Simple Church?

simplechurch.jpg My session at our Forge Re-imagine Learning Day this weekend revolves around the concepts presented in Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. We are exploring what churches look like that have structures that facilitate healthy missional engagement and discipleship.

Duncan Brown who is about to be the new pastoral team leader at Peninsula Baptist Church in Vic (Mornington) is our key presenter and I am the ‘filler’…

What I liked about ‘SC’ is the way they distilled the essence of a healthy church into 4 distinct components and offered principles and a framework rather than a you beaut model.

However the further I went along the more I saw that while it may be ‘simple‘ it certainly wouldn’t be easy to do what they suggest.

The 4 core principles of ‘Simple Church’ are:

1. Clarity – because ‘people cannot embrace the ambiguous’. We need to decide what is is we are seeking to do and how we are seeking to do it. It needs to be clear and easily communicable so that people can ‘get it’. Clarity will enable measurability and accountability to what we put our hands to

2. Movement – Rhainer argues that we need to sequentially move people thru discipleship stages to help them increase in their

level of commitment. He states strongly that in churches where discipleship and mission is effective there is a ‘sequential / linear’ process that is followed. The sequence is not terribly imaginative being Sunday gathering – smaller groups – service. And I am not all that convinced that messy people follow linear processes very well either.

However his point is that we get ‘bottle-necks’ and need to clear them if people are to grow. Usually the bottle neck is the Sunday gig and we need to help people get beyond that. I’d like to see some more fluidity and flexibility in this dimension as it currently feels rather strait jacketish

3. Alignment – simply put this involves aligning all aspects of church life so that the same process occurs in each ministry area. It avoids groups competing and sending mixed messages to people. There is some real wisdom in this. Having been a youth pastor I know we developed our own vision statement, processes and systems alongside the main church, but it actually subverted the other congregation as we sought to develop our own identity.

Some will find Rhainer restrictive here, but the value is in harnessing a team that all wants to do the same things and not having competing agendas. Of course the question that arises is ‘what do we do with the disparate and dissenting voices?’ This hasn’t always been a strength of churches that are pursuing a vision. Its usually get on board or go somewhere else.

4. Focus – the point of this element is to eliminate any unnecessary activity and be very careful about adding anything new to the calendar. Often churches seem to develop and allow anything to happen so long as someone runs it and doesn’t ask for money. This element requires a particularly cohesive and focused leadership team to be able to implement and stay on track.

In all of these elements communication is crucial and the success of a church seeking to implement these elements will probably hinge on the degree to which they are able to get the message out. I guess we could call that good leadership!

While the book seeks to encourage churches to simplify, I am not quite sure where a missional involvement in the local community and everyday life fits. There was little if any talk of mission while there was talk of serving within the church.

Maybe I just notice these things more these days…

So you don’t need to come to my session now…

11 thoughts on “Simple Church?

  1. I’ll still be there – the footy isn’t worth watching in the 4th quarter now anyhow… 🙂

    I’m guessing (re the missional stuff, and therefore the more APEish types) that there will be a sense of sending & supporting whilst still putting the focus & resources towards a narrower focus.

    I must say tho… it’s got a very ‘CEO/business’ kind of slant to it at 1st glance (your summary, not the book! I haven’t read it!), despite the beauty of simplicity.

    Like most structures, it probably depends on who’s doing the implementing…

  2. G’day Toddy – you’re right it could have the CEO flavour, but I reckon that might depend on who’s leading.

    Ooops… just noticed you said that!!

  3. We had Duncan speak at our forge event in Melbourne. My regret was that I didn’t record it…

    He has some pretty interesting insights for those who might be more of a transitional stream. We plan to have him back at some stage. It was good stuff.

  4. Hamo – I love it when you say what I say.

    For just a minute, I feel clever!

    I’m looking forward to seeing the dude up close & personal this w/end.

    Catcha then,


  5. i reskon it also has to do with whom is being led – whether that is even part of the mindset of the group (ie do we have a “leader” or do we all lead?)

    reding back over some of cheryl lawrie’s stuff over at her amazing blog “hold::this space” and came across her reference to Fowler and his stages of faith. this is a part of what she refelcted on and I wonder what a group of people who shared this space (#5) would look like as the church…

    “i used the language ‘post christian’ to describe this group yesterday, but i think they’re perhaps better described by Fowler’s Stage 5 – conjunctive faith. Fowler himself says that stage 5 is hardest to grasp, but he describes it as the following:

    Stage 5 accepts as axiomatic that truth is more multidimensional and organically interdependent than most theories or accounts of truth can grasp. Religiously, it knows that the symbols, stories, doctrines and liturgies offered by its own or other traditions are inevitably partial, limited to a particular people’s experience of God and incomplete…”

    i feel like more people in our gatherings fit this kind of belief/understanding/journey and wonder how “simple church” would speak to them????

    it’s funny because I am more and more convinced that we are “simply church” and that the points you highlighted hamo, actually make it all seem like too much trying … trying to do “it” a certain way, which reminds me of the mechanical rather than the organic – but like you said – maybe it depends on who’s leading.

    i’m sure your talk will be a good point for some meaty discussion. peace.


  6. Hi Matty

    I think the ideas here can have a mechanistic tone to them, but perhaps it depends on how they are presented.

    As I mentioned in the post i think it is tad idealistic to think people will get on board and ‘move’ as intended. People are much more complex than that.

    However I think we need to have some idea of what we are doing and how we are doing it. I would suggest the danger of being ‘simply church’ as I have observed it in different places is that we can lose our focus as the people of God.

    The danger of a process is that we lose our identity in simply doing the stuff.

    Part of my presentation is to ask what the implications of these ideas are for those in missional incarnational expressions of church, so there will be time to chew it thru, discuss, debate and disagree.

    The book is written with a specific form of church in mind – the established Sunday service etc, but that is who re-imagine is working with hence its probably one of the best books I have read for distilling the essence of what we are seeking to do as church into a process that is ‘doable’ and… well… simple

    I don’t think in the examples the authors suggest will resonate with those from other expressions but that’s ok.

    If we can see past the style bias to the principles I think we can glean some really good stuff for any expression of church.

    But then I couldn’t settle for being ‘simply church’… 🙂

  7. Hey Hamo, thanks for the comments. I’ve recently read the book and I concur with your observations.

    The book has some helpful material but I found it impossible to absorb the whole thing with a ‘yes, I agree’. That’s probably worthwhile though, because it actually got me to think for myself about why I disagree and what I would do, say or think instead. Now I just have to guard against bashing the book, and focus more on the thinking for myself.

  8. Yeah Greg – I found myself struggling with aspects and cheering for other aspects.

    I think the bit I found hard was the ‘preset’ church was keyed into as a big congregation on a Sunday.

    But then it does help those in that forum make steps towards healthy discipleship processes

  9. I agree with the concept of simplicity and I think there are some very good arguments for simplifying the way we do things. However, I found the arguments in this book quite prescriptive and saw the ideas suggested in the hands of a CEO type pastor being quite destructive. Cut things out, move people through the process … it all seems too much like a well-managed system. I actually felt quite uncomfortable as I read this book, so I am looking forward to our discussion on Saturday.

  10. Hey mate

    I would be coming tomorrow but i have to go to something else and do another workshop on being a Xn in the workplace. Between work and church stuff I’m doing “death by workshop” at the moment.

  11. Our church gathers in homes and when we initiated an intentional linear discipleship process the spiritual growth we experienced was astounding.

    On the missional side we embraced the fact that the core of our mission is the “make disciples”. The word “make” is typically associated with a clear intentional process. So we found ways to open the door of discipleship to Christians and non-Christians and we’ve seen many of both go through the process and I feel more “on mission” than I ever have.

    I read this book recently, after we’ve experienced the power of this approach, and I can say many more of us working in missional and emerging church models NEED to embrace this and take it seriously.

    Thanks for the post!

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