Church planting

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?

Photo credit: Dan4th (Creative Commons)

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.




9 replies on “To transition or not to transition: that is the question”

This is not an example, just a comment. But I hope it will be useful. It might possibly count as an alternative, I suppose.
I understand the value of making this transition but I’m not yet convinced that it’s always the best way forward.
We are so inclined to see ourselves as part of ‘a church’ that we may miss the truth that we are part of ‘THE church’. How many of us are involved in more than one form of church?
Perhaps there is much advantage to members of traditional churches becoming active as a part of smaller, organic forms of the body – and vice versa.
This creates valuable crosslinks between the various parts of the body locally.
I meet with Jim and Sean on Thursday evenings. Sean is not part of any other meeting. I also meet with a small group from a New Frontiers church in the town. Jim is involved with a different church in town. We have links with other people from other places and it is just starting to dawn on me that we are providing many useful links. Parts of the local body that previously had little or no connection are now joined through our tiny group of three. Information frequently passes back and forth.
This has developed quietly and in the background and is controlled only from the top (thank you Papa!) It has not been noticed by local leaders – nor have we even grasped it ourselves until now.
When Paul wrote that ‘from Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love’ (Eph 4:16) he presumably had in mind the entire church in Ephesus meeting, probably, in several homes around the city. We usually apply it in our minds only to the one gathering of which we consider ourselves to be a part.
Perhaps in many places the ‘bonds of peace’ are already stretching far wider and further than we dare to hope!
To me, this idea is new and exciting. If it’s happening here in St Neots where I live it’s probably happening all over the place! Maybe we should start noticing. HalleluYah!

the use of “old wineskin” is tied to the “wine” it contains.
A number of churches have attempted the “transistion”; reports from these are varied, and are sometimes quite remarkable. The cost of transitioning, as like the cost of following Jesus, is in truth quite high. What begins as an 800 member traditional congregation can be (like Gideon’s men) progressively reduced by God to a dozen faithful gathered in 1 or 2 homes.
To Chris Jefferies’ word, I am frequently observing how those who continue with one foot under a steeple and one foot in simple church can experience a burden by being divided between two. A number of these have already resigned to letting go of one or the other.

I’m scratching my head at your statement, “As the simple/organic movement becomes more mainstream…” because it sure ain’t where we are! Well, likely it is happening somewhere around here, but we just haven’t found it yet in the Washington DC metro area. My husband and I have been reaching out with the gospel in our small ways but would rather find a like-minded community to unite and grow with. Clearly we have a lot of learning to do. I’m really curious, what tells you it’s gone mainstream?

Simple church is a LOT of work. One has to learn to go out and hunt for oneself the good things of God, instead of having a paid professional there every Sunday morning (plus) to serve up a banquet. This is incredibly difficult for many. Some will do it; others will allow their spirits to starve.
I believe, however, that there is a transition happening, whether we choose it or not. Several legacy churches in our area are struggling or have already closed the doors. Congregations extend themselves financially to build new structures to contain the burgeoning ‘ministry’ sparked by a charismatic pastor, only to see him wooed away to a larger population center, leaving them holding the bill even as they are losing attendance.
And yet, there is too often little or no sense of community in such a church. Erstwhile members drift away to Sunday morning sleep-in time, or seek a home amongst other congregations. Sometimes they find one, but it’s difficult. The few who have managed to truly become a part of the church may continue meeting and perhaps struggle into the form of a simple church.
That was the core of the organic group I’m now part of. The original two couples (the only survivors of a situation not exactly the same, but similar to the above, in which the church attempted a transition) kept struggling on, meeting with one another while children (hopefully) slept. There are more now, but even now it’s hard. We love each other, but we don’t put on much of a show. I think it’s probably a lot more difficult for former LChurch folk to do this than for raw new believers who were, in past times, functional heathen. They have no pre-set expectations and so can possibly adapt more easily.
We’re used to a certain way of doing things; good music, dedicated professional to bring the ‘food,’someone else to clean up and make ready the meeting room, children’s church to watch the kids, etc.
We don’t want to JUST persevere, but I believe that if we do persevere and continue to let Abba mold and gradually stretch this somewhat set clay, perhaps He will make something beautiful after all.
Just my musings — somewhat incoherent, I fear, but perhaps marginally helpful. 😉

Chris, I agree with you. One of my next blog posts will touch on some of what you’ve just said. I love the idea of the links the Lord is creating going across church boundaries. We’re going to see more and more of this I’m sure.

Marshall, You’re right about the cost. I know of a number of churches who have transitioned very successfully, but I’ll bet there are many who have lost large numbers in the process. It’s why we have to hear from the Lord so clearly, and why transitioning isn’t always the answer.

Hi Janet,
The idea that it’s gone mainstream comes from the figures. For example, George Barna now reckons that around 5% of the adult population of the country is involved in what we would call house church (has to be independent of any other church or denomination). If I remember right, the Pew Forum quotes a figure of 9% of Protestants. We are second in size only to the Catholics and Southern Baptists.
I know that there are certain areas of the country where it’s not so widespread and you may easily be in one of them. Have you checked out the “Find a Church” link on If there’s nothing available, I would suggest you start something yourselves.

Cindy, I plan to touch on much of what you say in a future post. Many legacy churches are struggling to survive. In the current economic climate they are facing laying off staff and closing down buildings. Their choices are either to let people go to other churches or to transition into a network of simple/organic churches, or if they have shrunk down small enough, to become a single church meeting in a home. There are huge paradigm shifts involved in the transition, and it’s much easier to do a planned transition than a forced one. It may sound simple, but you’re right, organic church isn’t easy, especially when people are used to the professional aspect of legacy church.

Leave a Reply