The “simple church” movement is basically a move to make the modern-day church experience as close to that of the early churches of the New Testament as possible. Adherents to the simple church movement would say that early believers met in people’s homes and their worship had very little structure, and they therefore believe in doing the same. The simple church movement advocates believe that we are to be led by the Spirit in all that we do and that a “return to basics” is needed because so many structures and traditions have polluted the church experience.
A “simple church” may meet anywhere with or without trained leaders, formal liturgy, programs, or structures. Like many house churches, a simple church is usually a small group of no more than 20–25 persons. The term simple church is often used interchangeably with other terms like organic church, essential church, primitive church, relational church, and micro-church. All have in common a rejection of larger churches organized along denominational lines, formal leadership, church buildings, and formal worship services. Emphasis in simple churches is on building relationships within the small group and missionary outreach.
Perhaps the primary problem with the Simple Church movement, and the house church movement in general, is that they see the book of Acts as a model for the church, which it was never intended to be. The book of Acts is the history of the early church, not a mandate for church structure throughout the ages. Acts is “descriptive” in that it describes the early church, but is not always “prescriptive” in that it is not always stating how things are supposed to be. The books of 1 Timothy and Titus give specific outlines for church government. The Lord was very clear in His Word about how He wishes His church on earth to be organized and managed, with Christ as the head of the church and its supreme authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18) and governed by spiritual leadership consisting of two main offices—elders and deacons. When simple churches decry the establishment of leadership within the church, they reject God’s plan for the local church, rather than affirming it, as they claim.
A few other things seem to be overlooked within this movement as a whole. Limiting the churches to a few families or a small number of people is not mandated in the Bible. We know from Acts 2:47 that the church grew daily. We also know from studying the Corinthian letters that people began to organize as larger bodies to come together to worship together. We also know from Corinthians that this larger congregation of believers had some very significant problems that had to be dealt with, which would seem to reiterate the need for godly leadership within the body. There is nothing unscriptural about a large church and nothing to indicate that small groups meeting in a home are any more in tune with a biblical model than a church of 10,000.
In addition, some critics are concerned about doctrinal purity and accountability in the Simple Church movement. The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one responsible for ensuring purity within the worldwide church body, but God has given us the model for local churches structured under the leadership of godly elders and deacons. Yet God can certainly work both within a formal religious structure and in the midst of believers gathering in someone’s home. As with all things, Christian love and acceptance is the rule to follow. Those who “are not against us are for us” (Mark 9:40), and whether we worship in large cathedrals or small home gatherings, the important thing is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world, the upholding of the Word of God as the sufficient model for faith and practice, and the love we have for one another.