A pastor friend just recently handed the book Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger off to me and asked me to read it and provide my opinion. I have already talked the book over with him and thought I would share my thoughts here, too.
Simple Church is yet another slim offering to be thrown on the already mounded-over heap of church growth literature. It is a simple read in accords with its title and the glossy white dust jacket ensures that what is found inside will not overtax your already busy and complicated life. "Relax," the authors encourage. Over committed? Over obligated? Spread too thin? Rainer and Geiger try desperately then to convince you that this book is for you.
The major premise of the book is that church has become too difficult. Church people are asked to do too many things and though, as a pastor, I do have a desire to do fewer things and simplify my schedule and the church's schedule, I am encouraged that there may legitimately be a way out there to do things more simply. So in that regard, Simple Church may fill a need. With a mountain of statistical research, Rainer and Geiger argue that simplicity will solve all of the church's woes.
From my tone, you can gather that I really did not like the book. Granted, you won't find any heresy within but deep insight is lacking. Only a brief smattering of Scripture is offered, and that only offered as anecdotal evidence to bolster whatever point Rainer and Geiger are already making. The frequent refrain is "according to our research," rather than "the Bible says." Herein is my primary trouble with Simple Church; the subtitle claims that the book will help you "return to God's process of making disciples," yet that process is never really explained. The authors simply argue (pardon the pun) that if a church "goes simple" then a "vibrant" church will be the result. Moreover, simplicity is something you have to figure out.
"Vibrancy" seems to be what the authors are pushing for. Two types of churches were examined in the authors' research (and I would like to commend the amount of work put into the research; obviously a lot of hard work and dedication went into it). They were either "vibrant" or the more banal "comparison" churches. Is vibrancy the barometer to measure the effectiveness of any church? Rainer and Geiger seem to think it is, regardless of what the Scriptures say.
The overall sentiment of the book seems to be the same rehashed argument that I have found that plagues most church growth literature; traditional versus non-traditional, formal versus informal, old versus young, and now, "simple" versus "complex." The assumption that drives the book, that "simple works," I also find troublesome. Is church simple? Are people really that simple? Because simple "works" for Google, Inc., should it automatically then work for church and Christianity as well? Why do we have to take our cues from the business world? Why not the book of Acts?
Geiger and Rainer are exactly right that Christians often overload themselves with church activities, and the church also puts too heavy a burden upon their people to "be active" in church. Nevertheless, people are complex creatures, and following Christ is incredibly difficult. Being in relationship with any set of people is going to be hard--people cannot just be moved through a three-step process and expect to come out clean as a whistle. Relationships take work.
Faith cannot be watered down, nor is it meant to be simplified and dumbed down to a few trite statements and the latest buzz words to sum up your ministry approach or your life in Christ for that matter. I get the impression from Rainer and Geiger that "backsides in the seats" is yet again the yardstick for measuring church effectiveness. What about those small, rural, back road churches where God's men labor day by day, month by month, with relatively little increase?
You cannot get much more simple than a single staff member church, but wait--Simple Church wasn't written for you. It was written, as most church growth books are, for the upper stratum of churches. Though Simple Church was not a bad book, it certainly wasn't a great book, and did not strike me as an even necessary book. Why? The authors' conclusions were already drawn by page one.
Rainer, Thom and Eric Geiger. Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006. 257 pages.