Religion in Society

Ohio Congregation Says "Simple Church" Concept Works

| by Baptist Press

KETTERING, Ohio -- A new congregation in Ohio is experimenting with a streamlined approach inspired by Thom Rainer's book "Simple Church," and they're seeing otherwise-unreached people engage in worship and make decisions for Christ.

The church's pastor, Barry Jude, went to school with Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, and the two have kept in touch off and on through the years. The book, released in 2006, got Jude's attention.

"Over the last 14 years I pastored three congregations that ran between 500 and 800 in attendance, and I just felt like there was a failure in the established church to get back to the simplicity of the Gospel," Jude said. "There was a lot of clutter to deal with to get back to just being that the church is really about reaching people."

Jude said the simple church concept was brewing in his heart for about 10 years, and he credits Rainer and his coauthor Eric Geiger with fleshing it out.

"I felt like, 'This is what I've got to do.' For me, it came to the place even at 49 years of age that I felt like we needed to birth a new work to set up a church where the total focus was about trying to see people's lives changed by the Gospel of Christ," Jude told Baptist Press.

He was on staff at a large church in the Dayton area that had relocated to a new campus and was experiencing record growth. But Jude didn't sense that the church was burdened in the same ways he was about reaching people who were completely unchurched.

"In January, I stepped away from that fellowship. There was a core group of about 27 from that fellowship that met just to pray for about three or four weeks," Jude said. "They started talking to me about starting this type of church that is really simplistic but is really focused on giving enough time for people to build relationships with others -- not just adding more and more activities at the church but trying to win our neighbors and our friends and our family and our coworkers to Christ."

That's when New Day Church started in Kettering, a suburb of Dayton. On Easter Sunday, the group began having Bible studies in a home. Within three months, they had experienced three or four Sundays in a row with more than 70 people in attendance.

"That's when we decided to go ahead and see if we could meet at a local hotel, and we did for about 10 weeks. Then we finally moved to the Kettering Rec Center," Jude said.

The room the church occupies at the rec center will seat a couple hundred, he said, and they're averaging 100 people on Sundays. What speaks to people, Jude said, is the church's motto: "A simple church in a complex world."

"I think with the multiplication of information as technology has developed, there is a great need for simplicity -- whether you look at a Google site and see that it has less than 30 words on a link page, or you pick up an iPod and see that it really has just one dial -- people enjoy that which is made simple for them," he said.

So instead of trying to explain the church's purpose in various vision and mission statements, New Day uses just seven words: "Loving God, loving people, living our mission."

"We have really emphasized ministry and team concepts, so we don't have boards or committees," Jude said. "We have a leadership core team, and if somebody heads up a ministry area, they have a seat at that table. They are my accountability plus they are the rowers of the boat, so to speak. They are the ones heading up all the different ministry groups. There are about 12 to 14 people on that leadership core team."

Because they don't have a building of their own, New Day is forced to streamline their meeting schedule. They have one service on Sunday mornings and then meet in five or six homes on Wednesday nights in small groups.

"When you join New Day Church, you're required to serve, period. Service is not an issue. If they join the church, they have to be a part of serving somewhere in the congregation. It's a membership requirement," Jude said.

"They also have to be willing to support the church financially. We don't spell it out as a tithe, but it's just that they would contribute on a regular basis to the church," he said. "We also ask that they would be committed to unity and that they would practice love in all that they do. Those are the four commitments we ask of everybody that actually becomes a member."

Since Easter, more than 30 people have professed faith in Christ at the church. In August, the congregation rented the entire rec center, which is a park that holds 1,500 to 2,000 people, and hosted an outreach event aimed at a couple of local football teams.

"It is a tremendous complex, and they have a full-scale water park there with slides and all kinds of kiddie activities and a wade pool," Jude said. "We have some football coaches in our church, and we invited them to come and have a night of pizza and swimming on us."

About 150 students showed up that night, and the church used the opportunity to baptize three people who previously had made professions of faith. The Gospel was presented, and the unchurched students were able to watch the baptisms. Some of them responded to the invitation to follow Christ and were scheduled to be baptized later.

"We've had a lot of outreach to high school students with special events. That's been neat to see," Jude said. "We had a football coach who just this past Wednesday was called on to pray, and that was the first time he'd ever prayed out loud in his life. He's over 40 years old.

"I'm doing a series on forgiveness and the importance of us experiencing that and also extending that to others, and a man told me he had a bad business deal and someone had taken him for a lot of money. After the message last Sunday, he went and looked this guy's number up and called him and told him he forgave him.

"That kind of thing you can't buy. It's just the power of the Gospel to change lives. We're so thankful for seeing some of these folks whose lives are being changed," Jude said.

A native of West Virginia, Jude said he is a committed Southern Baptist pastor and hopes New Day will be engaged in planting churches in the future.

"We have it in our heart to see what we're trying to do duplicated, that we may mother several congregations down the road, we hope," he said.