed in simple/organic church.
  6. There are no trained leaders.
  7. How can you prevent heresy?
  8. There is no vision for outreach.
  9. Some of the people who are keen for the transition are the ones disgruntled with the status quo. They will take a negative attitude with them.
  10. The financial welfare of your family depends on the church paying you a salary. You aren’t trained for any other job. What will happen to you?

These are all very valid concerns. It’s worth thinking through the potential problems before embarking on the transition.

What other hurdles can you think of that will need to be overcome?


Why transition from legacy to simple church?

Transitioning from a legacy church to a network of simple/organic churches generally involves letting go of the building, and may result in the paid staff finding other means of income. Of course, many hybrid forms are also possible.

Here are some of the reasons why a church might consider transitioning:

  1. Finances are tight; they’ve already had to fire some of their part or full-time staff. The building payments are beyond their reach. It’s either transition into something else, letting the building go, or close the doors permanently and let people fend for themselves. They know that there’s little finance involved in meeting in homes so they decide to try it. In these challenging economic times, this is becoming more and more common.
  2. Simple/organic is one of the new buzz-words.Many  churches are moving towards the organic end of  a continuum. They want to be on the so-called “cutting edge” of what God is doing. So they change the name of their home groups to home churches, and empower their leaders to baptize and give communion. They may or may not expect everyone to turn up on Sunday too. In a complete transition, the Sunday service will at least become sporadic.
  3. God is speaking to them as a church. He’s telling them that it’s time to transition–either wholly or in part. He’s challenging them that this is a way to reach out to their communities and make a difference.

Obviously the third reason is the best, but God could easily use a combination of two of these things. For example, a church might realize that their financial resources are dwindling and it’s only a question of time before they have to let the senior pastor go, but as they seek the Lord about the situation, he reveals to them some of the principles behind simple/organic church. Another example: some of the church members start reading some books on simple/organic church that convict them about reaching out into their neighborhoods, and again, as the church seeks the Lord, he reveals to them a plan for transitioning.

What other reasons might a church consider the transition?

To transition or not to transition: that is the question

As the simple/organic movement becomes more mainstream, and the financial trends force more and more traditional churches to cut back economically, then many churches are asking the question: should we transition our legacy church into a network of simple/organic churches?

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Every church needs to hear from the Lord about their specific situation, but the next few posts will look at some of the pros and cons of this step and some other potential alternatives.

Jesus described some principles that speak into this situation when he gave the parable about putting new wine into old wineskins.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say. (Luke 5:36-39)

Jesus cared about the wine, and therefore he had concern for the wineskins. Similarly he cares about the people in our churches, and therefore he cares about our structures. Jesus said that if people have tasted the old wine, they won’t want the new, and this is true when it comes to transitioning churches too. Many people are comfortable with the old and familiar ways of doing things, and asking them to change is going to rock their world so much they may leave. They didn’t sign up for simple/organic church and they aren’t going to change their minds quickly.

There are now many examples of churches that have successfully transitioned. We’ll examine the following topics over the next few posts.

  • Why might a church consider transitioning? Pros and cons
  • What lessons can we learn from those who have transitioned successfully?
  • Are there alternatives to transitioning that still accomplish the same goals?

I’d love to hear some of your examples.




A dream; a story; a challenge

A dream

Two nights ago I dreamed there was a movement of Christians all over the country who had decided to pray in public.  They asked to pray in a secular context before business meetings. They prayed openly before meals asking the non-believers with them how they could pray for them. They refused to be intimidated by the current culture that in many situations, looks down on the Christian lifestyle. They weren't religious or confrontational or political. They weren't obnoxious in a "holier than thou," super-spiritual way. But they were willing to live out their faith under the public eye.

A story

When we lived in the UK and Tony (my husband) still practiced as a doctor, the General Medical Council, the licensing body for physicians in the country, sent a letter to all the family doctors. It explained that whereas up until now, a doctor had to get consent from the parent of a minor child before any kind of medical procedure, from this time on, certain situations were exempt from that. This included contraception/abortion. So a doctor had to get parental consent before operating on an ingrowing toenail, but wasn't allowed to tell the parent that their daughter wanted to go on the pill.

At that time, Tony led a ministry to doctors and others in the caring professions. He phoned several of them to see what they thought, and then drafted a letter to the GMC explaining that our organization represented more than 2,000 family doctors, and that if they wanted to remove their medical licenses, they could, but he would like them to know up front that the doctors he represented planned to disobey this edict.

A few weeks went by. Then they had the nicest letter in reply saying that the Council had no idea that so many doctors felt that strongly and that they were free to go with their conscience in these matters.

I often wonder what would have happened if in 1962, when prayers in the classroom was deemed unconstitutional, the Christian teachers in this country had refused to comply with the law.

A challenge

The climate in this country is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. In our institutes of higher learning, Christianity is ridiculed. The beliefs on which this country was founded are being eroded. We are only a generation away from being a post-Christian nation.

Are we willing to stand up and be counted? Are we willing to buck the trends? Are we more concerned about the Kingdom of God than our own reputations? What does it look like for us to follow Jesus in a way that is radically different and makes a radical difference?


Multiplication tools; KISS

Simple things multiply; complex things are much harder to reproduce.

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One of my favorite quotes from a Filipino church planter is this: Never do anything in church that a one week old Christian would be unable to duplicate.

Only model what you want to see reproduced and what will lead to multiplication. How is this worked out?

Teaching: an interactive Bible study using simple questions or symbols is more effective and reproducible than a sermon. Since many people’s greatest fear is that of public speaking, if you model a sermon, people will think they have to do this in order to start another church.

Worship: if you have music of a professional standard, people will think they have to have a musician in order to start a church. Better to sing a capella or accompanied by a CD.

Prayer: if you model 5 minute prayer sermons you will inhibit new believers from praying. Better to teach single sentence prayers and for people to pray multiple times.

Food: if you produce a gourmet meal, people will assume they have to produce a similar meal if they have church in their home. Better to have a simple, potluck meal where everyone contributes.

Fellowship: happens naturally over food.

In the church that meets in our home, we tend to use a simple pattern that anyone can reproduce. It’s not the same every time, but most of these elements are usually present. It’s based on Acts 2:42. We share a meal together. Over dessert, we talk about how things have gone during our week together–joys and challenges. Was there an accoutability challenge from the previous week? We share how that went too. We share around the Word. We pray for one another. In all of this we expect the Holy Spirit to lead our time together and we give him freedom to break in.

It’s simple enough that a new believer can copy it.

Simple is not the same as simplistic. We’ve had very profound times together. But it is duplicatable.

So Keep It Simple and Straightforward!

Multiplication tools: passing it on

Does your simple/organic church have an impact beyond the gathering? There’s a simple tool to help with that.


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In the interactive Bible study pattern that we most frequently use and teach to others, four symbols help people share around the passage:

  1. A question mark: do you have any questions about what this verse says?
  2. A lightbulb: this verse brings understanding either about the passage, or about something going on in your own life. The light has come on.
  3. An arrow: God is speaking to you directly through this verse and there’s something you need to do about it
  4. An ear: who do you know who needs to hear what has been shared?

It’s this last symbol that helps to create an impact beyong the gathering. When each person is accountable, not only to apply what they have learned in their own lives but also to pass  it on  to someone outside the group, the influence of the group spreads. When the person they share it with is a not-yet-believer, there is the opportunity to multiply.

We retain only 5% of what we hear, but 90% of what we teach on to others. This practice therefore, not only spreads the message, it also helps people to retain what they have learned.



Japanese monkeys and spiritual barriers

Before Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile, everyone assumed it was a physical impossibility. Once he showed it could be done, it became a commonplace occurrence.

I came across a fascinating concept in a video the other day. The video is from a charismatic viewpoint, and there are some questions about the information on monkeys; however, I believe the main idea is true and very relevant to our lives today. If true (and I think you'll agree with me that there is plenty of evidence for it in Kingdom terms), it then poses some questions that have the very real potential to change the things we are willing to put our time and effort into.

Here's the video by Lance Wallnau:

The video can also be seen at this link.

We've seen this in our lifetime. For example, 15 years ago, the idea of simple/organic church was virtually unheard of. At that point, we might have been able to identify 200-300 house churches around the country. Now it is mainstream. What happended? A barrier was broken through, or in Lance's language, a veil was pierced. The pioneers took years to understand the principles and to find each other and then break through the barriers. Now anyone can walk into the fullness of the idea without having to pay the same price.

Here are some questions:

  • Are you content to stay with the status quo, or is there an area that seems impossible or out of reach that you sense the Lord is calling you to work towards?
  • Where do you see Holy Spirit at work? Do you sense a groundswell of movement? It may only be a "cloud the size of a man's hand" at present, but it is a sign of the handiwork of God.
  • What spiritual barrier do you see that's worth fighting to break through? 
  • What area is worth laying down your life for?

For me, one of the veils I'm working towards piercing is freedom for women within the church. Although there are notable exceptions, for the most part, women are relegated to lesser roles, not permitted to play a strategic part in what is going on. Even within the simple/organic church movement where there are no barriers for women, so many women are conditioned by their previous church experience that they do not step into the destiny that Jesus has for them.

I have a sense that once a few people (both men and women) break through the patriarchical attitude of the church, the floodgates will open for women to move into everything God has for them.  Then the idea that God only uses a woman when a man isn't available will seem as outdated as the concept of slavery. Men and women will co-labor, arm in arm, for the sake of the King and his Kingdom.

Multiplication tools: vision

The vision the individual members have for your group will determine the actions they take and your group's ultimate destination.

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Why are the people in your group meeting? 

Simple/organic church provides a more intimate community. This is great, and an important component of simple church, but if that is why people are meeting, community is what you will get.

Simple/organic church offers a more informal and relaxed atmosphere. But if that is the main reason you are meeting, it is what you will enjoy.

Simple/organic meetings are participatory, with the Holy Spirit setting the agenda. This is crucial, a vital component of what goes on, but it is in danger of stopping there unless there is a deliberate outward focus.

Unless your group has a vision for reaching out and touching the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord, you are unlikely to see the multiplication of new disciples and churches.

If you long to see the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord transformed by their coming into relationship with Jesus, then that vision needs to be set before people frequently. Everyone in your group needs to be excited by the prospect, otherwise they will resent the thought of change. As people buy into this vision, their actions and attitudes will change. It may take a little time, but it's worth putting the vision before people on a frequent and regular basis. It can be done in different ways: for example

  • An interactive Bible study on the Great Commission, or Luke 10, Matthew 10 etc.
  • Videos such as this one
  • Asking the Lord what he wants for your group

(This last one is crucial. Everyone in our simple/organic church bought into the vision of multiplication when we spent time seeking the Lord about his vision for our group and he showed more than 50% of us the same thing in different ways. You can read the story here. We frequently refer back to that vision and make sure that newcomers to the group hear about it. Whenever a potential new group starts, we remind people how this is a fulfilment of what the Lord showed us.)

Practical application: Ask everyone in your group to listen to the Lord with the question, "Jesus, what is your vision for our group?" Give everyone 20 minutes on their own to listen and then compare notes. See if a theme emerges. See if the Lord gives you a vision of an outward focus.



Multiplication tools: accountability. A story

Accountability has been key to the church that meets in our home over the last few weeks.

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In the last post, I described how a challenge to pray with someone during the week, led to my reaching out beyond my comfort zone to pray with a total stranger over the phone.

Our initial week's challenge had resulted in different ones praying for neighbors, people at work, and other college students, so our simple/organic church decided to repeat the experiment. This time, I reached out to a relative who needs work. She's one I've had many spiritual conversations with in the past, but who would probably describe herself as pagan. She was very willing for me to pray.

Then I had a surprise. As part of my initial reaching out, I'd placed an ad on Craigslist: "Do you need prayer?" A week or so later, a lady responded, asking me to pray for certain things. As our conversation has developed, she has opened up more, and in my last message to her, I was able to share the Gospel openly. That story is still ongoing.

Many simple/organic churches or small groups long to be more outward-focused but don't know how. Why not think through some of the skills that might make a difference in this area, commit to pray, and then challenge each other and hold each other accountable to put them into practice.

In disciple-making movements in other nations, ongoing accountability plays a vital part. Who did you share your story with this week? Have you been able to pray for anyone during this past week.

We often use four symbols when we study the Bible. The last one is an ear: who do you know who needs to hear what we've been learning? The power of this symbol is to hold each other accountable to share what we've been learning with someone else. This leads to multiplication.

I'd love to hear some of your stories.


A key multiplication tool: accountability

Accountability can make you do some crazy things.

Two weeks ago, the church that meets in our home discussed accountability. In order to make it practical, I challenged everyone to try and pray with someone, preferably who doesn't know the Lord, during the week, and said that we would report back the next time we came together.

Big mistake! Having challenged everyone, I now needed to live up to it too. Since I live the life of a writer, most of my time is spent with just me and my computer. There was no obvious situation where I would come across someone new, so I brainstormed.

I put an ad on Craigslist. "Do you need prayer?": no response.

I responded to some tweets that said, "I need prayer" or "I need God": no response.

Finally, a couple of days before we were due to meet again, I received a sales call from someone at an online pet pharmacy. Our dogs needed some more flea and tick meds, so I placed my order. The lady at the other end was just saying goodbye when I interrupted her.

"Before you leave, is there anything I can pray for you. I believe that God answers prayer."

She broke down. She told me something I could pray about and I prayed for over the phone. It turned out she was a Christian. As we said goodbye, she said, "I'll never forget you!"

When our group came back together, everyone had a story of how they had deliberately prayed for someone. No one they approached had refused prayer; everyone was very grateful.

Would we have done it without the knowledge that we would be asked to report back? I don't think I would have done so. Accountability is a key tool in multiplication.

Practical activity: Give your group a challenge. Maybe challenge them to pray with someone, or to tell their story to a not-yet-believer. The important thing is that you follow up with it.