Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Interesting Book, Wrong Title

Have you ever read a book that you thought was worth the time, but by the end realized that is has the wrong title? This just happened to me as I was completing Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples.

This book, written by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, would be much more accurately entitled something like "Focused Church" or "Streamlined Church." The reason for this is that what they propose is not really simple. Rather, they suggest a process by which churches can focus or streamline what they are trying to do. The church may end up being just as complex as before, but at the end of the process everything will at least be flowing in the same direction.

Let me explain. This book is worth reading because of the research that Rainer and Geiger put into it. The authors looked at churches that were growing compared to those that have plateaued in attendance. They asked many questions and discovered some interesting things.

In general, Rainer and Geiger found that when a church is focused around a common vision of how they will make disciples, and when the people of the church buy into that vision, the church is likely to thrive. However, if a church has several different vision statements and is not particularly focused, that church struggles to make and keep disciples.

It seems that in the focused church the people are able to rally around a common goal. They know both what they believe and what they are doing while together as a church body. In churches that are not focused, there appears to be a decent amount of confusion about what the church is attempting to accomplish.

The results of this book are helpful. They have made me ask why we do what we do. Any church could benefit from this. Additionally, most churches could probably cease certain activities that do not have anything to do with the church's focus.

Now to the title of the book. What Rainer and Geiger propose in this text is that a church be focused. The reality is that they do not suggest simplicity. What the authors want is for churches to look at what they do, ask why they do what they do, focus on one discipleship plan, and give all attention to that plan. This may all continue to happen within the same structure that the church already has in place. Even a mega-church, with thousands of members, could focus by reading this book. That is hardly the same thing as simple.

When I think of simple church, I think about the most basic aspects of the church as we see it in the bible. This type of simple church is followers of Jesus Christ spending life together, serving one another, bearing one another's burdens, and witnessing to the lost. This simple church is about people as opposed to buildings and programs. This is simple in focus and structure.

It is interesting to see what people are saying about simple church (the concept, not the book) on the internet. For example, sites like this, this, and this are all talking about this phenomenon.

Simple Church (the book) is worth the read. However, it needs a more accurate title.

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