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    slide06.jpgLet us begin with a very important fact. The goal of the site is not to criticize traditional or institutional churches. Yes, some of the articles make comparisons and some of the writers do strongly question traditional practices. However, those of us who have created this site did so for several reasons:

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    slide05.jpgYou are church before you do church. This is one of the fueling insights of the missional church movement. This isn't a new idea...but it is pretty provocative, especially when one considers its implications. If we take Jesus at his word when he says (as recorded in John 20:21) "as the Father has sent me, I am sending you," then we realize that our being sent is the basis of our "doing" church. In oth...

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Examining the differences between simple church and institutional church PDF Print Write e-mail
Saturday, 30 July 2011 00:56

Editors Note: Do you ever have friends asking you to explain what simple church is all about and how it is different from a more traditional church?  In this short article, Alan Knox does a good job of answering this question. By the way, Alan’s blog has many great thoughts on the nature of the church. Here is a link:


In this post, I’m going to examine some of the differences between modern, traditional, institutional churches and simple/organic churches. If you are looking for a rant against or a condemnation of institutional churches, then this is not it. Those who have read my blog for a while know that I prefer more simple, more organic church.
This post is primarily for those who are part of institutional churches. Many have been told of the dangers of simple or organic church, but no one has explained the main differences between simple church and institutional church.

To begin with, I need to describe what I mean by simple or organic church. A simple or organic church is a group of brothers and sisters in Christ  who attempt to live together as family in the way that they understand the church is  described and taught in the New Testament. [A house church, on the other  hand, is a group of believers who meet in a home. A house church can be  more simple/organic or it can be more traditional/institutional.]

Now, we must remember that no group of believers is purely simple/organic just as no group of believers is purely institutional. Instead, it is more like a gradient or spectrum, with some groups being more simple/organic while more groups are more institutional. So, my description will be generalizations by necessity.

Any group of believers (or any group of people, for that matter) will naturally contain a certain amount of organization. Even when two friends meet for a cup of coffee, organization is involved: where to meet, what time to meet, etc. But, on the spectrum, simple/organic churches will include much less organization than institutional churches. Plus, the organization of simple/organic churches will tend to be more fluid and flexible than the organization in institutional churches. Finally, any organization among simple/organic churches depends upon the people involved, while the organization among institutional churches is often implemented apart from the people involved.

Simple/organic churches tend to depend upon God using all believers, while institutional churches tend to rely more on God working through a special subset of the church (leaders, ministers, clergy, etc.). A lesser dependence on leadership have led some to state that simple/organic churches do not have leaders, but this is not the case. There will be leaders among any group of believers, whether those people are specifically singled out or given special titles or static or not. Similarly, it is also not true that institutional churches only depend on the work of leaders. However, simple churches tend to rely on the whole body more than institutional churches, while institutional churches tend to rely on the work of special leaders more than simple churches.

When it comes to serving, the more institutional the church, the more likely that service will be accomplished through certain static programs. More simple churches will be more likely to serve in more dynamic fashion as opportunities present themselves. This does not mean that simple churches do not work through programs, but instead it means that those programs typically only last as long as the service is needed. Similarly, this does not mean that institutional churches cannot meet new service opportunities. However, the new opportunities tend to be placed within existing program structures.

From these differences, it is easy to see that the framework (or support structure) for simple churches will be much different from institutional churches. Institutional churches require certain amount of money, staff, and other resources to support their organizations, leadership, and programs. Simple churches, on the other hand, will typically not need to set aside as much money, staff, and other resources for support. Simple churches will require a certain amount of support, but not as much as institutional churches.

As far as I can tell, these are the major differences between simple/organic churches and institutional churches. Obviously, these differences will present themselves in different ways. For example, when the church studies Scripture, that study will look different depending on whether the church is relying on leadership for that study or whether the church as a whole is taking part in the study. Again, all churches desire to care for those in need, but that care will look different in institutional churches working through programs than it looks in simple/organic churches which do not work through programs.

Alan Knox



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