Tag Archives: small church

Distributed parking, distributed leadership

Our family doesn’t always visit a brick and mortar church, but when we do, my wife and I have a system to handle the parking conundrum. You see, we typically go to one of the many megachurches in the area and parking is predictably a nightmare. So what we generally do is ride around the parking lot scowling at people who are walking slowly back to their cars. We do this for a few minutes before we give up and agree to have my wife take the kids into the nursery while I finish the task of hunting down a parking space.

Hunting down a parking space at a large church on Sunday morning is harder than it sounds.

And yet, as silly as it sounds, this exercise helps illustrate something I believe the church in general could stand to learn.

You see, for most of the time during the week it is easy to find a parking space at most churches, large and small. The demand for parking places only spikes occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings between 11:00AM and 12:00PM.

I work with high performance computing systems a lot and I believe the principles used to solve the problem of crunching a large amount of data can be brought to bear in solving the problem of church parking.

When Toys R’ Us first launched their ecommerce website in 1999 they quickly found out that their servers were no match for the load that awaited them from a pre-Christmas rush. The next year, they decided to entrust their ecommerce store to another company that was able to solve the problem of handling large amounts of traffic.

Today there are several companies that have developed what is commonly called “cloud computing” systems. In brief, a cloud computing system is when you take a lot of servers and hook them up so that they cooperate while processing a large load. That load could be crunching through a lot of data or handling a lot of web requests. Most of the time its a combination of both.

Cloud platforms like Amazon are built to handle the surge of Christmas traffic. But this creates a problem similar to what most churches face with regard to their parking lots. There is a lot of wasted capacity since, for the most part, the resources meant to handle the surge in demand sit idle.

To get more use out of their cloud, Amazon and others like Google started offering parts of their cloud to others. The idea being that you could develop a website, deploy it on their system, and if your site gets really popular it can expand to more of the cloud platform to handle the load. Amazon calls their solution elastic computing.

The key to large scale computing is to find ways to carve up the problem domain into small, manageable, bite-sized chunks, and then find a way to have many mouths devour those chunks.

Many churches, when they start to grow and face issues of scale, attempt to solve the problem initially by offering multiple services on Sunday morning. This often works well if the church is able to effectively cut the demand per service in half. This is not much different than attempting to solve large computational problems by utilizing larger servers. This is known as scaling vertically and is the preferred tactic of many smaller churches. However the problem is that it produces waste in terms of under utilized resources when there is no load (ie. the other 6 days of the week) and eventually a hard vertical limit is reached.

Many churches are coming to realize the importance of distributing the load when it comes to discipleship. But when it comes to teaching, most still operate in a centralized fashion.

There are many reasons the church needs to embrace a more distributed leadership model. Here are a few:

  • Having multiple teachers to handle the task of teaching believers is a Biblical concept.
  • If more churches were to implement it as the model of leadership, it would also have the added benefit of alleviating the enormous and unnatural pressure placed at the feet of one man or a very small group of men.
  • Having multiple leaders serves as an encouragement for others to grow. It would help solve the problem of unmotivated church members.
  • Having multiple leaders makes single points of failure, especially of the moral variety, less prominent and less devastating.
  • Having multiple leaders provides an excellent means of continuous error correction.

Along with the spiritual reasons, there are other organizational benefits:

  • Having multiple leaders means buildings can be more fully utilized. Groups can be scheduled to meet at various times throughout the week, distributing the load, instead of causing the load to spike on one day and hour.
  • Higher utilization of resources means less waste.
  • Distributed leadership means fewer and lighter crowds. This means visitors are more likely to find a place and are more likely to become intimately involved with a group of believers.
  • Distributed leadership means leaders are free to specialize. This, in turn, translates into higher quality teaching and a more educated congregation. This would also mean more believers would be better equipped for evangelization.

And finally; distributed leadership would mean my family and I would have a better chance at finding a parking spot on Sunday morning.

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Christian Establishments and the Neglect of Faith

A friend on Facebook pointed me to this lecture by Rodney Stark, author of the excellent book Victory of Reason. This lecture is titled “Religious Competition


Audio here

I think most of what Stark says is spot-on. I disagree with him, of course, when He dogs the protestant movement and gives an unexcused free pass to the Roman Catholic Church.

I would also add that I believe we (believers) are all called to be priests, or religious suppliers, in the NT. So it is incumbent on us to be well equipped to service the markets of unbelief all around us.

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What does a simple church look like?

When You Come Together from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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Tidal Wave – Finishing what the reformation started

Tidal Wave from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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The Rabbit and the Elephant

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Resources for the home church

What do we believe? How do we operate? What sort of structure do we abide by?

There are some of the questions I had after deciding that the way I had always “Done church” just wasn’t cutting it. But what was a viable Biblical alternative?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve compiled a few helpful resources for studying and learning about the home or organic church movement. Some of these authors and works contain contradictory views, especially when it comes to issues such as the role of women in the meeting, how elders are to be chosen and function, and how new fellowships are to be formed. In spite of this, however, I have found a fairly unified core of teachings, centered on the accounts and practices of the early church recorded in Scripture.

So without further ado, here are the best resources I’ve found when it comes to home church.

Sites:

Books:

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What is simple church?

A friend of mine recently asked, “What is simple church and how is it different than what we normally call ‘church’?”

Simple church is a pretty broad term and is rather hard to nail down. I think the best place to begin is to say that the aim (at least in the one I am in) is to be as close to the model of a church as portrayed in the Bible as possible.

Simple simply refers to the desire to jettison all the cruft normally associated with institutional organizations we mistakenly label “church” these days including programs, buildings, bulletins (which represent a strict order of worship), clergy (that is, we reject the common clergy/laity distinction as divisive to the Body of Christ), etc (more mentioned in Frank Viola‘s excellent book, Pagan Christianity.

Another aspect of “simple” is that we strive to maintain a small group and will unhesitatingly spawn another group if/when ours grows beyond what can comfortably fit in a modest living room (around 20 to 30 people).

One of the different things we do, as a consequence, is maintain open-participatory meetings where every member is free to add and interject anything they wish. Many people cringe at this thought and wonder how such a meeting wouldn’t devolve into a complete chaotic mess. But this is where an odd reliance on the unifying and guiding power of the Holy Spirit comes into play, to the point (at least in the small group we’ve had the privilege of being a part of) where both order and mutual edification are possible. In fact, in this type of meeting we tend to see more mutual edification and instruction given because the burden of preparation and teaching do not fall on the shoulders of any single one of us but are instead borne by each of us who are given the gift of teaching which is far more Biblical than having these responsibilities rest in any single individual week after week.

Another interesting difference is in how we relate to each other and how we handle differences among ourselves. In our group we all come from a variety of backgrounds and theological persuasions which, on the surface at least, would seem to make the task of unity far more difficult than if we were to simply ascribe to a denominational profession of faith. However, what I’ve found is that our lack of confessions, creeds, and councils tends to make us far more willing to debate in love our differences as we know that our ability to disagree in love is a key element to our community’s continuing to exist. Our smallness and lack of a membership roll provides much more incentive for us to be more careful where we draw lines of division and makes us much more generous in our debates with each other.

Some excellent resources to help you get a better idea of what a simple church is (or ought to be) can be found at:

I’m by no means an expert. We’ve only been attending a local house church for the past couple of months. But what I’ve seen so far (and I thank God for the wonderful people we’ve met considering the horror stories we’ve heard) has been very good and meshes quite well with all the research I’ve done in the area of Biblical ecclesiology.

The bottom line is that while most other places merely preach the priesthood of the believer in passing, it has only been in simple church where I’ve actually seen it put into practice.

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