Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brief Review of Simple Church

Finished Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger a couple of days ago. It goes down smooth but has a funky aftertaste.

I think my appreciation of the Simplicity concept did the book some favors, because I often had to appreciate the book's approach in spite of its consistently pragmatic tone.
It is a book aimed at the practical way of "doing church," and the problems they point out in how many (most?) churches "do church" are very real. Rainer and Geiger are to be commended for bravely saying to their "big church" brethren, "Doing too much stifles growth, and it's likely you are guilty of doing too much," particularly since churches with lots of people and lots of programs are usually considered to be healthy.

Further, they are ruthlessly faithful to the Simple Church concept even when it means saying (not suggesting, but saying) a church should even cut "successful" programs if they do not conform to the simple growth process. Mainly because the success of non-integral programs draws energy and resources away from integral ones. When you overschedule a church's programming, you challenge people to discriminate against certain programs (because you can't expect everyone to be at everything and do everything), and many times they discriminate against the ones that would be most helpful to their spiritual growth.

So while Rainer and Geiger are great champions for Simple, I was heartened by their avoidance of being simplistic.

In the end, however, despite its encouragement to drop and renovate the program-glut, Simple Church still lacked a concentrated biblical focus. Some of the few biblical references employed were taken out of context or used for their inclusion of words that resembled points the authors were trying to make. There is an extended passage from Malachi at the end which was a like a refreshing drink of water after the repeated book-long "support" for Simplicity from Apple, Nike, Google, etc. I understand the book is aimed at ministerial architects with a zeal for Church Growth, but I was actually hoping the Simple Church approach might eschew connecting dots between church growth and corporate world marketing.

Also, one of the discussions I was most interested in was in the timing of change -- ie., "How quickly should one implement change in one's church?"
Their answer is fine, if clever ("As fast as you can, but no faster than that"), but with all the specifics on everything else, with all the space dedicated to Clarity, Alignment, Focus, etc., I would've hoped for some more space dedicated to navigating change in an un-simple church. They do say that some churches have success changing immediately and some have success changing incrementally and some fail changing immediately and some fail changing incrementally, but some more, detailed space dedicated to the "how" of Simple Church would have made all the space dedicated to the "what" and "why" of Simple Church seem less a tease.

Also, neither Rainer nor Geiger is much of a writer. Or, at least, their editor isn't. The writing is clunky, the short illustrations strained. (The extended ones involving the fictional Pastor Rush and the two visits to the fictional comparison churches are much better.) It's not like reading Eugene Peterson, who can make a passage on "how to do church" read like poetry.
But these guys are practitioners, not writers, so it's excusable. Simple Church is not a difficult read, anyway, and I'm sure the intended audience wouldn't care much about its literary quality.

In the end, it's a pretty good book. Not exactly what I expected or wanted, but I'd recommend it. 2.5 to 3 stars, I think.
In any event, it's a refreshing antidote to the biggerbetterfaster predominant in church growth literature.

Started The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander yesterday. Expect it to be quite good.

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