Church planting

How do you transition from legacy church to a network of simple churches?

The answer is: slowly!

Photo credit: Balaji.B (Creative Commons)

I know several legacy churches that have successfully made the transition to a network of simple/organic churches. When I’ve asked their leaders about the process, they have always told me that its been a lengthy one–a couple of years to complete.

Usually they have taken about a year of preparation to teach the principles of simple/organic church covering questions like these:

  • What is church?
  • What happens in a simple/organic meeting?
  • How will it differ from what we know now?
  • Luke 10 principles

They take plenty of time to dialog and answer people’s concerns. They bring in others who are more experienced in the journey.

Then the transition begins. Things are no longer led from the front in the same way. They split up into small groups for interactive Bible study instead of having a sermon. They break into pairs to pray. They encourage people in the congregation to participate in the worship time by suggesting songs, praying, prophesying, reading a verse of Scripture. The object is to get everyone to take part where before, they would have been spectating.

Finally comes the time when one week a month, there is no church in the main building but everyone meets in homes. After a few months like this, it happens twice a month, and finally, they just get together occasionally as one large group.

Are there problems with this? Of course.

Do any of you have experience in a church transition? What was it like?

18 replies on “How do you transition from legacy church to a network of simple churches?”

We yearn for the simple church you speak of…New Covenant style.  Our biggest challenge is that many who attend house church come from denominational teachings and it’s very difficult for them to embrace God’s simple and perfect way. 

It’s easy to move out of the building. It’s hard to let go of the old traditions. It takes a complete paradigm shift in many areas.

In my opinion people have to be hit head on with the hard truth that the IC is built systemically on a lie. It’s that simple, and that’s where ‘simple, organic church’ life begins — with the hard facts about the truth. It is amazing you can tell someone  in the IC we only remember 5% of what is lectured to us, and then point out to them that the vast majority of resources, the edifice, the ‘church service’, everything centers around this one way lecture ‘sermon’ that everyone forgets, and that has no lasting impact – and they look at you like you’re the one that’s stupid. It’s mind boggling. You just have to keep hitting them with it until they get it. The conditioning is so deeply steeped it’s as if they’re brainwashed which in light of the hard facts is the truth. 

I obviously agree with much of what you say in terms of things like the sermon etc, but the Lord has led us to think in more of church in this country as a continuum with the kind of church you take exception to (very denominational, very traditional) at one end, and simple/organic church at the other. Many, many churches are moving toward the organic end, and if there’s anything we can do to help them get there, we’ll at least try. And when they do get make the transition, there’s still a lot of things to undo, as you describe. We, and most of the people I know who are part of simple/organic church now, were there ourselves once, and thankfully, the Lord didn’t give up on us when we were. Is the Lord in the shift along the continuum? I believe so. It’s not hard to picture some event forcing many churches to leave their buildings. Then we’ll see a huge influx of churches embracing the simple organic model.

I think in theory that continuum sounds good, but in practice I think it will most always fall short, that is, growing organic ‘church fruit’ out of a synthetic process and system which is what the IC is, and always will be. Organic growth of fruit and vegetables maintains and replenishes the soil without using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. It’s what gives it authentic nutrition. Organic fruits and vegetables typically carry anywhere from 30 – 75% more nutrients than synthetically produced produce. Organic church life if done properly yields fruit that higher in spiritual nutrients, i.e., making it more authentic, free, and better for us as well. We can’t put new wine into old wine skins, and expect to taste new wine. You can’t to a synthetic system, and produce organic fruit. You have to plow the field, prepare it, seed it, water it, care for it, weed it starting with fertile soil. You have to organic, and Grow Home. 

Is there a way to edit comments here? I am terrible at proof reading my own stuff. 

To add to my former comment I believe the best way to help someone in the IC is to illustrate how the IC hinders growth, and how it is synthetic so they can be uprooted, and replanted in organic church ‘soil’. You kind of have to be willing to pull no punches with strong conviction, but the conviction has to be authentic. I just think that is the best way to go about it. You have to work with those that see and understand, and not waste time trying to convince those who don’t. Some will, some won’t, so what? We have no control over the choices people make, or where they currently are. We have to find and work with those who see it, and who are ready to ‘grow home’. 

I’m only just learning WordPress myself so I don’t know whether or not you can go back in and change something.

While I agree with you about the system, what I think Jesus cares about is the people. Think of the parable of the wineskins. He cares about the wine, which is why the wineskins matter. I’m not so much trying to change the wineskins as I am getting people to taste the new wine, when some, a few, will say, I prefer this.

We have prayed for a long time that we would not repeat church history where normally the previous move of the Holy Spirit is the one to resist the new move. We would like the legacy churches to bless what is going on in the simple/organic world, and for us, in turn, to speak well of them and to bless them. And I would say that for the most part this is happening, at least in the circles I move in. I believe we can accomplish more by blessing than by being critical, which only makes people defensive.

I would rather paint a picture of the organic and make people thirsty. They will soon see the difference.

Having said all this, my personal preference (and experience) is to start new churches with brand new believers. How about you?

I’m for building with new believers, and making new believers out of old believers – if you know what I mean. I believe I have in effect become a new believer since leaving the IC. My convictions about the IC are built on years of negative experiences, and being thwarted by the professionals when I really started to grow and build ministry. They’re threatened by it because they’re protecting a position. I think the IC is inherently indifferent to free growth, and thwart it by a false need to control. Fruit of the root in Constantine. I want to see people delivered from it, and set free. I believe it’s a blinded prison. Out for the night. Grace to you always.

Hello, I have tried to help several traditional churches transform into simple relational churches over the years, but the Clergy had too much trouble becoming non-clergy and the laity wouldn’t overcome their dependence on the Clergy.  I have never encountered a church that has really made a successful change,  to me it is much easier to start relational housechurches from scratch, because unlearning the traditions is harder than starting fresh.   LOVE, Christopher

Christopher, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you that it’s far easier to start relational house churches from scratch, especially if you work with unbelievers (the unchurched may have a lot of problems from what they have known in the past). I know a few churches that have made the change successfully, and others that are some kind of hybrid. I’m hoping to interview the (ex) leader of a church that succeeded in one of my next posts

hi Cynthia and all.
Our family and several others have been relating organically for 40 years here in the Toronto area. About year 15 or so, we all began to suspect we might constitute a church, and embarked on a long convoluted journey to find out what that might mean. Its a work still in progress, as life threw some curves at us and the questions changed, along with our focus.
I’ve begun to blog about our journey and perspective gained so far at if you are interested.
Our modus operandi was to always keep short accounts, speak the truth in love and care for one another with pure hearts. Of course we failed, maybe as often as we succeeded, and that in itself helped us to not take our integrity so seriously.
We became very close to one another, sharing everything anyone needed and seeing the barriers of personality and ambition dissolve as the years went by.
While many of our close friends are mainline church members, I have no experience there, having been to probably no more than a half a dozen services.  I cant offer any advice other than to say that one anothering daily is what drew us together, kept us together and reduced us to a foundation of the love of and for Jesus.
If all the men and women of goodwill in the churches were to simply begin one anothering daily, starting small and using their senses and creative juices to find one anothering opportunities, I’d lay money on the table to bet that that church would not be an institution in a year. My last name is Gamble, so betting comes naturally 🙂
Trying to change a church sounds as difficult as trying to change any other ossified institution. Trying to change your own habits and a few others within an institution is definitely workable though, and in my experience, is like a good virus that spreads imperceptibly. 
What do you think?

I love the sound of your church! You obviously have wonderful fellowship. Do you find that this spills over into reaching out to others too?

I agree with you that it’s easier to think about changing part of a church than trying to transition the whole system, and I plan to blog about doing this as an alternative to a full transition fairly soon. And the one anothering would be a great way to start.

Enjoyed reading your blog

Cynthia. You asked ”
 Do you find that this spills over into reaching out to others too? Yes, in the early years, and not so much lately.Our current state and how we got here are too long to unfold here in this post, and is one reason I decided to blog.I think our journey may be instructive to those thinking that changing from legacy to simple church will bring back the presence of the Lord among us, and of course it There is nothing I wish for more than that all believers could taste what we had up to when our own organic troubles began.We started as  what might be described as a simple church and as I alluded to in my first post to you, we have been reduced to love thru some very trying tests, that I intend to bring up in my future blog posts.Our foundation  was built on the revelation of Jesus Christ and loving obedience to Him, and for some of us, still is. However, as Hebrews says, we must go on, not forever laying again those foundations. Jesus is living, and His person and ways are a often a mystery to us, necessitating that we follow Him, and more importantly, follow Him together, keeping up with Him as He moves from glory to glory.It seems redundant to say but taying together is the only safety there is for not splitting up. We need the full counsel of God as we journey on, and when one member of His body is not with the rest, we lack their insight, encouragement and strength, and that makes all of us vulnerable to the enemies inroad. And that’s something that we can only do together.He will not allow some of His true children to move on too far ahead of the others, because His heart is that of a Father, who loves all His children, no matter where they are or what state they are in, or even what they do to each other in their lack of understanding of His ways. His eternal plan has always been to have us together with Him, and Him dwelling in all of us, and that means we need to be and stay together, on earth as it is in heaven. There is a cost to go on, and the enemy employs a different array of snares for those who cant be led off the road to the celestial city.His main one is to get us to park on the road and hunker down, which after reading church history, I realized is what happened to all of us thru history, and happened to our fellowship here.Some of us have parked, gathered around a former revelation of Him, and it has sullied our fellowship.We are in a divine holding pattern, waiting for Him to unlock us.Our local situation, and all of our local situations are a microcosm of our entire history as His people, and the way out is the same for all of us.We must be reduced to loving Him and one another with His love, drawing only upon Him for all things.That seems so far off but He has never left us yet or taken His hand of the plow, and He is on perfect track toward fulfilling His will on His time schedule.We simply need to get everyone looking at Him, and we will get back on track too.I wish we could change our focus from church reform to one anothering, because the change we need cant come from us, our understanding or even our obedience.It must come from Him, as we quit trying to fix what we broke and just let Him do it in and among us. That will begin to happen when we obey Him in the small things, the first of which is to obey all the one anothers, daily, that He commanded us to in scripture.This seems too simple a solution and there isnt much fun in doing that in the beginning because some of us, in fact many of us are not very nice to daily one another with.But that’s where He said to spend our time and energy, and He won’t bend on that.He can wait long than we can, and He is waiting for a generation to finally just do what He said, so He can do what He promised.blessingsGreg

Hi Greg,

Your post is certainly an illustration of the fact that simple/organic church is not easy and can have problems, although usually of a different type, just as easily as any legacy church.

I pray the Lord leads you very clearly as you seek Him for the path ahead.

I’ve wondered about this for years.  
So many moving parts to consider.  The people that lead this transition must be patient and committed to following through or it will be a disaster.  My biggest fear would be that the laity would resist the change because they have been so conditioned to remain dependent on others to teach and lead them and the leadership would resist because they would have to find another means to make a living.  It’s always better to try and tame a wild stallion than it is to keep riding a dead horse though.

Craig, I think you only takes this approach if you are convinced this is the way the Lord wants you to go. Both your fears are often realized. Anyone attempting this approach needs to be very aware of these problems.

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