Simple Church: Don’t Box Me In

///Simple Church: Don’t Box Me In

Simple Church: Don’t Box Me In

Ever have one of those staff meetings when it feels like an explosion went off in the room? It can be quite unsettling, to say the least. We were a purpose-driven church that was driven to get and keep people on the church campus—seemingly in as many ways as people could come up with. After all, we had a new building to use! But back when we had less people and no building, it was okay … people just did the new ministry stuff they came up with in their houses! But now the staff was growing weary—more and more people had more and more ideas that required discussion, direction, facility planning, and budgets. However, many of the staff wanted to continue going and growing in the same way, despite the heavy workload.

In late 2006, we came across the books Simple Church and The Seven Practices of Effective Ministry. I, as the Executive Pastor, was thrilled; at last the concepts I was trying to implement were found in print and in a format that wasn’t “some executive management/engineering guy (me) that wants to run the church like a business.” We studied these books along with No Perfect People Allowed (another book that speaks true to our God-given vision for our church), and began grappling with what we needed to look like to do church the way that worked and would allow us to continue growing.

Our staff planning session in early 2007, during which these concepts were first really discussed in depth, still brings me posttraumatic stress. As we began calling the team into account for our busyness with various ministries—which were perhaps off-mission or taking precious energy that belonged elsewhere—all kinds of fireworks went off! It was a full-on power struggle, capped off with the Senior Pastor saying, “Well, it’s all about the weekend!” This was new language, to even me …

Kaboom!!!  It was like a bomb went off. Our Children’s pastor said, “Really?  Do you realize how many people come here because of KiDMO! on Tuesdays?  In my opinion, if people are going to pick somewhere to be during the week, I’d rather have them here at the church.” The Student Ministries guy said, “We’ve got three hundred kids here on Wednesday nights.Doesn’t that mean anything? And our advances and special activities are a big deal to the students …” Then our Spiritual Formation guy quipped, “Well, if it’s all about the weekend, then what about all our small groups mid-week? They’re not important? Maybe you don’t need me …”  Of course the Worship and Tech guys were okay with all this because their job is the weekend. That didn’t help the room feel any friendlier. Our staff was starting to feel boxed in.

The Senior Pastor and I had a quick meeting that night, before our second day of staff planning. The expression he used—“it’s all about the weekend”—was an unfortunate, super-imposed expression from another church that just didn’t quite fit. We opened the staff planning session the next day reflecting on the previous day’s discussion and how it felt fear-driven. We completed the second day of planning with the theme, “Don’t be afraid to ask the question. Don’t be afraid of the answer.” I was glad when it was over. It then took six months for the staff to settle down from having their foundations of “doing whatever God called them to do” shaken up and subordinated to a common direction and strategy.

In the following years, we have methodically continued to ask, “Why are we doing this?” We continue to refine our language and programs to match our mission statement and strategy. Cool new ideas are met with the question, “Is this a solution looking for a problem?” We have chosen to put our best efforts into our weekend programming and the Senior Pastor offered up the revised phrase, “It all starts with the weekend.” And it does. We put our best efforts into the weekend services and encourage all who attend to invite their friends. We have chosen to simplify the various affinity groups (men’s, women’s, etc.) to a small group emphasis with occasional larger scale events—rather than offering affinity-based versions of the things the church is already doing.

We have methodically had to re-message to the staff and lay leaders why this process is essential to our ability to offer “best resources” and “best care” as a church. We had to emphasize that we started this process before we read the books as a resource. We are not following a formula because it’s the latest fad, but we’re going through a process because it makes sense and is healthy for the church. We have said goodbye to some of our staff and volunteers whose philosophies of ministry were simply different. Not bad, just different.

We say it like this to our people: “We want you to have margin in your life, to take time standing in the driveway with your neighbor sharing your story, not be busy at church all the time.” We now ask people to do five things:

  1. Attend a weekend service
  2. Serve in a ministry
  3. Share your story
  4. Get in a small group
  5. Participate financially

We still have some peripheral stuff (annual retreats, seasonal classes, interest groups), but they all play into directing people to the five listed above. We use “Worship, Serve, Share, Grow” to describe our purposes. Worship is modeled in the weekend service. Serve and Share includes volunteering in the church, as well as spending time in the local community and global missions. Grow is our small group component where we believe people grow best in the context of relationships. We encourage our small groups to “study, pray, serve, and play” together. We offer three one-month interims between small group seasons for specific classes in Bible, life, and leadership.

We have not arrived. We’re constantly reorganizing staff and ministries as we grow. We are a great team now that we’re pushing toward the same goals. And we truly love each other and all those God brings to us. It’s so much easier without the constant busyness that comes with directing activities and priorities that don’t relate.

We continue to refine as we grow, and grow as we refine. Frankly, I believe that if we ever could put it neatly in a box, we’d freeze up and die. So much of our life is figuring stuff out, talking it through, looking at things from a Biblical perspective, and discerning God’s best for the different situations that each day brings. God doesn’t fit in a box. But God does have a plan—and we figured we should, too:  To reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ, Loving God, Loving People, Loving Life.

By | 2016-10-12T11:01:40+00:00 December 5th, 2012|Church Organization|

About the Author:

Alan Clother
Alan Clother oversees the staff and operations at Abundant Life, putting “hands and feet” to the church’s mission. This ranges from direction of daily business and ministry to long term planning and ministry development. Alan has served in ministry at Abundant Life since its beginning in 1989, as a part of the original Eldership and in lead roles throughout lay ministry through the years. He left his secular career in engineering and executive management in 2004 to assume full-time ministry in his current role. Alan and his wife, Cynthia, have been married for 29 years. They have two grown children and their first grandchild.