Thom Rainer has devoted much of his life to consulting with churches to help them be all that they can be in God. He collaborated with Eric Geiger, the executive pastor of a large Florida church, to write Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process For Making Disciples (Broadman & Holman, 2006; ISBN 978-0-8054-4390-5). Their study of a number of American churches has much to teach the rest of us about how “doing church” in a complicated fashion actually hinders our efforts at making disciples for Jesus.
It might seem axiomatic that the more programs a church offers, the more opportunities it has to disciple people. But the reality is that churches that offer very few programs are more successful at making disciples. Why? Because their emphasis on fewer programs – on ‘doing church’ simply – allows them to concentrate their energies into reaching people in the ways that fit their vision.
We live in a busy society, so doing things simply is actually counter-cultural! We hear of congregations that focus on few things in order to do them well, and we find that they are immensely successful at what they seek to do! For instance, my friend Carey Nieuwhof, who has planted a church in the past year, has revolutionized the ministry’s efforts by concentrating on just two things: Sunday morning services and weeknight community groups. The result? People are coming to faith in Christ, and the leadership gets to spend more time with family because they’re not programmed to death. Margin is being built into leaders’ lives, while those participating in the congregation’s life are making decisions for Christ through their simple process.
“Process” is actually a big word for Rainer and Geiger. They claim that if all ministries revolve around the simple process that is created for the church, and is defined with clarity and regularly communicated to the congregation, it is possible to grow the church around simplicity.
They define a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth” (p. 60).
Sounds simple, eh? It is – especially for churches that are new start-ups. The authors spend much of the book helping all the other leaders – most of them, really – who need help to transform an existing, complex church into a simple one. And it isn’t easy. It involves change, and plenty of it. One of the longer chapters is devoted to “removing congestion”, and another to “saying No to almost everything” – challenging propositions to say the least.
The authors do a good job of helping the reader understand the main impetus, the principal reason for taking something that may be unbearably complex and making it simple: people’s lives are on the line, for eternity. And we want people’s hearts and lives to be changed, not only to get them into heaven, but to answer the petition of the Lord’s Prayer which asks that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
We have a long way to go, but Simple Church is a valuable tool to help us get there.