Posted by on Feb 5, 2023 in Blog | 18 comments

people worshiping at the church

Let’s face it. If you say the word “church” a less than enthusiastic response is likely to follow. True, there are some glorious exceptions, but by and large those who have never been part of a church tend to express views that have been shaped by the press coverage the church has been receiving (almost uniformly bad), while those who have often launch into a story of feeling let down, disappointed or even betrayed. Many will tell you that they now embrace a churchless faith, one which is real but which effectively says “Jesus yes, church, no!” Others will tell you of how hard they have worked to keep their local church going and how exhausted it has left them feeling. For those of us who have spent their lives as a pastor or representative of the church (as I have) it is more than a little disappointing.

Or is it?

In an age when an ever increasing number of people are willing to define themselves as “spiritual but not religious” we need to move from defensiveness (“Those are not competing categories!”) to curiosity (“Why do so many people say this?”) Could it be that in the midst of the antagonism towards the church there are gems to be spotted and guidance to be found? Perhaps there is even a new category of church that could be imagined – for want of a better name, “church-lite”.

Church-lite could be church without 12 minutes of advertising and marketing at every service to make sure you buy into the additional religious products that are on offer (often very worthy ones, but I suspect most attend the service hoping to hear more about Jesus and less about the extras). Church-lite could be less church centric (where the emphasis is on how to keep this Church buzzing) and more interested in how to follow Jesus in our non-church, Monday-Saturday world. Church-lite could be deeply spiritual – about being together with others who are trying to hear the voice of God. Church-lite could help me to examine my life in the light of if I am a good neighbour, or work colleague, or family member or friend. Church-lite could help me reflect on some of the big questions of life. Church-lite could introduce me to some important spiritual disciplines like prayer, and listening to Scripture, and confession, and gratitude. Church-lite could leave me less suspicious of others and more open to simply being a companion or friend. Church-lite could accept that church is primarily supposed to be about God and could make God the focus.

In practice, is a minimalistic version of church possible? Do we need a ministry that focuses on children; and youth; and young adults; and women; and men; and the elderly; and the addicted; and… Well I know churches that boast of over 40 ministries all targeted at particular groups. And I can see the need for some, but at what point are we simply becoming over-complicated and creating a version of church that consumes more and more of our time, leaving us with less to follow Jesus in the world. What if saying yes to a church program means saying no to a neighbour?

Am I being too vague? Perhaps an example might help. In a church where I was pastor (I will leave it unnamed, and this is certainly not an attack on the great work they have always done) a man came to me to apologetically announce that he would no longer be attending the church small group he was part of. We encouraged everyone to be part of a small group to help them to grow in their faith and knowledge of scripture and – well you know the wonderful work small groups often do – so I felt a little disappointed. “Trouble is,” he said, “I’ve only got 24 hours in a day, and I have 4 children and I’m coaching my youngest sons soccer team. I am building a great relationship with the kids and their parents and feel that God wants me to serve there rather than to chat about my life each week with a group of like minded Christians – lovely though they are. I hope you don’t mind or feel that I am falling away from Jesus, but I really don’t know how else to balance my time and still be a good husband and dad.” He was (is) a wonderful man – and in his own way he was pleading with me to be relaxed with church-lite. Actually, I suspect that if everyone in the church had been like him our impact would have been 2, 3 or even 10 times as great.

So here’e the question. Could it be that church-lite turns out to be church heavy, not because it focuses on the church, but precisely because it doesn’t? Perhaps if we trust Jesus with the welfare of the church, and focus a little more on following Jesus in the world, some false barriers between church and world will fall down, and those who are curious about God will know some Jesus followers they can chat to.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Jace Miller on

Reproduce post with acknowledgment of source. Please forward to those who might find it helpful.


  1. Some wonderfully refreshing thoughts Brian, that may be just what the ‘church needs to consider!

    • Thanks Lynn. In an over complicated world perhaps we need an uncomplicated church…

  2. Ooo… I read about a church like that once—was it in the Book of Acts, or maybe Thessalonians? — somewhere in the Bible anyway. (can’t find the tongue-in-cheek emoji )

    • And I seem to remember that that church had a pretty significant impact…

  3. Oh yes please

    • And we can find ways to make it happen…

      • Hi Brian, I have been reading all the responses with interest and have been mulling over Church-lite further and something hasn’t been sitting well with me and my initial response, so here are my thoughts: I still really feel comfortable with the vision. However, I think there needs to be further consideration in relation to what consitutes true worship and how we encourage that within the church. As I reflect on the Psalms, there was a deep hunger to be in community in the house of the Lord. I think along the way we have lost some of that hunger and there can be a tendency to continue to go through the motions that are familiar to us. We also become fearful of upsetting those who are uncomfortable with change and flexibility
        / fluidity in favour of something that appears more solid. I also seem to observe a tendency to separate worship in church community with believers and being in the presence of Jesus at the same time, and visa versa. Therefore, I think there is far more to be carefully and prayerfully considered here. I can’t help wondering if the example that you provided was of someone for whom the joy of being in Christian community and being captivated by God’s glory and wonder had somehow been lost? If his worship was measured by works and what appeared to be more worthwhile? Just thoughts Brian and I think you are onto something. Ann

        • Thanks Ann. Greatly appreciate your additional thoughts. There is a lot of nuance to consider, but perhaps at heart church-lite is a plea for church to be a worshipping community which is outwardly facing towards the world God loves, and which equips its people to live well in the world (rather than in endless church programs – worthy though most of them are).

  4. This resonates for me, Brian. I see my own responsibilities (ministry?) are primarily being in relationship with my former colleagues and with acquaintances in my local area, rather than serving in a formal church ministry. Which is not to suggest that I am not contributing in the latter context, but rather that I sense my primary responsibility is to informally serve ”outside” Rather than full-on “inside”.

    • Thanks Ian. I think that more and more people feel that “outside” is where their prime responsibility lies – and sometimes they feel their church really supports them in that, while some feel that their church tries to persuade them to shift the focus back to church. Hope you feel well supported.

  5. Love it! Thanks Brian.

  6. Comment * Way our in front of you Brian. Check out what we are “not” doing at Noranda Church of Christ.

  7. I love the vision, Brian, and I think it’s a helpful reminder that churches are supposed to be about relationships, not programs. But as much as I want to say, “Me too! Me too!” I don’t think it’s practical at much beyond house church scale. (I saw your response to Yvette that there’s no forms in church-lite and immediately thought, “Well, there goes Safe Church.”)

    • Good to hear from you Rick. I guess I see it as church-lite, not church nothing. I think it’s worth asking the question “is this really going to help us follow Jesus more faithfully?” If the answer is yes, great. My observation is that we hold on to things that no longer serve us well. But if they do serve us well, fabulous – keep them.
      It’s no secret that I have been very involved with Carey for well over a decade. The Carey group is clear that everything flows from the church. Given that we now employ well over 500 people it may sound a tad strange that I’m appealing for church lite – but our theme this year has very intentionally been chosen as “Jesus” – a strong plea to remember that even in the midst of running schools and community centres, and a leadership institute and cafe and social outreach and… (the list goes on and on), in the end it’s about Jesus – and living from the love and grace of Jesus.

  8. I enjoyed the reading Brian, and I also reflected on your thoughts about the church program. My and I have three kids, youngest 1 year old, programs are offered and push us to take more and more. We homeschool our kids and the day is only 24 hrs. We have chores, activities to run as family. We even do our own weekly devos. We are not less spiritual because we say no but it turns out legalistic as the more rituals and sign up is a example of being a truly follower.

    • Thanks Omar. Very good to hear from you. Sounds like you and your wife are doing an amazing job with your family. I hope you can feel the support of your church family in that, but it sounds like you don’t which is a pity, because raising young children is really important and is exhausting.


  1. Misdiagnosis... - Brian Harris - […] had a stab at visualising what “Church Lite” could look like a few months back, and could I be…

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