Deliberate simplicity is counter-intuitive. It contends that “Less is more.” It is not immediately obvious how this can be true. More, after all, is more. How can less be more? But in your ministry and your church, the adage is true …
Less Ministry … More Execution
By focusing your energies, you are typically able to bring about better execution. Many churches dabble in so many ministries they are unable to carry any of them out with a level of impact. Resources and attention is diluted. There are so many pans in the fire that none of them are hot.
Less Administration … More Relationships
Less is often more for the sake of relationships. By limiting your activities, you free up time for people. By offloading administrative and management activities, you’re able to engage in more relationship-building activities. Wider margins create more “white space” for company.
Less Spoon-Feeding … More Stimulation
The average 5-year-old in America today has 260 toys, yet chronically complains of boredom. More significantly, today’s toys “make the noise for you.” In previous generations and in different parts of the world, the noise of a fire truck or the shooting sound of a toy soldier would have to be supplied by the child. But the experience is more entertaining, because there are an infinite number of ways to make a siren noise—it takes imagination. But that was the fun of it. Playing now is very passive instead of active, and it’s b-o-r-i-n-g.
One reason the average church experience has become so blasé is because someone does it all for us. The paid staff does the ministry. They make all the noise. The congregation just sits back and enjoys the show. But, ironically, in the long run, a passive approach to church ends up being less stimulating.
Less “Bells and Whistles” … More Stickiness
Saturn used to take a Polaroid picture of customers with their new car and the salesperson they worked with. That picture was an artifact that engaged the customer in a relationship—so much more so than a signed contract ever could. A simple moment of recognition or mutual sharing can last a very long time and reinforce the experience significantly. It’s what Malcom Gladwell calls “stickiness.”
There are a number of sticky things we do at my church. We serve good, free coffee. We start and end on time. We talk in a conversational tone. We have a Q&A time at the conclusion of the teaching. We may not have all the “bells and whistles” other churches have, but we make up for it by being memorable in little ways.
Less Space … More Coziness
There’s a reason that a Starbucks café is typically housed in less than 2,000 square feet: Comfort is born of smaller scale. There’s a feeling of closeness and coziness. There are similar opportunities for small churches to become a “third place” for people, beyond their work and home.
Less Production … More Reciprocity
Bigness and fame go together like peanut butter and jelly. But small systems can be conversational and egalitarian. Large systems must revert to a broadcast paradigm. Broadcast television is the perfect embodiment of the one-way nature of fame. People know you, but you don’t know them.
With large scale, communication becomes a “production.” There is not an opportunity for conversation, or “give and take.” This is a major advantage of a smaller setting. You can involve the audience. You can have Q&A. People can participate instead of spectate.
ess Copying … More Revitalization
New and better ideas often start small, if they are allowed to. Kennon Callahan, in his book Small, Strong Congregations, says: “The mistake many congregations make when they launch a new service to reach occasional worshippers and people in the community is that they launch a complex service.” They do so because it’s what they’re used to. People want to duplicate what they’re familiar with. But it’s too complex and it suffocates a brand new group of people. Callahan concludes: “It has too many steps in the order of worship, the music is too complex and the service is too wordy. They would have been better off launching a simple, traditional service.”
Start small and simple. Let people dream with you, don’t dream for them.
Deliberate simplicity is an act of faith that Kingdom principles will work in our institutional lives as well as our personal lives. It takes courage in today’s ecclesiastical landscape to keep it simple. In our modern culture, there’s a “paranoia of omission”—a sense that we have to cover all our options. We worry that, if we don’t have multiple attractions for people, we might not be able to engage them. Deliberate simplicity requires faith that the Gospel simply presented, is sufficiently powerful and life changing.
This article originally appeared in Issue 04 of Neue Quarterly.