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Do we need another stat-filled book offering churches another way to organize themselves in order to maximize their effectiveness, reach more people, heighten fellowship, stir excitement, encourage evangelism, and all the rest? It would be nice if we had no use for such works; but the fact is, we do. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger have collaborated to bring to us a work that is by no means earth-shattering, yet is somehow hitting a note that many of us miss. I’m not a big fan of the Church Growth Movement, but I like what Rainer, head of Lifeway Christian Resources, sets before us in the pages of this work.
In Simple Church, Rainer and Geiger show us the results of a study performed on several churches, examining the differences between vibrant and declining congregations. The authors point out four major things that growing and vibrant churches have in common, all of which lead to the churches being simple churches. The four aspects are clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. Each of these words relates to a church’s vision. Is that vision clear and simply understandable? Is that vision a process through which members move to reach maturity? Is that vision aligned throughout the church so that it is the same for each ministry? Is the church focused enough on that vision that they will do away with superfluous activities, even if those activities are generally OK things?
On the positive side, I found myself challenged to think about the church I am serving to consider how we might simplify our ministries. I was encouraged to work with the staff to clarify our vision, to develop the discipleship process, to get others on-board with the plan, and to eliminate things that are not part of who we want to be. The authors make a sweet and strong case for churches not wasting their time and energy on things that are unnecessary for the growth of the Kingdom of God.
Contrary to what I expected from the book’s title and from what I had previously heard, Simple Church is not merely a book about cutting away unnecessary programs. The authors call on pastors and church leaders to know how they will help believers to move from their first contact with the church to deep discipleship. This concept is more than a scheduling issue; it is a focus issue. A church’s leadership must know both what a disciple looks like and how they intend to help people progress toward that point.
At the same time, I would have liked for two strong sections to have been added to this book. The first and most important section that I would have liked to have seen would have been a more theological section in which Rainer and Geiger show the simple church life in a church that is more doctrinally rather than pragmatically centered. What does the simple church concept look like in a theologically rich and deep church? Would it look different than it would in a more seeker-driven congregation? Honestly, most of the things that the authors mention only make sense when considering a very program-heavy congregation.
Secondly, and perhaps surprisingly considering my first critique, I also would have liked to have seen a more nuts and bolts approach to implementing a simple church model. I know that the authors gave us a few examples of simple churches and spelled out the concept well. At the same time, many pastors are sitting in messy circumstances. How does one go about developing the vision, clarifying it, getting others to buy in, and implementing it in such a way as to not lose anything that we are called to do or be in the process?
Overall, I am very glad to have read Simple Church. Rainer and Geiger challenged me to think deeply about communication and structure in our local congregation. Hopefully the good questions that I am asking will lead to positive discussions with others and eventually positive growth in God’s church. I would recommend this work to others who need to think more deeply on their church’s vision and structure, especially if such a one has not been communicating to his people what the church is about or how to take the next step in the discipleship process.
- Based on a study of 88...
Based on a study of 88 churches, this production discusses the concept of simplicity as it relates to spirituality. The authors compare church attendance to inviting guests into one's home. In a melodious baritone, Grover Gardner delivers their description of how guests arrive in the entryway, which is like the church foyer. They then liken guests in the living room to church attendees sitting in pews for a sermon. When the house guests become friends, they say, they're invited into the kitchen, and they liken that to attendees joining the church and becoming involved with the ministry. Gardner narrates with full attention to details as he interprets the authors' urging that churches return to simple methods of sharing the gospel.