In conversations with a friend of mine at Redeemer Pres. who’s one of their small group pastors I shared with him my take on church growth philosophies. He asked me whether or not I was programmic or relational? I said really neither. My leadership style is probably more ‘atmospheric‘. By atmospheric I was trying to convey that I’m a think on the ground kind of guy, I acknowledge the value of well thought out and nurtured programs and the value of strategical planning, and even enjoy reflecting on the way my theological commitments shape my ministerial philosophy, but at the end of the day I’m a “think-on-the-ground-entrepreneur.” I’m atmospheric.

Putting that out there I must confess that reading books on programs or strategies for ministry put me to sleep. I’d much rather get on the ground by spending time with those actually doing it and breath in their air while making critical observations and suggestions for my own ministries than reading texts written by them or others. Nevertheless its important to read these types of books, particularly the more influential ones like “Simple Church”. So I’m about to eat my greens maw 🙂

Something tells me Simple Church is going to be caffeinated! And we’re off…


“Relax. This book is not about another church model. If you are a church leader, you have been exposed to plenty of models. Most of them are on your shelf. Or worse, you have blended a bunch of models into one schizophrenic plan. If that is the case, neither you nor the people in your church are really sure what your church is all about. We see it all the time…This book will help you design a simple process of discipleship in your church. It will help you implement the model you have chosen. It will help you simplify. Keep your eyes on the words at the beginning of each chapter. Four simple words. Clarity. Movement. Alignment. Focus.”

So begins the first chapter of Simple Church (SC from here on out) written by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger (R & E from here on out). This is a great way to start out their book, they’ve stated the problem they see in the church today – ministry schizophrenia due to competing or conflicting programs, ie complexity. They’ve stated their goals which are to help their readers design a simple process of discipleship that can help pastors implement the model they’ve already chosen (the ‘rough’ comparison in my mind of SC for pastors is what S.A.P. is doing for the corporate world). And they’ve stated the catchwords they want you as a reader to walk away with – Simple. Clarity. Movement. Alignment. Focus.

R & E use a fictitious pastor Rush as bookends on their chapter, what he feels and is trapped in at the beginning, ie the complexity of competing and conflicting programs bringing busyness rather than discipleship, and the ah-ha moment of pastor Rush at the end of the chapter where he sees his problem and begins to see Simplicity not Easyness as his solution; places R & E’s hopes for their readers own awakenings at the end of the chapter in the open. The flow of the chapter in between these bookends is, well, Simple to follow. Pastor Rush reads an add in a magazine about a Simple device and snickers to himself, “Simple sure sounds good“; from here R & E take you and I as readers through the Simple Revolution happening in our culture today. “Simple is in. Complexity is out…Ironically people are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex.” Apple knows this. Google knows this. Graphic designers know this. Southwest Airlines know this. Papa John’s knows this. Interior designers know this. Marketing gurus know this. AND growing and vibrant churches know this. R & E juxtapose ‘Simple Designed Churches’ with ‘Complex Programmic Churches’ here, something I’m imagining will carry on for the rest of the book. [One assumption I’m forming from the get go here, is that these two styles of churches are seamless and overlap with one another many, many times…more on this latter. Something I’m not sure R & E will acknowledge, but we’ll see.]

At this point you may be getting suspicious as a reader, beginning to say to yourself, “Yes, but…”. R & E try to clear up some ‘buts’ or ‘so you’re saying this!?’.

  • “First, we are not suggesting that the simple approach to ministry is a change in doctrine or conviction.”
  • “Second, we are not saying that churches should become simple because it is in style or culturally hip.”
  • “Third, we also are not saying that churches should have a simple process just for pragmatic reasons (though it is working).”
  • “Fourth, we are also not claiming that a simple church design is easy. There is a big difference between simple and easy. Simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental. Easy is effortless.”

Having cleared up some ‘buts’ of ours they move on to base their model of simplicity around Jesus “The Revolutionary”. They do this by exploring Jesus Simplifying of the Law in Matthew 22; Jesus Simple yoke; Jesus outrage at clutter in the temple; and his characterization of Pharisees as ‘Fancy Coffins’. After the Jesus point, they return to pastor Rush for the other end of the book-ends I mentioned above. Following Rush, Eric Geiger gives a stirring testimony from members at his own church, a father who was wrongly imprisoned for 26years and a son who’s quest to bring a clear and simple ‘forest’ picture of the evidence to the judges eye finally freed him.

R & E close out the chapter with questions at the end, a trend for the rest of their chapters. And by making their first declaration about Simple Leaders – they are designers!

“They design opportunities for spiritual growth. Complex church leaders are programmers. They run ministry programs. Church leaders who are programmers focus on one program at a time. Their goal, though never stated, is to make program the best. Church leaders who are designers are focused on the end result, the overall picture. They are as concerned with what happens between the programs as with the programs themselves…To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. It must move people toward maturity. It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it.”


Is the Simple Church offering a ‘model’ for how to deal with other models or programs, sort of like S.A.P. does for business’s?

How clean are the differences of the adjectives defining the leaders of complex and simple churches; ie programmers versus designers?

Are you in your ministries more committed to the process or the outcome, to the trees or the forest? And how can you and I be faithfully responsible with the care and nurture of both?