Go Small or Go Home
At a time when community meant everything to Roger and Michele Bird, they left their 3,000-square-foot home and are building a house a third the size. Go figure.
“It sounds crazy, but by simplifying life and completely downsizing, it frees us up—not only financially, but from the huge upkeep of a house,” says Michele Bird. She serves at the Bridge in Allegan, Michigan, a church she and her husband, Roger, started nine years ago. That church—and its radical focus on spiritual formation—is the reason they moved.
“We feel like by going small, we can live a bigger life,” Michele says. “We have more of our time to give. We have more of everything to give.”
“We just realized we don’t need all this stuff,” says Roger. “Even with our big house, we lived in about a few hundred square feet, and then we’d go upstairs to go to bed. We’re empty nesters now; our last child got married [last] May, and we just don’t need all that space.
“We literally gave everything away.”
But the Birds wouldn’t have made the move to a tiny house if not for the ways they have grown as followers of Jesus in the last few years. They have taken this journey of discipleship in tandem with the Bridge, and it’s a focus the congregation has embraced.
That wasn’t always the case, however. When the couple first opened the Bridge, the church got off to a rocky start.
“We thought if we did mission, we’d get disciples,” Roger says. “But what we really got was tired people.
“For the first five to six years, we always said we were a church for the beaten up, the burned out, and the bored. Now we are a church for people who are hungry, for people who want to see more of what God wants to do.”
What made the difference? A big shift in focus. They had been zeroed in on mission—on sharing Jesus’s love with people. Instead, they turned to discipleship—following Jesus themselves. Roger says they learned something key: “If mission is the vehicle, discipleship is the engine that drives that vehicle.
“What is God saying, and what am I going to do about it? That’s the essence of discipleship in a nutshell.”
Happily, they’ve discovered that mission naturally grows out of discipleship.
“When you do mission, you think you’ll get disciples. But when you make disciples, you’ll always get mission,” Roger says. “Disciples of Jesus do mission. They look for ways to impact the world around them. We’re not just doing work projects anymore; we’re having people who want to share Jesus, and sometimes that looks like painting a house or delivering a box of food.”
Now, he says, the Bridge is all about “passionate spirituality, radical community, and missional zeal.” And that tiredness in the congregation? It’s gone.
Both Roger and Michele give credit to 3DM for the change. 3DM is the discipleship framework they’ve used at the Bridge. Short for 3D Movements, it focuses on making disciples who make disciples, with the premise that mission will follow naturally when people are listening and responding to God. Through intentional small groups (huddles) and larger community gatherings (missional communities), 3DM provides tools and curriculum that train disciples in the values and methods that Jesus used.
When leaders start deliberately imitating the life of Christ together, Michele says a sifting process starts to occur. “When you start having all of your leaders start listening to the voice of God and obeying the voice of God, that made a lot of people uncomfortable. Initially we lost a lot of people, partially because it’s a new thing, but also, a lot of people just want to go to church. … They’re happy with their life the way it is.
“If you go digging into things and listening to God direct you, you have to change your life. That’s uncomfortable.”
It was uncomfortable, but it brought “a depth that was not there before” in their relationships with God. And not only in relationships with God—it also shows up in relationship with other people in the church. “The Bridge has always bred a sense of community,” Michele says, “but the depth of the community now—it has gone from community to family.”
The Birds also committed to listening for God’s direction in their personal lives.
“You can’t embark on this journey without it radically changing who you are,” Michele says. “The whole purpose is to learn to imitate Christ. When you really dig into that, there’s a lot of things that have to go to become more like Christ.”
For them, that meant dramatically downsizing—moving out of a spacious home and letting go of excess “stuff.” The couple is living in a one-room cottage behind a friend’s garage for now. Carpentry students are building their house through a new program that teaches practical skills and provides affordable housing. The home will have a footprint of just over 1,000 square feet. And they have an understanding with their Bridge family: whenever the light’s on, anyone is welcome.
“In being disciples, in making disciples who make disciples and pouring into each other’s lives, it has become the fulfillment of what Jesus said: ‘They will know you by the love you have for one another,’” says Roger. “That doesn’t happen through an hour on Sunday, it happens through sharing life together.”
Photo by Abigail Arce
If 3DM’s philosophy resonates with you, contact Jill Ver Steeg, the RCA’s director of transformational engagement, to learn more about using it in your church: firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-541-0840.