Notes on “Simple Church” By Thom Rainer and Eric Gieger
Most churches try to do too much. Vibrant and growing churches are simple.
Jesus was all about simplifying our relationship with God
Pharisees: 613 laws (the “burden”)
248 affirmative commands (corresponding to the 248 human body parts as they understood it)
365 negative commands (one for each day of the year)
Jesus simplified it to two laws – Love God, love people. On these hang all the law and prophets. He did not lower the standard, nor abolish it. He captured the essence and spirit of it in one statement
Jesus also cleansed the temple – He was adamantly opposed to anything that gets in the way of people encountering him.
Finding out who we are
Never confuse activity with results. Many churches are suffering from ministry schizophrenia – they do not know who they are. The answer is getting a clear ministry vision and aligning all ministries to that ministry vision.
Step back and look at the whole picture with fresh eyes
It starts with a clear vision from the leadership (directional documents)
Then we must design a simple process for spiritual growth (discipleship) and remove the clutter.
Without reaching a point of crisis, it is difficult to change.
The simple verses the not-so-simple church
Extreme Makeover: We need to design a simple process that enables us to partner with God to move people through the stages of spiritual growth.
Four key elements to a simple church:
Clarity -> Movement —> Alignment —> Focus
(process for growth) (flows logically) (every area) (abandon all else)
Clarity – the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people
The how is clear. It is discussed, taught, illustrated, communicated well
The process must be clear first to the leaders, then to the people
Understanding precedes commitment – people must grasp and internalize the process
Only what is simple can be understood
When there is no clarity, people assume a direction or invent one (aimlessness)
Work hard so that everyone can grasp it, articulate it and own it
Movement – The sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment to God
It is about flow and assimilation. What causes a person to go to the nest step of commitment to Christ
Movement is about hand-offs (think of a relay race)
Worship service —> Small Group or Observer —> Contributor
Sadly, most churches focus on programs, not movement
Look at the weekly church calendar and regularly scheduled programs and place all programs in a sequential order along the ministry process
Alignment – the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process
Everyone, every department every staff member every ministry area submits to the overarching process
Thus, the entire body is moving in one direction, in the same manner
Without this everyone is passionate about his own ministry without being tied to the big picture
Without alignment everyone is competing for the same space, resources, time on the calendar, volunteers, etc.
All churches naturally drift away from alignment
Alignment brings simplicity – without it, complexity is certain
Focus – The commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process
Focus is the element that gives power and energy to clarity, movement and alignment
It does not make ministry leaders popular – They must sometimes say no to unnecessary things
We abandon all that is outside the ministry process because it steals energy and attention from what the leadership has determined as necessary
Ask difficult questions before something is implemented –will this fit the format? Is it profitable or is it clutter?
Focus means that we have blinders on – we choose not to see diversions
If you want the necessary to stand out, you have to get rid of the unnecessary. (Hezekiah)
Hezekiah removed the high places and tore down the Asherah poles – Everyone agrees to that. But then he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made. This was not popular. He did this because it had become an idol – it was clutter. It took attention away from the one true God.
Three Simple Stories
Immanuel Baptist – Established church in a small town in the Bible belt; grew from 150 to 300 in two years.
“The irony is that we have actually grown numerically and spiritually by doing fewer programs and special events, choosing instead to focus our attention on moving people with various levels of commitment to deeper levels of commitment.”
Benefits of simplifying:
Increased morale; Urgency in moving people to maturity; Spiritual growth; Conversions; Stewardship; Unity
Christ Fellowship – multi-cultural church in Miami area; 89 years old – rich history, but the people saw no reason to change.
Clarity – God assembled a team that was not satisfied. They sought to define the kind of disciple that their church was seeking to make. God led them to focus on four things: an intimate relationship with God, community with others, serving and influencing nonbelievers.
Connect to God —> Connect to others —> Connect to ministry —> Connect to the lost
(worship service) (small groups) (ministry teams) (relational evangelism)
Movement – Small groups are promoted in the worship services. The church also frequently offers six-week small group series – people are encouraged to join small groups permanently from these. “Test drive” a ministry – an opportunity to serve with a ministry team for one serving session.
Alignment – Children’s, youth, college departments all have the same process (connect to God, others, ministry, lost)
Focus – Many programs had to be eliminated in order to focus people on the process (e.g. Sunday night service, “Friday Night Open Rec”, special holiday programs and other
“nonvalue adding work”.
Sunday School and discipleship classes were combined into one small group strategy.
Northpoint – Andy Stanley’s church, near Atlanta – grew from a handful to 16,000 in ten years.
These people are pioneers in simple, although Andy grew up in a complex model.
Clarity – “From the foyer to the kitchen” (greater levels of commitment and relationships) Foyer —> Living room —> Kitchen
(acquaintances) (relationships) (deepest level of commitment)
Movement – Foyer – Worship service; Living room – GroupLink (periodic structure for people to get to know one another; Kitchen (small groups)
No one stays anywhere forever, they move. Nothing is an end in itself – everything moves toward the kitchen.
“Anything that facilitates movement is a ‘yes’. Anything that does not is a ‘no’.”
Alignment – Every ministry is on the same page and uses the same verbiage. This fosters unity.
Every ministry, every age-specific ministry at Northpoint has a foyer, a living room and a kitchen.
Focus – Northpoint is known for its excellence – the reason they do things so well is because they have chosen to only do a few things. The church has rejected the menu philosophy of ministry that that encourages church leaders to offer huge menus of programs (these churches are called ADD churches because they are unable to focus).
Northpoint does not have a Christian school, mid-week services, men’s and women’s ministries, children’s choir, adult Sunday School, Easter or Christmas Pageants or a recreation ministry.
Chapter Five: Simple Church
Clarity: Starting with a Ministry Blueprint
Building the house of God (Gk oikodome) Eph 4:11-12, Col 2:6-7, 1 Pet. 2:5, Eph 2:22
Be careful how you build (1 Cor 3:14)
We need clear blueprints – People cannot embrace ambiguity
Five Keys to Clarity
Define – “We have a clearly defined process for moving a person from salvation to spiritual maturity, to significant ministry”
What is our desired product?
What is our process?
What kind of a disciple do we want to produce?
Describe our purpose as a process
Describe how each program is a part of the process
Illustrate – “We have a visual illustration of our process”
Vision is always visual (diagram or metaphor)
The visual should be reflective of our process
It should show progression
It should help simplify
Measure – We have a system to measure how people progress through the process”
Pre-season games are not measured, they do not count; they are not taken seriously – if we do not measure a process, people will think it does not matter
Learn to view our numbers horizontally (God (Sunday am) people (small groups) ministry (teams)
Measure attendance at each level in the process
Discuss – “We frequently discuss our process as a leadership team
Leaders first – they help develop it, they constantly speak about it and implement it, then it trickles down to the congregation
Ongoing conversation – pace yourself, this process will take time
Surface the process in meetings
Brainstorm new ways to communicate it – the process will lose its freshness and you will be tempted to change it (ironically, just when people are starting to get it)
Increasing Understanding – “Our church members have a clear understanding of our process”
This is intentional, hard work – when you are tired of it, they will be getting it
When they can understand it, they can embrace it
Weave the process into sermons
Share the process interpersonally
Live the process personally
Don’t be a spiritual travel agent; be a spiritual tour guide
Movement: transforming from glory to glory
God does the transforming, we design the process that moves people through the stages
Five Keys to Movement
Strategic Planning – “We have placed our programs along our strategic process”
Programs are tools to place people on the pathway to maturity
Begin with the process, not the programs; if the programs do not fit the process, eliminate them
Choose one program for each specific aspect of the process
Place the programs in sequential order
Sequential Programming (sequences produce movement)
Designate a clear entry point to your process (worship service)
Identify the next levels of programming (small groups)
Intentional Movement – “We are intentional about moving people from one program to another
Create short-term steps (not programs) to expose people to an aspect of the process they have not experienced yet
Capitalize on the power of relationship (sermons do not engage people in the process, relationships do) (small group lists small group definition small group booth/information)
Consider the “Now what?” – the current program must be viewed as a bridge to the next step in the process
Connect people to groups
Offer new believers a clear next step in the process
New believers are the greatest source of influence on the community
Small group or individual discipleship
New Members Class
Teach the simple process, ask for a commitment to the process
** Jesus in Luke 5-6 (the calling), Luke 7-8 (the building), Luke 9 (the sending)
Alignment – Arranging all the ministries and staff around the same simple process
Everybody has to agree on the what and the how
Recruit on the Process –Leaders must be aligned first (theologically and philosophically)
Offer accountability to leadership
Neither micro management nor neglect
Outline the simple process and let leaders implement with freedom and creativity
A Tool For Accountability – the MAP includes:
How the specific ministry reflects the process
The organizational structure of the ministry
A present evaluation of the ministry
5 to 7 measurable goals for the ministry this year
An outline showing how these goals will be accomplished
Implement the same process everywhere
Understanding is increased
Unity is promoted
Families experience the same process
Unite around the same process
Remind people of the process
Highlight contributions, results of the process
Walk around and remind people that they are a vital part of the whole
New Ministry Alignment
Check the fit of new ministries (ministry expansions, ministry additions)
Make sure they move people through the process
Focus – Saying no to almost everything – “one thing…”
“Super-sized” churches always expand the menu and try to offer everything
** This is the most difficult factor to implement and practice, but everything else is meaningless without focus
** A church’s vitality is directly proportionate to the church’s focus on the process
Elimination of completing programs, ministries– identify clutter and throw it out
This means offending people and history (tradition)
People lose the importance of the essential programs in order to attend the nonessential ones
Be a wise steward of your people’s and leader’s time
Be a wise steward of money (staff, budget, printing, utilities, etc.)
Simple churches are more excellent because their focus is not divided
Q – What do you do when God burdens you with a specific need that must be addressed?
A – Seek to fill that need through existing program (parenting, finance, small groups)
Less is more (more focus, excellence, energy, money, people attending)
** Program vs Option – add more options, not more programs
(e.g. adding a new worship service or small group is not adding a new program, it simply expands the present program options)
3) Reduce Special Events
a. They tend to compete with programs that move people through the process
b. Funnel the event into an existing program (Sunday morning or small group)
c. Combine the event with an existing program (dinner on the grounds,Christmas
service on Sunday)
d. Use the event strategically – add a “now what?” on the end (Parenting event —> parenting small group)
4) Easily Communicated
We must be comfortable with articulating the process (easy to say)
5) Simple to Understand
a. Choose simple language
b. Be brief (Understanding leads to commitment)
Becoming Simple (Change or Die)
Design a simple process (Clarity)
Define what: “Disciples are __________,___________,___________.”
Define how: “ People become mature disciples at Trinity by ___________.”
Place the aspects in a clearly defined sequential order “START —> NEXT STEP —> NEXT STEP”
Place Key Programs along the Process (Movement)
One church program per phase
Do not eliminate anything yet, may have to change focus of existing programs
Unite all ministries around the process (Alignment)
Involve all major leaders in the design
Use the same language in all ministry areas and age levels
Begin to Eliminate things outside the process (Focus)
Make sure that the existing and new programs are purposeful and a part of the bigger picture.