Simple Church by Rainer & Geiger

“We’re too busy!” That’s often what has been heard in the church. Meetings after meetings. Confusion in goals. Lack of clarity in the vision. Simple Church aims to help church leaders to review what they do to refocus on what is essential: making disciples. Easy to say, difficult to accomplish. That is why this book is helpful.

Why Simple?

Simple is necessary not to lose focus on what is important. Simple also means clarity on the vision and goals. It avoids multiplications of programs and philosophies of ministry. Multiplying activities may look productive, but it may actually be ineffective and lifeless. Moreover, when the leadership has different philosophies, it leads to “ministry schizophrenia” (p. 21).

“Being simple requires seeing the whole picture. Clutter often exists because church leaders see only part.” (p. 25)

“Simple church leaders are designers. They design opportunities for spiritual growth. Complex church leaders are programmers. They run ministry programs.” (p. 26)

“Different ministry philosophies or approaches is a foundation for frustration and disaster.” (p. 51)

We often complain about the multiplication of programs. The issue is not having program though. Programs exist by necessity to accomplish a purpose. They are tools, not an end.

“Programs were made for man, not man for programs.” (p. 43)

“Everything is guided by their simple process for making disciples.” (p. 55)

The issue of the complex church is that they are often not tied to the overall purpose of the church… And what’s difficult is not that we have not tried it, but that the purpose of the church is vast!

Simple Design

“A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” (p. 60)

This definition works around this process:

Clarity -> Movement -> Alignment -> Focus

The expanded definition is:

“A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. 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 church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus).” (p. 68)

  • Clarity: is the “ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people.” (p. 70) the “how is discussed, taught, and illustrated.”
    • Have one!
    • Not too complex!
  • Movement: is the “sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment” (p. 72)
    • Have an illustration!
  • Alignment: is the “arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.” (p. 74)
    • Engaging leaders in the same process!
    • Stop competing for resources!
  • Focus: is the “commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process” (p. 76).

“Focus is the element that gives power and energy to clarity, movement and alignment” (p. 77).

Clarity: Starting a Ministry Blueprint

  1. Define the process – how?
    1. What kind of disciple to produce?
    2. Describe your purpose as a process. Ex: “Love God, Love others, serve the world”
    3. Decide how each weekly program is part of the process: “People forget the statements on the wall, but they know what programs you offer. Your programs say what is important to you” … but “programs must work for your process, not the other way around” (p. 116)
  2. Illustrate
    1. Should be reflective of your process
    2. Should show progression
    3. Should help simplify
  3. Measure
    1. Learn to view your numbers horizontally and not vertically. i.e. toward commitment. Ex: service attendance -> small group attendance -> ministry participation.
    2. Measure attendance at each level/stage in your process
  4. Discuss
    1. Starts with the leadership of the church. The process must be part of their vocabulary. Ownership flows from leaders to members.
    2. View everything through the lens of your simple process
    3. Surface the process in meetings
    4. Test the leaders on it
    5. Brainstorm new ways to communicate it
  5. Increase understanding
    1. Articulate the process corporately
    2. Share the process interpersonally
    3. Live the process personally

Church model and strategy is important, but I appreciate how the authors indicate:

“The ministry process is not where the power lies. Only God does the transforming” (p. 139)

Movement: Removing Congestion

“People are kept in some type of spiritual holding tank. They rarely move to greater levels of commitment.” (p. 148)

“Without movement, programs are an end to themselves. Without movement you are just running ministry programs.” (p. 149)

  1. Strategic programming
    1. Begin with your clearly defined process
    2. Choose one program for each phase of your process
    3. Design each program for a specific aspect of the process
  2. Sequential programming
    1. Order the sequence of your programs to reflect your process.
    2. Designate a clear entry-point to your process.
    3. Identify the next levels of programming.
  3. Intentional Movement
    1. Create short-term steps: “The steps should not be new programs. They should be short-term opportunities that expose people to an aspect of the process that they have not yet experienced” (p. 150)
    2. Capitalize on relationships: “people do not move through the process because they see a purpose statement on the wall. As helpful as these things can be, people move because someone else brings them through the process”
    3. Consider the “now what:” “View the present program as a bridge to the next program in the process.”
    4. Connect people to groups:
  4. Clear Next Step: do not toss people around, but involve them into the next step. Nurture them! Walk with them.
  5. New Members Class:
    1. Teach the simple process
    2. Ask for commitment to the process

Back to Jesus – Jesus had a simple process too: calling (Lk 5-6), building (Lk 7-8), sending (Lk 9).

Alignment: Maximizing the Energy of Everyone

“More often in churches, the differences that lead to division are not theological or biblical. The differences that harm most churches are in the realm of ministry approach and philosophy.” (p. 185)

  1. Recruit on the process: leaders must be united around the process.
  2. Offer accountability:
    1. Avoid micromanagement and neglect.
    2. Provide feedback and direction
    3. Have a tool for accountability such as having a yearly gathering to discuss about it with all the leaders and how they do it.
  3. Implement the same process everywhere
  4. Unite around the process
  5. New ministry alignment: check the fit for any ministry expansion and addition

Focus: Saying no to Almost Everything

  1. Eliminate
    1. Simplify
    2. Be a wise steward of time and money
  2. Limit adding
  3. Reduce special events
    1. Funnel the event into an existing program
    2. Combine the event with an existing program
    3. Use the special event strategically
  4. Easily communicated

Becoming Simple

  • Step 1: design a simple process

Target: “Disciples at our church are: ________, ________, ________, and ________.”

Process: “People become mature disciples at our church by ________,________, …”

  • Step 2: Place your key programs along the process
  • Step 3: Unite all ministries around the process
  • Step 4: Begin to eliminate things outside the process

In conclusion, Simple Church is a helpful to give insights. Church is often too busy to reflect on what is going on. So this tool is welcome.

But it ought to stay a tool – not become a rule. Why? First, because a church vision may change. God sometimes leads in a different direction. So we need to be flexible and listening. Second, because reality is complex. A simple process of spiritual formation may not reflect reality. It may need an “expanded” version to be more precise.

However, simplicity is greatly appreciated to help clarify, move, unite and focus… which is much needed if we want to be able to help people understand and grow as disciples of Christ.

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