The simplest church

I’m having unformed thoughts, and rather than trying to get them all ironed out, I thought I would open the floor.

What is the simplest church you know of? Simple in organization, mission, membership, finances and leadership. What do you think the simplest church could be? What “complications” — even hallowed ones — would you vote off the island first?

I can imagine so many permutations — and as many ways these could fail — but I wonder what occurs first to you.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. The simplest church I have ever had contact with was a Quaker congregation in a small town in southern Indiana. No staff. No building. No endowment. No hymnals. No office equipment. An annual budget of less than $2000.

    The congregation of 15-20 alternated meeting in homes, and in a conference room at a public library. Their ministry focus on Sunday alternated between meetings for worship, meetings for study, and meetings for service.

    Challenges they faced. (1) newcomers being unsure exactly where they were meeting any given Sunday (2) volunteer burnout (3) disruptions when key members/volunteers moved away.

    I know of a simmilar set up (but more liturgical and with a minister) involving the new Swedenborgian church that has recently been planted in Lansing, Michigan. I think their pastor may be a volunteer who lives in the area, and works as a hospital chaplain.

  2. The simplest churches I’ve ever seen have been Quakers such as Derek describes above, Spiritualist congregations meeting in houses, and covens. The simplest that could be? See Matthew 18:20.

    What complication would I vote off the island? Anything that does not advance the core purpose of the congregation; nobody can do it all, and so to be effective at anything, one must concentrate on what one feels the most important. Which means, to me, that one of the first things a congregation must do is decide on what they want to do. Is your purpose the spiritual growth of your members? To serve the poor? To affect political change consistent with your beliefs? This, I believe, is the biggest problem with the UUA in general and many UU congregations individually- we don’t have a clear concept of why we’re congregating in the first place.

  3. there is a little tiny church that worships every night and every morning in my bed
    i am the only human member — the others are a dog and a cat
    we read the bible and pray and sing every time we gather
    and services meet everyone’s needs perfectly
    there isn’t any coffee hour
    but we sometimes have a little cup of tea with us
    everyone takes turns being the minister

  4. Our latest little flier about us here is actually called Simple Church borrowing from the Baptist movement or is it foursquare originally. We are trying to make it simpler now by spinning off all the ministries started this past year or so into a related but separate nonprofit that will then free us up to keep starting something new like an urban monastery or go more mobile (we are going to meet soon for one of our weekly gatherings in the local correctional facility and I can see us doing that more and in other places too). We keep it pretty simple with prayer and communion time which is always a struggle but I’ve about completely gotten away from any printed order of service and use repeat after me for a little litany aspect and the lords prayer is easy for people to learn as is our closing two songs which is all we sing. So there is continuity each time with overall format of meal conversation and communion but no real time frame for each or set in writ words so the spirit can move and yet familiarity can reign. Also no budget which simplified things and this will be helped further by having the other nonprofit take care of such things as might be needed for grants. Actually I like now that we are organizationally moving away from being a religious nonprofit organization which for our small group(s) I think will help us be more of a church. Flows out of simple mission to be a body of people making Jesus visible in the world. But we have so much to learn and unlearn about being truly sustainable and simple and reproducible. Many mistakes to come.

  5. The simplest churches I’ve come across are those run by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) – their Testimony of Simplicity obviously also has a big impact on the way they live their lives in general.

    That said, the lack of (well-sung, meaningful) hymns and other sacarments such as baptism and the breaking of bread in traditionalist Quaker congregations is something I would miss were I to join them full-time.

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