Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples

What is described in this book is extremely important for church leaders. Thom Rainer, the new president of LifeWay Christian Resources for the Southern Baptist Convention, and Eric Geiger, executive pastor in Miami, Fla., have done some valuable research that could prove vital, as well as invigorating, for local churches. We have recommended several of Rainer’s book in the past, stating that he does credible research which challenges us to think about what we are doing, whether it is in ministering to the rising generation or church life in general.

Simple Church is the result of valuable research done with hundreds of congregations, not just in the SBC, which reflects phase one, but with hundreds of other evangelical churches in phase two of their study. The book explains the methods used for surveying, consulting, and for drawing the conclusion outlined in the book (Survey development, sample identification, and data collection).

While Rainer and Geiger acknowledge that the growth of the church is ultimately the result of God, they found a correlation between a church’s vitality and growth and the church’s design. They found that the churches that are demonstrating growth and vitality are churches that are simple in design and are clearly focused on what they are attempting to do in their local church.

What I like about this book is that it focuses on transformational discipleship. That’s what the church is all about, not programs or schedules, but being intentional in every phase of the church’s life in its objective. Like CE&P’s Making Kingdom Disciples framework, this book is not about programs. It is not suggesting a new church model. The authors claim that no new program is being pushed but rather an attempt to design church ministry that reflects “the simple process of discipleship in your church,” regardless of the model or framework chosen.

The common threads found in their data in those churches growing and seeing spiritual transformation were fourfold: clarity (people understanding what the church is all about), movement (moving people to greater commitment), alignment (arrangement of all the ministries and staff around the same simple process), and focus (doing only those things that contribute to ministry objective). The authors claim it is focus that gives the energy and power to the clarity, movement, and alignment.

They also conclude that the process of developing that kind of discipleship focus moves in a specific direction: first, church attendance, where attachment is developed; second, small groups; and third, the ministry that follows the first two steps. Here is their statement: “A simple church (vs. a complex church) is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through 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).”

The authors’ contrast of the pastor of a complex church vs. the simple church will be challenging and refreshing. The data in Simple Church will underscore the authors’ conclusions. Far from being simplistic in their conclusion, life transformation happens best not with the kind of complexity that most churches struggling to grow and be vital experience, but simply by focusing on the mission and knowing how to say no to everything that distracts or impairs that focus.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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