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Why Less is More by Neil Cole

Why Less is More: Advantages of Simple, Organic Churches
By Neil Cole

 

In our quest to be part of a powerful move of God’s kingdom, we often are tempted to think the solution will come from a complex composite of things that produce the results we so desperately long for. We cry out to the heavens for a solution that will finally change the church forever. Many travel every year to new seminars and conferences, buying the latest books and binders full of new methods in our search for the answer. The primal scream of our hearts is a search for spiritual success that will ultimately change the world. To our query of the universe, Albert Einstein once commented, “When the solution is simple, God is answering.” In this article, we will describe the practical ways our team—Church Multiplication Associates—has used to multiply and network organic churches that saturate neighborhoods and nations with the message of Jesus Christ.

Why Are Simple Things Better?
The Power of Simplicity
There is something special about the power of simplicity. Many of the most profound things in life are indeed simple. Simple, however, does not mean simplistic. We tend to overlook simple things thinking that anything of value and substance will be complex, require professional oversight and will be very expensive. A valuable lesson that we have integrated into all we do as a church multiplication movement is that “less is more.”

Simplicity is a step beyond complexity. It takes great skill and effort to make something simple. It is easy to create something that is complex. But, to design something that is simple and yet profound, however, is a creative challenge. It takes great skill to know what is absolutely essential and what can be discarded.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”(1) For most, discipleship has become so complicated that it is no longer an easy burden and a light load. But Jesus intends for the Christian life to be easy and light and to bring rest to our souls. Fulfillment of the Great Commission is meant to be restful, not stressful!

Simple Things Last, while Complex Things Breaks Down
When we approach disciple making—wanting to pass the baton on to succeeding generations—we must refine the process so that it is simple and transferable. Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will breakdown early in the transference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian populace.

Perhaps the reason that we do not see multiplication of disciples more often is that we are trying to do too much too soon in the process. We fail to grasp the fact that discipleship—following Christ in simple obedience—is a life-long pursuit. We, unfortunately, attempt to teach our disciples so much in the first year that we unintentionally sabotage the rest of the years by intimidating them into thinking it is way too hard for common people to do. We tend to over estimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in three years.

Simple Things are “Sticky” and Transferable to Others
In the best selling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says any epidemic type of expansion requires a “stickiness factor.”(2) In other words, the pattern must stick with people in such a way that it is unforgettable and easily passed on to others. It is not enough that it is easy, but it also must capture the imagination and affection of those who will pass it on.

Paul passed on to Timothy truths that were so profound that he would not forget them. They gripped his life and never left him. At the same time, however, the things Paul passed on were simple enough that Timothy could in turn pass them on to others who could then pass them on to others.(3) The gospel itself is the most profound truth mankind has ever received, yet it is simple enough for a child to understand and pass on to others! It is not enough that people can pass it on, it is necessary that they will want to pass it on. The gospel is good news, and like a profound secret, it should be something that we all want to tell others.

What we need are systems that are practical and profound. They must be both simple and significant! A system that is significant enough to tap into the Christian’s internal motivation, yet simple enough that it can be easily passed on from disciple to disciple, such a system will strengthen the church and produce growth that is qualitative and quantitative.

Our team of house church planters uses the following criteria to evaluate the ways we function as a movement in order to see multiplication to the ends of the earth:

  • Received personally. It has a profound implication. It must be internalized and must transform the soul of the follower.
  • Repeated easily. It has a simple application. It must be able to be passed on after only a brief encounter.
  • Reproduced strategically. It has universal communication. It must pass on globally by being translated into a variety of cultural contexts and languages.

Simple Things Keep the Focus on What is Important
Another reason why simple methods are better is that they do not take away the glory from Christ himself. There are many times, unfortunately, that methods can be so impressive that people cease to notice Christ. Yet, Christ chooses to put his glory in weak vessels so that all the glory is retained by him. If people are so impressed with our wineskins (i.e. systems and strategies) that they stop noticing the wine (i.e. the message and person of Christ), then there is a big problem. Simple strategies keep it focused on Christ, not the plans or the people dreaming up the plans.

Jesus spoke of wine and wineskins.(4) Wineskins are important because they carry the wine, but without the wine, the skins are useless. It is good to give some thought to ministry systems, but the systems should not be the main thing. In fact, if done right, they should hardly be noticed at all because the living water has captivated our attention and affection. Simple systems are more likely to allow for this.

Simple Things Can Reproduce Easily
One final reason why simple methods are important is that multiplication becomes much more feasible. Reproduction comes from a natural desire and ability inherent in all healthy living things. Similarly, reproduction of churches should not be hard. It should be natural and even pleasurable. The fact that reproduction is thought to be so hard and painful for churches is evidence of how far removed we are from being healthy and natural. Reproduction is the product of intimacy, and we are created to enjoy intimacy. Even among churches, reproduction is the product of intimacy—with Christ, his mission, his spiritual family, and the lost world.

All reproduction begins at the molecular level and develops from the micro to the macro, from the simple to the complex. It is the same in the kingdom of God. We each began life as a zygote. A zygote is a cell formed by the union of a male seed and a female egg. Life multiplies from there. The moment that conception occurs, all the DNA necessary for the formation, growth, and development of a mature person is intact. The DNA never changes—it just leads the multiplication process within every tiny cell into forming the complete body. The same can be said for the body of Christ.


(1) Matt 11:28-30 (NASB)

(2) Malcolm Gladwell (2002), The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference, First Back Bay, pp. 24-25.

(3) 2 Tim 2:2

(4) Luke 5:36-39

 

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