The Lean Church
Streamlining Your Ministry for Maximum Effectiveness
by Don Pope, Andrew Parris, and Kent Smith

Value versus waste. They may sound easy to distinguish, but if you have ever planned a garage sale with your spouse, then you understand that the distinction may not be simple.

Although some forms of waste are easy to recognize in organizations—people sitting around doing nothing, products ruined by damage or spoilage, scrapped parts, and so on—other forms of waste are not so obvious. They are silent killers of value that simply consume resources, absorb our mental energies, and block the flow of real value. These types of waste, which we’ll discuss below, are found not only in poorly managed, inefficient organizations; they have infected, to a greater or lesser extent, the activities of every organization.

But American industry is discovering that a fundamental key to competitiveness is distinguishing real customer value from waste. In fact, researchers have even coined a term—”lean”—to refer to the idea of reducing waste and making value flow. And what’s true for successful businesses is true for successful churches as well: “lean” churches are more effective at achieving their ministry goals than are other churches. How so? Let’s look first at what “lean” is all about and then demonstrate its potential for maximum ministry.

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Step 1: Specify Value
Step 2: Identify the Value Stream and Eliminate Waste
Step 3: Make Value Flow
Step 4: Respond to Customer Pull
Step 5: Pursue Perfection

 The Lean Church: Three Versions

Mission Arlington (www.missionarlington.org): Begun in 1986 by veteran missionary Tillie Burgin, their goal from the outset has been to make spiritual life and family available to the vast numbers of apartment dwellers who do not easily fit more conventional churches. Now, on any given Sunday, 3,700 people meet in some 250 small gatherings, mostly in apartments in and around Arlington, Texas. For the people of Mission Arlington, these are gatherings of their church, their spiritual family.

Over the years the church has developed an impressive array of services for people in its reach, from medical and dental care and counseling, to help with food, clothing and furniture. A simple request can lead to wide range of help becoming available. These services are seen supporting the core task of welcoming people into a true spiritual family. Mission Arlington is widely studied, and similar efforts are underway in other American cities.

Duncan Compassion Center: When the Northside and Westside churches in Duncan, Oklahoma merged to form the Chisholm Trail Church, the former Northside facility was left vacant and was seemingly useless. However, God launched a new ministry by using this old facility and some Christian physicians who had been involved in medical missions in Nicaragua. Dr. Kent King, who had been a leader in the Nicaragua mission, observed: “when we came back (to Oklahoma), we realized how great the need was here. We saw a lot of poverty in Nicaragua, but looking around Duncan, we saw a lot of poverty here as well. I am still so amazed at how God opened this door for us.”

The former worship facility was renovated, and the physicians opened a multifaceted “Compassion,” providing healthcare exams, a pharmacy, a food pantry, a clothes closet, optometry, and legal counsel to the needy. All services, including medications, are provided free to local people who lack adequate private or government health insurance. Through this Center, the gospel message is being lived-out daily and it’s reaching people who would have never heard it otherwise. (Summarized from “Missions from the Third World Come Home” by Joy McMillan, The Christian Chronicle, January, 2004).

Awakening Chapels (www.cmaresources.org): In the past five years, Awakening Chapels has planted more than 300 “organic” churches—house churches—with the number now doubling each year. These churches focus on simple, reproducible structures and target unreached “pockets of people,” mostly in America’s southwest. Founding leader Neil Cole explains:

“Most churches today are trying to figure out how to get lost people to come to church. The key to starting churches that reproduce spontaneously is to bring the church to the lost people. We’re not interested in starting a regional church, but rather in churching a whole region.

“The house church, more than any other model, is best prepared to do just that because it is informal, relational, and mobile, not financially-encumbered with overhead costs, and it’s easily planted in a variety of settings. It also reproduces faster and spreads farther because it can be a decentralized approach.” (House2House Magazine, 2002 Special Edition, p. 24)

Simple and reproducible also defines Cole’s approach to training new believers and leaders. In his book, Raising Leaders for the Harvest, he outlines principles that are now being taught across the country in an intensive training event, The Organic Church Planter’s Greenhouse.