Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book Review: Simple Church

I just finished reading the book Simple Church: Returning to God's Process For Making Disciples by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. I have read quite a number of church growth and management books. This one follows the normal suite of taking modern business management techniques and applying it to the church management. In this case, product design is the current trend in business success thinking and is now applied to the church. It is keenly illustrated from the world of business and case studies from churches. The Scriptural justification for the principles in the book are in short supply. There is some use of Scripture, however, as many management books do, this book makes a heavy use of definitions, statistics, and case studies. The style is easy to read and gets the main points across easily.

The basic idea is that churches that have a simple design of ministry empirically are shown to grow the most. The product is defined in the book as discipleship process. Christians and seekers come to church to grow spiritually, therefore, everything outside of that sphere is really a distraction. Then the corollary is that churches with a complex smorgasbord are offering many products that detract from their main core business, discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Perhaps both a strength and a weakness of the book is that it does not tell one actually how to implement this. The implementation is left to the imagination of the pastors who will have to make it happen. It is implied that simple design means using small groups. This need not be so. Other models for simple design could be focus on a worship service and then visitation by the pastor. This model has been successful. Elders (deacons or other lay leaders) follow the example of the pastor and visit those in need. Another model that I have seen used is the Navigator model of one-to-one discipleship. I have never seen this used as a sole means of discipleship but I think it could be done in a simple design church. While the book has a strength in not actually offering a design outright, it also has a weakness in not seeing a variety of simple designs. The authors point to one certain design to follow, that is the small group church, rather than simply discussing design features that make a strong design and listing a variety of examples. A variety of designs should be listed in the updated for future versions of the book. Also, churches in other cultures should also be addressed as well as churches in other periods of history. Adding these to the research, not the illustrations, could help to make the book transcend the immediate context of today.

Perhaps the most important contribution to thinking on church management the book makes is that people need to feel the know what you are about. It must, must be easily understood. By analogy, if I enter a store, if I have to know where their organization headquarters is, and what their process for promoting their employees, there is something wrong. The church need NOT be hard to understand nor hard to navigate within.

Also, check out this article in Wikipedia on Simple Church. This is something quite different from what is talked about in this book.
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