Understanding the ‘Simple Church’ Movement

Ed Stetzer & Daniel Im: “What defines simple churches is not location but emphasis.”

The good news is that many denominations and networks are trying to make space for simple-church expressions. The Foursquare Church has created a new denominational category to make space for simple-church expressions. The Anglicans are finding ways that remind us of Roland Allen. For example, William Beasley shared with us about their lay catechist strategy to empower people to be planters The Evangelical Free Church has been rethinking and clarifying their ecclesiology so simple ecclesiological structures can become possible. So people are trying, and we need a new lane.

Note that we say a new lane, not the only lane. Some in the new lane are calling for an end to funded planting and what they call the “institutional model.” We think they are misguided and far too premature; we need a lot more traction with simple-church models before eliminating the other lanes. Enthusiasm based on the hypothetical (“if you stop doing it the way I don’t like, the way I do like will start working”) is not a wise strategy. We need more proof of concept in this context before eliminating concepts that are bearing some fruit.

However, we don’t want to miss what we hear from our friends around the world who are in the middle of dynamic church planting movements. We have no church planting movements here (more on that in a later chapter), but they have them there, so we need to consider why. The fact is, if you look at the places where there are movements around the world, you’ll always find a simple and reproducible methodology.

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So, as you can tell, we are not ones who believe you should put all of your eggs in the “simple church” basket. But we cannot imagine that you should neglect it when God is using it so powerfully around the world. We believe it’s going to be a key area of breakthrough in the future. We see some stirrings of that now, but we believe more is yet to come.

Daniel and I are believers in simple-church approaches, but right now we need more people willing to take that leap and more denominations, networks, and other churches providing them help and encouragement.


Our attraction to simple churches springs from their simplicity and faith. Daniel, my coauthor, has been a part of a genuine simple church where, as a teenager, he was given the opportunity to lead, preach, and minister to those older and younger than he. We have both been a part of larger and larger church starts. Each involved more and more money. In our hearts we often feel that church planting should be simpler. We like this definition of a church: “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Others may prefer this older definition of the church: “Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.”

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A New Testament church exists when its people function as a church and see themselves as a church. A simple church often is a church if it functions as a church and sees itself as a church.

If you want to plant a simple church, you can use some of the principles in this book. Many of the patterns in this book would be applicable in the simple-church setting. Some would not be as appropriate, particularly issues related to the “large launch” and facilities.

Excerpted from Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches That Multiply (Second Edition) by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im. Copyright B&H Publishing Group 2016.

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