The distinguishing factor of the simple church movement is an emphasis on house churches. A simple church might also emphasize lay leaders, a family atmosphere, and reproducing more house churches.
A “simple church” can meet anywhere. They may or may not have trained leaders, formal liturgy, programs, or structures. 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 house church, organic church, essential church, primitive church, relational church, and micro-church. All have in common a rejection of larger churches organized along denominational lines, church buildings, and formal worship services. The emphasis in simple churches is on building relationships within the small group and missionary outreach.
Perhaps the primary problem with the simple church or house church movement is that some of the congregations see the book of Acts as regulating church methodology and organization. The book of Acts is not a mandate for church structure; it is simply the history of the early church. Acts is descriptive but not always prescriptive; that is, Acts recounts the actions and growth of the early church, but it does not usually dictate church-wide procedures. A church today is free to organize itself in the same way as the house churches in Acts, but there is no biblical mandate to do so.
Christ is the head of the church and its supreme authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18). The books of 1 Timothy and Titus outline church government and establish two offices—elders and deacons. Some in the simple church movement decry any hierarchy of leadership within the church, but in doing so they reject God’s plan for the local church.
Many promoters of the simple church movement see an implied principle of participation in 1 Corinthians 14:26, 29–31: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. . . . Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. . . . For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” Such individual participation in the gathering suggests a small group.
A few things seem to be overlooked within some churches in the simple church movement. Limiting 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. Others in the simple church movement understand this and seek to reproduce house churches within a network.
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. 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 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 rule for faith and practice, and the love we have for one another.