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96 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Well, it would be awfully ironic if the book wasn't easy to understand. Fortunately, the authors do with the book exactly what they are calling leaders to do with their churches. They outline a simple structure for streamlining churches and letting loose the baggage that slows churches down.

The process is...simple (sorry to repeat). Churches should seek clarity, alignment, movement, and focus. Clarity is the singleness of purpose, stated in a single phrase. Movement is making sure there is a process of spiritual development that runs through the ministries of the church that fulfills the purpose. Alignment is the process of making sure that all the ministries of the church cannel people through a similar movement to fulfill the purpose. And focus is the challenging process of saying "no" to everything that distracts the church from its purpose. The authors have decided on this clear process as a saving grace to churches, repeat it fluidly, and walk the reader through all four steps.

The theory is based on a study of a number of churches that were considered thriving and many that were not. The authors say that their data shows highly significant difference between thriving churches that simplified and complex churches that did not.

The only part of this book, or the genre, that ought to give the reader pause is that the authors presume that ministry requires a strategic process through which people are funneled on the way to spiritual growth. While that is the reality of modern, institutional church management, it seems to overrule the fluid and organic (if not disorganized) ministry of Jesus and the disciples while co-opting their names. This is not a major critique of the book, just the observation that business management principles are governing the church whose founder had very little to say about business management.

Nonetheless, for those of us who find ourselves dealing with the necessities of management, this book is an essential read. It's well-written, accessible, and offers the bird's eye view that a lot of churches miss.
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83 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Evangelical ecclesiology and theology of community has been wanting for a long time and this book offers a great perspective on one of the biggest problems of the local church (and modern society in general), complexity. We simply want too much. Our lives are complicated and full and so is the life of the church.

Rainer and Geiger raise a good point, we have become mediocre at many things and not skilled at a few as a church. The book begins with the story of a pastor who is trying to be everything to everyone and is scrambling from meeting to meeting try to be a model for everyone else in the church. Later the authors contrast two churchs, one that is program based and one that is simple. One is about trying to be all things to all people and the other about making disciples. The simple church is more geared toward having the people within the church grow in Christ rather than having the church grow in numbers. A good thesis.

Overall, I found the book refreshing and having a good perspective but some nagging questions remained after I read it. First, it seems to make church a kind of process, a disciple factory of sorts where the job of the leadership of the church is to process Christians from the point of being saved to maturity. Second, it doesn't really define how this process is done, it take a kind of "build it and they will come" approach common in evangelical church planning. Third, church in the NT seems to be a creation of God , a family that is already formed with intimate connections through relationship (as Bonhoeffer said, "we don't create church, we simply acknowledge it). This book doesn't really address that aspect of the body.

I still find myself recommending this book but encouraging readers not to stop here. Classics such Bonoeffer's Life Together and current books like Randy Frazee's The Connecting Church are worth reading. Also, I like Julie Gorman's Community That is Christian, especially her focus on small group development.

In short, I don't know if doing church simply is enough but it's certainly a good start.
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115 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2009
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I hesitate to give this book two stars because I actually enjoyed reading it. The writers seem to genuinely care about the Church and following Christ, which made it a joy to read. I also enjoyed the statistics and clear research they put into this work.

The book will be great for mega-church leaders who whose churches are chock full of programs that don't flow together in a unified focus. They will be able to use this material to develop a clear vision, and orient everything in the Church around that vision. But therein lies my main issue with this book: it's based on a current Church model I believe to be faulty.

This book operates on the understanding that Churches are program-oriented, which is assumed to be a good thing. I would argue that we have segregated the Church by age and interests (youth group, singles etc.), whereas the Church of our Lord is to be a family who knows each other and brings groups of all ages and interests into meaningful, personal fellowship. Perhaps God never intended for Churches to be as big as we have made them? Families ought to be together, not splintered into interest groups, regardless of an aligned focus and vision. A godly family may have programs, but it's oriented around relationships between God and each other more than anything else. Church is meant to be a body and a family, not a programmed institution.

In the research a major aspect of what they consider a "vibrant and healthy" Church is one that is growing numerically. I would argue Biblically that sometimes the opposite may be true, that one should be concerned when people are flocking to a Church. At the cross Jesus had no followers who stayed with Him. Did He fail? Jesus seemed to be far more concerned with the quality of His followers than the number that followed Him.

There is also an under-girding of thought in this work that people who are more involved are more spiritually mature. It seems to say that if we are progressing people from one program to more, they will therefore be spiritually mature and growing. But that's just not true. Many times people who are involved in activities will be leading secret lives of selfishness, merely showing a religious face at Church. Using this book's criteria for maturity, the Pharisees would be the most spiritually mature people in Jesus' day.

My last critique of this book is that it ignores one simple fact of life: Life is messy. People have messed up lives, struggle with dark things, and spiritual maturity comes in many ways outside of Church programs, regardless of how focused and simple those programs may be. Most of my most spiritually challenging and meaningful times have been outside of assigned Church functions and programs.

Overall this book was a good read, but I believe based on faulty assumptions. I understand that they were trying to help current Church leaders get rid of clutter and focus on what matters. For that I commend this book. Ministry should be simple and focused.

However:

- More people does not equal a better Church.

- Better programs don't necessarily stimulate spiritual maturity, and being more involved in those programs doesn't equate to spiritual growth.

- Disciples cannot be mass-produced in a Church factory. Spiritual growth exists in the context of genuine, transparent, and messy relationships.
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109 of 120 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 29, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
For any congregation struggling with strategic planning, this book will be a God-send! Until reading this title, all books dealing with strategic church planning were hard-to-understand, hard-to-follow, and even harder to communicate to others. Rainer and Geiger now finally have made church strategic planning simple. In less than 250 pages, the authors have presented an extreme makeover process to take a congregation from a bloated, burnt-out organization to a streamlined, sleek spiritual body.

The steps described here are simple, but far from easy and painless.

For any pastor or church leader who is planning strategically, this book is a must-read!
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Some books come along that join the conversation at exactly the right moment. This is one of those rare books that emerges at the exact moment the wave is cresting. If you put the ideas of this book together with The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive you will have the ideas and the language that could lead to a really wild ride.

Where the 7 Practices talks about Clarifying the Win; Thinking Steps, Not Programs; and Narrowing the Focus...Simple Church gives us Clarity, Movement, Alignment and Focus. Together, these two books render a wonderful blend of ideas that run along like members of a relay team.

What I'm finding most helpful about Simple Church is the introduction of a simple, four word metaphor that will define a new conversation on your team. You'll find yourself not only underlining and marking it up but running down the hall to share the same one-liners that I found.

Caution: Don't read this unless you're able to give it some time. You won't be able to put it down.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This book takes Andy Stanley's concept of the simple church, applies research, broadens the scope, and comes out with something that is new, fresh, and relevant to the evangelical church of the 21st century. If you are a student of church growth theory, halt all conversations until you have had a chance to work through this book. This may be the wave of the future. However, someone now needs to enter the conversation with a health dose of theology and see how pragmatism and theology mix, but that is the subject for another study.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I almost passed this book up when I saw the amount of church growth books written by Thom Rainer. My bravery was rewarded with a book that stimulated thought on how ministries within a local church should not only fit together, but work towards the same goal. The goal is making disciples. At the end of each chapter are well thought out discussion questions. I will try to outline the book using as many of the authors' own words as I can.

The authors state that "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." (p.26)

A simple church is defined as "a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth." (p.60) Later the authors add the following to their definition: "The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the church (alignment). The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus). (p. 68)

The book begins by contrasting two imaginary churches: "First Church" is a complex church - one that has many great programs, but without an overarching focus. It feels disjointed and headed in multiple directions. "Cross Church" is a simple church. There is one overarching theme that ties all its ministries together. It's a short and simple statement - "loving God, loving people, and serving the world." (pp. 33-40)

A majority of the material I found valuable was contained in the first 134 pages. The rest of the book has something to offer, but you wade through more and more church growth language. (The chapter on movement was my least favorite.) I thought the real value in the book was the questions it asked which made me think more deeply about our church and its ministries.

Are people in your church truly being transformed? Are they growing as disciples of Christ? Or is everyone just busy? (Page 7) These are cutting questions. As leaders of a church, there is nothing more important (outside of salvation). Willow Creek recently took a hard look at themselves and realized they were not helping people to grow deep, just busy. The authors of Simple Church put forth a very viable solution: simplify. "Spiritual growth (sanctification) is the process of a believer being transformed into the image of Christ. Simple churches have chosen to align themselves with the way God works...with the discipleship process revealed in Scripture." (p.16) Many churches are "[s]o cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being the church (p 19)." "Imagine a church where you, as a leader, can articulate clearly how someone moves from being a new Christian to becoming a mature follower of Christ (p 27)"

If your church's mission is to make disciples, then all the activities and ministries should contribute to that goal. Not only that, but the average attendee should be able to tell how a specific ministry is adding to the process, because the process is simple and easy to understand. If a church has many mission and vision statements spread among its ministries, there is a very good chance that there may be a multiplicity of ministry philosophies, possibly even working against each other or competing with each other.

A simple model used in this book has three stages for spiritual growth: love God (worship service), love others (small groups), and then serve the world (ministry teams). (p.47) A person enters the process at the first stage (worship service) and moves through the other stages as they mature. Not only is the process simple, one can roughly track spiritual growth by the number of people involved at each stage. (The one flaw in this reasoning is that although this holds true for older generations, very often younger generations get involved first by doing, rather than by knowing. They enter in the process at the opposite end (serving), possibly before committing to Christ. Even so, these folks would be connected with a small group and serve in an environment where they would be discipled.)

The rest of the book describes four elements that are necessary in a simple church: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.

1) Clarity (p. 70-74, 109-134) is "the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people." The authors note that "when there is no direction, people assume a direction or invent one. The church then moves aimlessly and off course." The church needs a clear ministry process to help people grow in Christ. "The culture of the church follows the culture of the leadership. The leaders' understanding and ownership overflow to everyone." If you are a leader, don't expect the congregation to join small groups if you're not in one!

2) Movement (p.72-74, 135-163) is "the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment." This element involves assimilation, how someone is "handed off from one level of commitment to a greater level of commitment." Again, I don't agree that each "level of commitment" is a higher level as I have seen people come in at all levels. However, for those driven to measurement and counting, it's as close as you're going to get to counting something that may indicate spiritual growth. His ways are not our ways, and He uses measures unavailable to us (Proverbs 21:2). The point as my pastor pointed out, is that the authors want people to "move from being church observers to contributors." That's movement.

The task of church leaders "is to place people in the pathway of God's transforming power." An ordered sequence of programs needs to reflect the process. "Simple churches move new believers into the life of the church. They are also purposeful in their treatment of new members." (p.157) The authors offer some insightful comments regarding new members and their importance in this section.

3) Alignment (p.74-76, 165-195) is "the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process." Without alignment, "the church can be a multitude of sub-ministries," or even a group of sub-churches. "It is not enough to unite the church around the same what (purpose), but they also must be aligned on the same how (process). Imagine if you were building a house. If the team of contractors and builders agreed only on what was being built, you would have a problem. They would also need to be unified on the approach, on the plan. Otherwise the contractors and builders would be competing with one another for time, money, and scheduling preference." (p.168). The authors suggest churches recruit pastors and staff "on the process," have each pastor create a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) for each ministry year, and then hold them accountable for results. I believe this can have value, but there is also danger in not doing this correctly (read: Christ-centered). Too much emphasis on numbers could create unintended consequences - pastors missing important God-ordained moments with people in exchange for a shallow activity that build their numbers up. Be careful, Peter Drucker is no Jesus Christ!

"The most challenging aspect of alignment is pulling existing ministries and existing staff in the same direction, especially if they have been moving in opposite directions." (p.187)

4) Focus (p.76-78, 197-226) is "the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process." This is not an easy task. And even if you succeed, there "will be a constant temptation to abandon simplicity, to lose focus, to become cluttered." (p.203)

Five critical elements to focus are 1) "Eliminate programs that do not fit [your] process, even if they are good;" 2) Limit adding new programs. Be very selective. Use "existing weekly programs for special emphasis/initiatives instead of adding new programs." 3) Reduce special events (!!!). Special events should be kept to a minimum so as not to compete with the essential programs that move people through the process. 4) Communication is vital - especially if programs and some special events are cut. The process must be easy to communicate (and remember); 5) Simple to understand: "It is vital that your process be understood because you will be saying no to everything else."

Unfortunately the final chapter starts with the typical church growth scare tactic "change or die." Nevertheless, some good points are made. Complexity in a church is expensive - not only in time and money, but in the unnecessary lack of spiritual maturity in some people. The authors realize the need for church leadership, as shepherds, to move to simple slowly. The move will be painful for some. Ask God for discernment. Keep Christ in the center.

The book ends with a look at Malachi 1 and then recaps the four main steps (Clarity, Movement, Alignment, and Focus) with the emphasis on implementation.

I can't close the review without pointing out a few ideas I strongly disagree with. "Only God is the producer of growth." (p.26) This is a popular idea. If we have large numbers, then God must be doing something. Cults can fill stadiums - is this the result of God blessing them? Satanic lies can be very effective (Matt, 24:23,24; 2 Cor. 4:3, 4). Maybe I'm just over-sensitised by the amount of church growth literature I've read. The authors could just be calling the readers to humility as in 1 Corinthians 3:6.

"And without a point of crisis, it is difficult to change." (p.33) This thinking is directly out of worldly business theory. Many "change agents" will work hard at promoting the perception of a crisis so they can more easily "sell" their ideas for change. The Christian view is that it is impossible to truly change without Christ. This is not splitting hairs - if the Body of Christ is to glorify God we must remain Christ centered, not crisis centered.

A vibrant church is defined as a church that had "grown 5 percent a year for three consecutive years." (p.65) The focus on growth as the indicator of a vibrant church is tiresome. Also the research statistics presented are unimpressive. By the authors' definition the ministry of Jeremiah was a failure, and many churches in hostile areas. I don't think our Lord would agree.

In closing, this book has a lot to offer. I recommend it. It is best if you got some of your church leaders together and went through the discussion questions together. You will be forced to think more critically about the relationship between your ministries/programs and their role in the disciple making process and spiritual growth of your congregation. Just don't expect a one-size-fits-all model.
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116 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In this extremely simple and simplistic book, the authors make a simple proposal: effective and vital churches are simple, whereas complicated, cluttered, and over-programmed churches are much less vital. At first they had a hunch about this thesis based upon informal empirical observations about churches they noticed. Later, they did a statistical study that, they contend, verified their hypothesis. Finally, and this will come as no surprise, they found their thesis in the Bible. Simplicity, they contend in the subtitle to this book, returns us to "God's process for making disciples." After two thousand years the truth is out.

Appealing unapologetically to corporate models like Google and Apple, according to Rainer and Geiger, "simple is in, complexity is out. . . complexity is not welcome." Keeping to their word, they offer an extraordinarily simple recipe for effective churches. First, they have a strong suspicion that most churches do not need a mere tweak here or there; they believe that most churches need a radical makeover. They need to start with clean sheet engineering. Next, they only need to follow four counsels: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. Bingo, presto-chango.

A friend gave me this book to read, and I was later surprised to see that it has been hailed as a leading book of the past year in the areas of church and pastoral studies. I suspect that it has tapped in to several overlapping realities-- the difficulties ( = complexities!) of pastoring well; the palpable frustrations that pastors experience when they don't; churches that are, in fact, poorly organized, needlessly complicated, and lacking focus; and the natural longing on the part of these pastors for some direct advice about what to do with this sad state of affairs.

Despite the promises and rhetoric, this book, like every other technique and gimmick, will disappoint. No real nuanced definition of what constitutes an "effective" church is given, except, perhaps, for increased attendance. The marks of vitality that the authors return to over and over look suspiciously similar, generic, and already exist in most churches-- get parishioners to attend worship, study the Bible, join a small group, and learn to serve. Their study is narrowly limited to what they call "evangelical" churches, whatever that broad category might mean. With the size of an average church in America hovering at around 100 people, it's easy to imagine how a pastor will feel about a case study of a church that grew to 16,000 members in ten years. Finally, I myself have never experienced the Christian life or church as simple, and it strikes me as a false hope to suggest that it is. For an alternative viewpoint on pastoral call and identity, I recommend Henri Nouwen's little gem called In the Name of Jesus; Reflections on Christian Leadership, in which he construes the three temptations of Jesus (and Christian ministers) as the temptations to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
3.4 stars

One of the church leaders I read this book with said `I have not read a book this poorly written in a long time.' I have to agree. It was painful. As a physical scientist I found the `scientific method' a little suspect. It was highly redundant. Quite simply, this should have been a pamphlet.

I had a couple concerns about the ideas as well. By simplifying everything you run the risk of homogenizing and reducing things to a lowest common denominator Christianity. We need to understand the nuance of niche, especially in large churches. Oversimplification runs the risk of annihilating the `micro-habitats' that makes a large church doable for some.

So why would I give a book I have so maligned 3.3 *'s. The truth is, I almost gave it 4. While it should have been a pamphlet, it would have been a really good pamphlet. After all of the critiques both in form and idea, there is still a powerful message here that I support. Despite my critiques I am encouraged (almost without reservation) that my church is implementing these ideas. There are 3 assertions that the authors make that I whole heartedly embrace and, that I think are responsible for legitimate correlation in their data.

1. Unified Description of a Clear Process: There is no substitute for a clearly and frequently articulated vision. I agree with the authors that this can not be stressed enough.

2. Rejecting Inner-Organizational Competition: The church sets a uniform vision and pursues it together. The youth ministry and the women's ministry aren't competing for resources. They are for each other. More fundamentally, you limit the number of programs so that the Church does not keep its people from forming meaningful relationships outside of the church.

3. 'Shooting Your Dogs': We are too afraid to discontinue ineffective programs or ministries because it will hurt someone's feelings. By limiting the number of programs you offer the people of God to actually have lives with family and the world. Get them out of the church.

So I actually really resonated with many of the author's themes, but I recomend skimming.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Author Thom Rainer returns us to Acts 2-disciple-making, encouraging all church leaders to get back to the basics. Evangelical theology of community needs this reminder. We tend to run too quickly in far too many directions. Rainer entices us to focus. Disciple-making is God's plan. "The Simple Church" offers a simple but not simplicstic way to follow that plan. Reading it reminds me of the classic works by Bill Hull: "Disciple-making Pastor," "Disciple-making Church," and "Jesus Christ, Disciple-maker." Hull and Rainer both map out a workable plan for moving a church community toward spiritual maturity. The relational aspects of the process must be fleshed out by each individual leadership team and local congregation to ensure that the process does not take precedence over the people (avoiding the task over/versus people issue).

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction , Spiritual Friends, and Soul Physicians.
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