If you’ve spent much time in a medium size to larger church, then simplicity begins to sound very good.
But simplicity is neither easy nor cost-free according to the authors of Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples (Broadman & Holman, 2006, ISBN 0805443908, hardback, 257 pages), by Thom S. Rainer and
Thom Rainer, Ph.D., is a church consultant as well as president and CEO of the LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists. Geiger is a young researcher. In a study of over 400 churches from a variety of evangelical denominations in 37 states, the authors determined that the healthiest churches in America tend to have a simple process for making disciples.
It’s easy to misunderstand this book and think that it’s about simplifying church life. That’s not the point. It’s about defining and then implementing a simple, clearly-stated process of making disciples. This isn’t a book about doctrine or style or denomination or church size. It’s a book about clarity concerning the process of making disciples.
Here is the authors’ definition:
"A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through stages of spiritual growth."
In other words, this is a strategic process tied carefully to the purpose or the vision of the church.
This isn’t a book about developing a purpose statement, however. It is about developing a process statement — describing a sequential process of making disciples that intentionally moves people from one stage of discipleship to another. From the examples in the book, it’s likely that a church’s process will have 3 or 4 steps or stages.
To be most effective, say the authors, the discipleship process have four elements:
Clarity — the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by people. The authors recommend that either a metaphor or visual diagram by used to illustrate the process so that it is clear. The most famous example of such a process diagram and metaphor, of course, is Rick Warren’s baseball diamond with four bases that people move around.
Movement — the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment. Here is where the authors’ concept varies from a purpose statement (which focuses on the result) or an entry-points diagram (which focuses on doors through which people come into fellowship with a congregation).
Alignment — the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple processes. Instead of each ministry doing its own thing in its own way, the same processes guide each ministry.
Focus — the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process. Here’s the hard part for most churches, getting rid of sacred cows that don’t contribute to the discipleship process. But the result of the pain of discarding the non-essentials is a leaner, simpler, more effective, more vibrant congregation.
This isn’t simplicity for simplicity’s sake. It is simplicity in order to be effective in making disciples. I think that the concepts of Simple Church are exciting and powerful. For those churches that will discipline their life and ministry using these guidelines — embracing all the struggle and change that this will involve — there is a great deal of hope for vitality and health.