The Tiny House Movement: A Big Lesson for the American Church

THE MOVEMENT

Around 1997, a man by the name of Jay Shafer began a now growing and increasingly popular movement known as The Tiny House Movement. The purpose or vision of most who are moving toward the Tiny House movement is really quite simple: simplifying life.

Don’t be fooled by these tiny houses though!

These tiny homes pack a lot of punch in to a fraction of the space most American’s have for their homes. What tiny house enthusiasts have done is effectively de-clutter their lives and their living spaces, and made room for ONLY the essentials, namely: a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to go to the bathroom, a place to get cleaned up, and a place to stay out of the elements of the weather.

I have read numerous articles about families of more than four people (two adults and two children) living in spaces totaling about 350 square feet, and how they were able to accommodate all of this life’s essentials in that tiny space!

They accomplished this by doing the following:

  1. Removing the clutter
  2. Getting rid of the excess AND
  3. Maximizing the space

I have seen countless documentaries on YouTube (here, here, and here to name a few!) where people made this change in their life, simplified it down to the bare necessities, and are thriving in a much healthier and happier way in their life.

And I think the American Church can learn a thing or two from the Tiny House Movement.

THE AMERICAN CHURCH DILEMMA

If most are honest with themselves in the Church, then none of us are truly caught by surprise at the thought that the American Church has a problem with materialism and consumerism.

We absolutely do!

It’s an American culture thing that has unfortunately invaded the American Church. We have turned houses of worship and prayer into the next get rich scheme, your best life now, come and get served consumer driven corporate Church growth movement.

The materialism is evident from the moment you walk into a Church facility. It is evident on the lips of people when you ask them what they are looking for in a Church. It is evident in the fact that we have Churches closing by the hundreds every month because they can’t afford to keep up with the consumer demands put on them (or that they put on themselves).

We have cluttered the simple message of the gospel and of Church life with sermon series around how to improve your life and marriage, complete with ministries for literally every age group. We’ve built enormous set pieces with lights, glamour, sound systems, fashion shows, music albums, books, video production, fancy gadgets, streaming services, and on and on it goes.

We have created for ourselves marketing teams to research the best way to get the word out about our church so we can fill the pews.

We have created organizations that go out and do research on our behalf so we know what the best trends are in worship music, church growth, preaching, and whatever else we deem necessary to make a church “successful”.

And we’ve done all of this in order to keep feeding the materialistic consumer driven masses who may or may not darken the doors of our Church facilities week in and week out.

We have a problem.

We are addicts.

We are addicted to stuff, busyness, and ourselves. 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

If you took the time to go to YouTube and see any of those videos of people living in Tiny Homes, or to read articles about the Tiny House Movement, you probably became quickly aware of how others probably thought (or think) or perceived Tiny House people. Especially the ones with larger families.

These people are crazy!

Maybe you thought that (or think that) too. Perhaps you even started to think of all the reasons why this wouldn’t work in your context.

A similar reaction occurs when some Christians begin to challenge the Big Box church idea that has become the norm in most cities across America with the idea that perhaps we have cluttered things up and could stand to do a little purging and perhaps simplifying.

The Biblical reality is, the early Church didn’t clutter their existence with all the consumer trappings we know and love today. Instead, they devoted themselves to four IMPORTANT things (Acts 2:42):

  1. The apostles teaching (the Word)
  2. Fellowship (doing life together – having all things in common)
  3. Breaking of bread (communion and literally eating together)
  4. Prayer (well…prayer)

When I have spoken of simplifying Church, and getting back to the core of being the Church we find in the Bible, I am often met with people who want to take this to an extreme as…I don’t know…some sort of defense mechanism in a challenge to how we do things.

They will say things like, “So, I guess we should give up air condition” or “Perhaps we should sell all of our cars and go back to horses again”.

Folks, that’s extreme…the air condition I cannot live without, but horses wouldn’t be so bad.

Seriously though, this is an attempt at intentionally overlooking or trivializing the simplicity that was the early Church in order to ignore the glaring issues we have created for ourselves.

What, then, is the answer?

To answer this question we need to go back to the Tiny House enthusiasts and emulate what they did:

  1. REMOVE THE CLUTTER: Take inventory of what we are doing as a local church, compare it to the Bible, and then remove the clutter.
  2. GET RID OF THE EXCESS: Find areas that we are catering to consumerist mentalities of the Church culture and get rid of the unnecessary excess.
  3. MAXIMIZE THE SPACE: Maximize on the four things the early Church devoted themselves to (apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer). Make these four areas our focus, and let God work in the ways He did in and through the early Church.

Don’t get me wrong, this will not be an overnight fix. It will take some blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish. But the end product is something that I believe will honor God, free the Church from the consumer traps, and make the Church more effective at being the Church in their communities.


RECOMMENDED READING

Some reading I’ve done lately that has really helped challenge me in this area of simplification, that I think the entire Church would benefit from, has come from the following two books:

  1. Letters to the Church by Francis Chan
  2. Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

I’m not getting any kickback for promoting these books. They have just really impacted me at such a deep level that I can’t help but point people to these books with the hopes that they too will experience the impact that I did.

These books don’t point to human wisdom, church trends, or personal opinion…but to the Bible itself to inspire the Church in becoming the Church God has always dreamed of.

I highly recommend you pick these books up and give them a read. Not sure you want to spend the money on them? I know I found them at my local library, so may be worth checking out there too.

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