RaiSimp 07-10-106

Simple Church

Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples


Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger

B&H Publishing Group, 2006, 256 pp., ISBN 0-8054-4390-5



Thom Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources and a well known church consultant and author of books about church.  Eric Geiger is the executive pastor of Christ Fellowship near Miami.  The authors advocate a focused and streamlined way to do church that deliberately moves people through a discipleship process. 


This has been quite a popular book recently among church leaders.  As one pastor told me, "You wouldn't want to follow this book in every detail but it has some very good concepts."


"To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process.  This process must be clear.  It must move people toward maturity.  It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it." (26)


Key words for the book are clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.  Church leaders need to simplify. (3-4)


"Simple is in.  Complexity is out.  …people are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex."  (8) [I was amused by the description of the one-button ipod as 'simple.'  I thought 'simple' was not having one. J dlm]


"At Papa John's we have a simple formula for success: Focus on one thing and try to do it better than anyone else." (from Papa John's web site, 11)


The authors' research, according to surveys, showed vibrant churches were much simpler.  In general, simple churches are growing and vibrant.  Being consumed with the call to make disciples, they have designed and implemented a simple process to reach and mature people. (13-15)


Some churches have "ministry schizophrenia."  They are not sure of their identity.  Ministries are disjointed and frantic.  Programs move in multiple directions.  This may happen when blending multiple church models.  (21)


"Simple church leaders…design opportunities for spiritual growth.  Complex church leaders…run ministry programs."  "To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process.  This process must be clear.  It must move people toward maturity.  It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it." (26)  [This is a summary statement of the book. dlm]


Instead of vision, mission, values, and strategy statements, have just one statement.  "Cross Church is all about 'loving God, loving people, and serving the world.' Simple." (37)  [Wheaton Bible Church recently developed a very similar mission statement:  "Love God; Grow Together; Reach the World."  In my view this is an excellent mission statement, in part because it makes our global scope very clear.  dlm]


Discuss this statement frequently in staff meeting, lay meetings, and worship services.  Post it ubiquitously. (40)


Programs are tools to move people toward spiritual maturity, not ends in themselves. (42)


"At Cross Church, there are three main programs.  One for each phase in their process.  They are placed strategically and sequentially along their process. The goal is to move people from program to program so people naturally progress through the process of spiritual transformation.  People who attend worship services are encouraged to move to a small group.  People in small groups are challenged to serve on a team." (44)


"Cross Church evaluates how many people are at the love God stage (worship service), the love others stage (small groups), and the serve the world stage (ministry teams)." (47) 


"There are no special events on the calendar.  Instead, they choose to meet the needs through their ministry process…their existing programs." (49)


Recruit new staff members who have the same philosophy, people who fit, not stars with different philosophies and approaches. (51)


Redesign your church to be centered on a spiritual growth process.  Make it simple, with each step or program conducive to spiritual growth.  Abandon everything else.  Make complexity unwelcome. (59-61) 


Definition: "A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight-forward 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)." (67-8)    


"Clarity is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people." (70)


"Movement is the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment." This is the most difficult part. (72) 


"Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.  Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process." (74) 


"Without alignment, the church can be a multitude of sub ministries.  In this case each ministry has its own leaders who are only passionate about their specific ministry."  (75)


"Focus is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.  Focus most often means saying 'no.'  Focus requires saying 'yes' to the best and 'no' to everything else." (76)  "Focus is the element that gives power and energy…." (77) 


"If you want the necessary to stand out, you have to get rid of the unnecessary." (80)


The serving teams do ministry together in the community or in the church. (88) 


"Everyone uses the same terminology.  Connect.  Grow.  Serve.  Simple.  It is woven into every part of the church.  The people in the congregation hear it all the time." (90)


Ministry naturally drifts toward complexity and complexity dilutes your potential for impact. (99) 


Five keys to clarity:

1.      Define your ministry process.  This is your strategy.  To do this, clarify what kind of disciple you wish to produce.  Describe this in process terms, i.e. sequential order.  Decide how each weekly program contributes to the process. 

2.      Illustrate the process visually by a metaphor showing progression.

3.      Measure your progress - attendance in each stage.  If you don't, people will think it doesn't matter.

4.      Discuss it frequently to keep it before your leaders and your people.  Weave it into the fabric of the church.

5.      Increase understanding by continually articulating the process.   (111-132)


Unity is powerful.  "Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process."  The church and the team must be aligned to the same purpose and the same process.  (168) 


"If you want to maximize everyone's energy, you must recruit on the process, offer accountability, implement the same process everywhere, unite leaders around the process, and ensure that new ministries fit." (169)


"People follow leadership, and if leadership is not moving in the same direction, then people are scattered." (169)


With ministry action plans, each staff member sets their own goals - five to seven measurable goals - based on the direction of the organization.  Throughout the year the goals are evaluated.  (177-78)


Focus means saying no to almost everything. And it is difficult. Eliminate programs that don't fit the process.  Expect some will be offended.  Limit what you add.  When you feel compelled to meet a need, attempt to do it through your existing programs.  Offer options within the current programs rather than adding programs.  Avoid asking people to come to more programs.  Reduce special events. (197-215) "Great organizations are focused.  They are good at saying no." (225)


Summary steps: (236-240)

1.      "Design a simple process (clarity)"

2.      "Place your key programs along the process (movement)"

3.      "Unite all ministries around the process (alignment)"

4.      "Begin to eliminate things outside the process (focus)"


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·      What appeals to you about this model?

·      Does it leave any unanswered questions in your mind?

·      I would like to know how they recommend implementing outreach beyond your community or culture.



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