Three Church Planting Lessons from IKEA 

By Clint Clifton

I’ve been fascinated with IKEA since first visiting the home furnishing superstore more than 20 years ago. Over the years I’ve formed a set of IKEA-inspired church-planting lessons.

IKEA was founded by a Swedish teenager named Ingvar Kamprad and has grown into one of the world’s most recognized companies. Ingvar’s dream was to create a better life for as many people as possible – whatever the size of their wallet.

Personally, I’ve been fascinated with IKEA since first visiting the home furnishing superstore more than 20 years ago. Maybe it’s the fact that the shopping carts don’t have any fixed wheels and move freely in all directions. Perhaps it’s the “as-is” room where the already cheap furniture is discounted even more. Who knows, maybe it’s the meatballs!

Whatever the reason, over the years I’ve formed a set of IKEA-inspired church-planting lessons. I hope you are inspired as well.

Lesson 1 – Instruction manuals: IKEA instruction manuals are fascinating. No words, only pictures. Simple, black and white drawings communicate everything you need to know about assembling your new bunk beds without saying a word. IKEA took a big problem, language barriers, and instead of doing what 100% of other companies do and translating their instructions into a variety of languages, they simply drew the assembly instructions.

Church planting lesson: As a church planter, you’re going to look at the problems of your community and the solutions other churches have come up with and hopefully you’ll say, with IKEA, “There has to be a better way!” If you put your mind to it, you can find new ways to communicate the gospel to those who don’t get it.

Lesson 2 – Flat boxes: IKEA pioneered flat-pack boxing in 1956. Ingvar created furniture that consumers assemble themselves with simple tools, and it all fits into a flat box that can slide inside your car trunk or under the seat of your van with ease. Flat-packing saves on packing materials and transportation costs. Unlike most furniture stores, flat-packing means you can take your furniture home immediately without a delivery service.

Church planting lesson: As a church planter, you will have to pay close attention to the reasons people in your community aren’t engaged in church life. Some of them have emotional baggage, some of them lack spiritual interest, but some just can’t fit it practically into their lives. IKEA found a way to package the same product in a more-accessible form and as a church planter, if you hope to reach those far from God, you’ll have to find creative ways to deliver eternal truth.

Lesson 3 – Map over menu: Most stores have a menu but IKEA has a map. When you go into IKEA, there are arrows on the floor pointing you in the direction you are intended to go. Deviating from the suggested path is possible but not encouraged. IKEA knows that if you come in to get only a light bulb, you are going to miss the incredible new sofa beds. If you come in for a sofa bed, you are going to miss the kitchen appliances. So, they make you walk a very intentional pathway – through the furniture forest, into the land of lighting, past the community of chairs by the meatball metropolis and straight into warehouse world.

Church planting lesson: In your church, people need a map, not a menu. Menus give people what they want, but maps take people to destinations. Plant a church that has a clear destination in mind for those who make up the congregation. Design pathways that help them reach spiritual and missional maturity.

Published July 27, 2022

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Clint Clifton

Clint Clifton is the founding pastor of Pillar, a multiplying church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the senior director of resource and research strategy at the North American Mission Board. He is the author of several books and periodicals on the subject of church planting, including Church Planting Thresholds: A Gospel Centered Church Planting Guide and Church Planting Primer and is the host of the Church Planting podcast.