Simple Church: Returning To God’s Process for Making Disciples, Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger [Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee, 2006]
At the end of a fairly prominent church leadership conference, I noticed the glum expression on one pastor’s face. “Seminars like this sometimes get me down. It’s like looking under the hood of a finely tuned race-car, all the machinery humming, everything clicking on all cylinders. And then, I look at my church and have no idea where to start.” There is something quite dispiriting about learning lessons from the seeming complexity of a healthy, hard-charging church.
With that in mind, I was thrilled this year to welcome the latest study by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger: Simple Church. The book itself is appropriate to its title. Just over 250 pages, large print, it can be read in a single one-hour sitting. The source of its research and the impact of its discoveries, however, are far from simple. They are, quite simply, profound.
The authors researched over 400 evangelical churches [admittedly, all of them in the United States – 37 states in all – and mostly Southern Baptist congregations.] The research tool they used went deeper than the methods, styles, or programs of a church. Instead, it sought to measure the underlying process that defines the congregation. The churches selected for the study fell into one of two groups: Vibrant churches – those demonstrating at least 5% growth in a three year period, and Plateaued/Declining churches – those with less than 1% growth over the same period.
The results were astonishing. With a remarkable degree of certainty, the survey results revealed: Healthy Growing congregations are – at their core – simple in the extreme. By the same token, Churches in decay are mired in complexity.
On the surface, it may seem to defy the senses. Vital churches appear to have a multitude of options and programs which, if mapped, would appear complex. But, digging deeper, the is a simple process beneath it all. Declining Churches, on the other hand, suffer from what Rainer and Geiger call: “ministry schizophrenia” which “occurs when churches and church leaders are not sure who they are” and end up trying to glue together a hybrid of programs drawn from a wide spectrum of methods and programs.
Simple Church, as defined, is “designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth…[where] the leadership and the church are clear about the process [clarity] and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically [movement] and is implemented in each area of the church [alignment]. The [Simple] church abandons everything that is not in the process [focus.] (Page 67-68]
Four stages to a simple process: Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus. Each serve a valuable purpose worth any church leaders study and attention, and as the book is packaged – each is presented with a guide for study.
There are several cautions to the book. “Simple” should never be confused with “Easy.” As Church leaders read through the book and study through the questions, they will quickly encounter the difficult challenge of sorting through the competition of values and visions, egos and agendas – in order to arrive at a common purpose. The road to a simple church requires selfless, prayerful commitment. But, the results are worth it.
Final Note: As an additional recommendation to read this book … Church leaders might find it helpful to experiment with the Process Design Survey used as the research tool for Simple Church. It can be accessed at www.ericgeiger.com. Upon completion of the survey, you will be able to review your personal results and evaluate the level of vitality in your own church ministry.