SIMPLE CHURCH & An introduction to the Rainer/Geiger Approach to Missional Church Structure.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel.  Some confuse “simple church” with organic forms of church that I and others call, “the organic church.” For examples and case-studies that emerge from “Inside the Organic Church” see my book by the same title.  However, the “simple church missional structure” is a discipleship driven organizational approach created by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger and explained in their book by the same name.  Here is a helpful book review and introduction.

Book Review: Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger

by Graham Shearer, 9Marks Journal, 3/3/10.


What is a simple church? Here is Rainer and Geiger’s definition:

A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. 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). (pp. 67-68)

Rainer and Geiger explain that churches that are full of different programs and activities are not often growing churches, even if the individual programs are successful. This is because they don’t have a clearly defined process for discipling people. They don’t move people from one stage of spiritual growth to another, and their programs suffer from mediocrity because their energies are dissipated across so many programs.

Often these churches suffer because their staff, while good at running their particular program, doesn’t share the same ministry philosophy. This causes disunity and unnecessary replication in the church calendar as things like evangelism training are repeated by different programs in different ways.

Simple churches, meanwhile, have a clear process with a clear aim. The church and the leadership unite around one process and one aim as each member moves from one program to another, requiring a bigger commitment to discipleship at each stage. They remove the clutter of programs that don’t fit into the church’s strategy, even ones that may benefit the people involved…


The bulk of the book is an explanation of what a simple church is, under the four headings clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. The book hammers home those four points, and, for me at least, it did it so effectively that I didn’t need to look at the book to type that list.

Clarity involves having a clear statement of how discipleship should work in the church. Examples given include “Loving God, Loving Others and Serving the World” or “Connecting, Growing, Serving.” The key is not the content of the statement; it’s the fact that the statement should be clear. This process should be able to be visualized and explained clearly to the whole church, who should commit to the process.

Movement means that the programs should be designed for each stage in the process and people should be able to move clearly from one program to another. For instance, the church whose statement was “Loving God, Loving Others and Serving the World” had weekend worship services for helping people love God, small groups for enabling people to love others, and ministry teams for serving others. And each stage challenges people to move to the next stage.

Alignment means placing all the church’s resources behind the process. This includes hiring staff who are behind the process and making sure that any new ministries fit into it.

And focus means eliminating programs that don’t fit into the process and limiting additional programs. Again, the ability to explain the process easily is emphasized.


Simple Church makes a number of good points. Surely a clear and uniform process for discipleship is more likely to succeed than crowded and conflicting programs with no clear vision or strategy. Rainer and Geiger are exactly right to say that churches shouldn’t just fill their calendars with programs that may or may not help the congregation grow spiritually. “Programs were made for man, not man made for programs,” they say. “If the goal is to keep certain things going, the church is in trouble. The end result must always be about people. Programs should only be tools” (p. 43).

Beyond this, the authors make a number of helpful comments about ministry, the need to move a church towards simplicity sensitively, the need to be ruthless about killing unnecessary programs, and more. I especially liked the commendation of new members interviews. The authors comment,

It seems that the commitment to buy contact lenses is greater than the commitment to join many churches. Most churches only require new members to fill out a card or a triplicate form. It happens so fast. Expectations are minimal. Signing up for a department store credit care takes more time. Simple churches, however, tend to require new members classes . . . great dialogue occurs, and people walk away with a deeper connection to your church. (158-59)

It’s good to hear some kind of membership advocated, even if it is on pragmatic grounds.

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