Simply stated, Simple Church (B&H, 2006, 252 pages) is the millennial version of Rick Warren’s 1995 Purpose Driven Church. Another way to describe Simple Church is that it is Purpose Driven Church with really good research. Substituting Warren’s “purpose” for the more kinetic term “process” Rainer and Geiger seek to prove the thesis that catchphrases and slogans are not enough for church growth. Churches must actually facilitate a linear path that will move a person into a deeper level of commitment and service. Be a church that has made a “great commitment to the great commission.” Use a very cool alliteration to describe yourself – but find a way to implement your vision and allow those words to actually shape congregational life.
Citing examples from the Google homepage to the iMac the authors demonstrate that “simple is in.” The effectiveness of the program driven church of the 50’s-80’s era has been replaced by the vibrancy and growth of churches that are able to keep it simple. The mega-church era called for high quality programs, lots of them, all of them, all at the same time. Every conference and book recited a long list of “must have” programs that promised an immediate return. Pastors went to conferences with wheelbarrows, but Rainer and Geiger carefully demonstrate that the program heap does not add to congregational life. The heap actually confuses the membership. No one really knows what the church is about. Furthermore the program heap diminishes effectiveness as it continually calls for more energy and time from each member. The alternative is simplicity. Set your path. Work the plan. Refuse everything that does not fit the vision. Rainer and Geiger submit four words to the reader to describe the process: Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus.
While not the most profound book I have ever read I did find it timely as our church is just weeks away from moving into a remodeled factory site that will be our new campus. Although the information was not new per se, that does not mean it was not helpful. Thom Rainer was for all practical purposes my pastor while I was a short term student a Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY (this was just before my eleven year break). While serving as interim pastor of an area church I attended, Dr. Rainer preached the greatest series on the Book of Acts I have ever heard. In a lot of ways his series was formative to my current ministry. That being said, Dr. Rainer is a powerful communicator but he is also an academic and one can get lost in the research statistics charted in Simple Church. But this does not diminish the book, or others like it as a must read for those who are outside the circle of church leadership and academics.
Pertaining to this book and others like it, this would be my recommendation. First of all to pastors and church leaders, read books like Simple Church cite them, reference them, glean from them, but openly credit and recommend them. Let people know these books exist, put them in their hands, and teach them to read! Most people think their pastor exists in a fantasy land and that his ideas are birthed in the REM stage of sleep, which explains why the word “change” is a four letter word in the church. We have led our people to believe we have no reference point because we are notorious for neglecting to make “reference.” So what if it’s not your idea. Be honest and open with people, introduce them to the academics, the Rainer/Geigers of the world, do yourself a favor and add to your credibility.
And now to the laity. . . Read books about church. Your pastor doesn’t sleep much and so he hardly ever experiences REM. His ideas are more founded than you may believe. Give your holy man some credit. Support your pastor by keeping current on the trends and ideas birthed by solid research. Everyone who claims the name of Christ is called to educate themselves in all things that would add to godliness. Studying church would surely be in that fold. Read theology, Bible studies, Christian life, even Christian fiction, but don’t leave out books about church. I know books like Simple Church are usually exiled to the dusty boring parts of the bookstore called “pastor helps”, but just so you’ll know – Dr. Rainer is THE man at Lifeway – Simple Church will be right out front! Even still, while you’re there, go to the dusty, boring, exile section of the bookstore and pick up Dr. Rainer’s The Unchurched Next Door. For all practical purposes “Unchurched” it is a much better read than Simple Church. My staff and I actually took our people through The Unchurched Next Door a couple of years ago. It was a highly beneficial experience.