A few weeks ago I was given a book to read called the Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.
We all like simple right? I mean there have been people that have ran presidential campaigns on the fact that they can make tax systems more simple, they can make government more simple. I have meetings at work where we spend hours talking about how to make processes more simple. What usually happens is, we make things more complicated. As humans, we have a very bad tendency to make everything more complicated, yet we want simple. Our churches are no different. We want simple, but we end up, usually more complex.
This book is a quick read. It gives several examples of complicated churches and simple churches, then contrasts what they do differently. Having been a preacher’s kid, I remember hearing my dad talk about some of the exact things discussed in this book. “We’re making this too hard. We need to be more simple.”
It gets hard to be more simple. It takes commitment and stepping out of our comfort zone to not do some of the programs we are used to. Let’s be honest, how many programs do we see in our churches that requires lots of time and effort, but the only ones showing up are the members of the church? Are those type of things bad? No, but what is the purpose of the church? It’s to further the Gospel. Or how many programs require lots of effort, but it doesn’t bring anyone one in?
Church is no different than a business in some ways. You have a budget, you have people to do a task, and you have an allotment of time. Just as in business you have to worry about morale, burnout, different levels of commitment, etc; you have the same worries in a church. In some cases it can be worse, as for many, church starts taking out time in our family/social/alone time, and time is a limited resource.
Businesses have to constantly look at what gives them the most revenue for their man hours. The book doesn’t put it like this, but what gives churches the most for their members’ time? If the church’s goal is to help spread the Gospel, what programs do that? If the church’s goal is to help strengthen the relationship of the member’s with Christ, what programs help with that.
They have a lot of statistics/surveys they took between a simple church and non-simple churches. I was not that impressed with the results they presented, but that probably has a lot to do with I’m an analytical chemist so I view things as it’s black or white and if the numbers don’t blow you away one way or the other, then it is not great data. I think they tried to make some conclusions that might be stretching it a bit, but generally, I think they are right. . . a simple church produces better.
Why do I think that? This is where I have a slightly different reasoning. Morale. . . being a manager, morale is everything. If your employees do not have good morale, it doesn’t matter what process, incentive, etc you have in place; nothing will get done efficiently. Same with church. Just because you’re a christian and go to church programs, doesn’t mean you’re any different than any other human. You get tired, you’re drained. You want to spend time with your family or doing some activities that revitalize you.
If you feel obligated to always be at different programs, where you don’t get the time to recharge your batteries, spend time with your family, and rest; your morale is going to go down. If you have good morale, the efficiency of what you do goes way up. You have more energy, and energy produces results. Energy attracts people, which in church, that’s what you want to do.
To be a simple church, as per the book, you have to look at your programs, how you communicate, and how you move people into service. Everyone needs to have the same mission, focus, and end goal. Too many times we start getting our favorite program/ministry and when it starts to fizzle or serve its purpose, people try to hang on to it. They have investment into that program. They start to feel if the program goes away, they have failed. We have to remember we are here to serve God, not ourselves.
It was a quick read. Very good if you’ve been in church a long time and have got into the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. We forget why certain ways of doing things were put in place (i.e. Sunday night services) and get into the we’ve always done it this way attitude. Programs/ministries might have had value/purpose 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, etc years ago, but we always need to evaluate if its having value and serving a purpose of reaching people now. I’ve seen churches run a college program when they have 2 people show up. The reason they kept it going was due to having had one the past 20+ years. Then they add new programs to reach different people. Soon you start running out of people to run all these programs and you get burnout.