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Leader says key to disciple-making is simplicity

Leader says key to disciple-making is simplicity

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leader says key to disciple-making is simplicity

By J.A. Buchholz | July 10, 2009 {1043}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Eric Geiger is available at

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Keep it simple. That was the overarching theme of a recent training on intentional discipling, one of the five practices of The Methodist Way, held at First United Methodist Church in Boca Raton.

Coordinated by the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, “The Simple Church Workshop” focused on the principles behind the book “Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples,” written by the Revs. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. It’s a petition for pastors to apply the basic practices of Jesus to modern-day churches.

Data from questionnaires completed by 400 American churches formed the basis of the book. Rainer and Geiger said that information showed churches have moved from being Christ-centered communities of faith to huge community centers filled with events that lack Christian relevance.

Geiger, who serves as executive pastor at Christ Fellowship in Miami, led the workshop. He said churches have a tendency to drift toward complexity, adding programs on top of programs. At the same time, he says, pastors attempt to manage the existing programs better than their predecessors without anyone taking stock of how those programs are creating disciples or assisting members on their Christian journeys.

Geiger said pastors have even admitted fearing empty dates on their church calendars to the point they have added events like ice-cream socials to show members the church is active.

The Rev. Eric Geiger

The danger, Geiger said, is providing activities and events that are not God-inspired, but designed to keep people busy, muddling the focus on making disciples. In that mindset, he said, churches miss ordinary opportunities to minister to people because they are so busy hustling from one activity to the next.

Geiger illustrated his point with a clip of classical violinist Joshua Bell playing in the terminal of the Metro Station in Washington, D.C. The musician, whose concert tickets can easily cost thousands of dollars, played six pieces for 48 minutes. Hidden cameras captured 1,097 busy commuters rushing by in those minutes without ever noticing his music. Only one lone woman stopped and watched in amazement, then immediately approached Bell after his performance.

Geiger said churches do the same thing. They rush through their activities, missing the masterpieces God is painting before their eyes.

People are hungering for simplicity in an age of complexity, he said, and churches can achieve that if they rid themselves of activities that don’t move people into Christian transformation.

Geiger acknowledged that the process is both difficult and time-consuming; it is not a project that can be worked out over a weekend or month. If churches were to take stock of their activities and programs, he said, they would have a better understanding of whether or not they are making a true difference in people’s lives.

Taking the plunge

If one of America’s most popular company’s can make time to take stock of what it has to offer, Geiger said, churches should, too.

If a business can be introspective about a popular beverage, the church can examine itself so it can better make disciples for the kingdom.

The Rev. Eric Geiger

Patrons of Starbucks across the country may have noticed something odd between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Feb. 13, 2008, he said. There was notice on the doors of its 7,100 U.S. locations  letting customers know the store was closed for training so its employees could refocus their attention on preparing and serving great coffee. In recent years the chain had begun using automated espresso machines and pre-ground, pre-packaged coffee in its stores, as well as adding new products, such as breakfast sandwiches, pastries and music. Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chief executive officer, wanted the chain to return to the basics of making great coffee.

Geiger said Schultz had traveled in Europe and noticed the excitement and pride employees had in making coffee. He wanted American employees to experience that same feeling. Schultz also discovered that when patrons walked into stores the smell of breakfast sandwiches overpowered the aroma of Starbucks coffee. Schultz decided to reduce the number of breakfast sandwiches and automated processes so that the core of what the chain offered could be easily identified.

Just as Schultz called a time-out to take stock of what the chain had to offer and how it does it, Geiger said churches are in great need of that same self-examination.

And if a business can be introspective about a popular beverage, the church can examine itself so it can better make disciples for the kingdom, he said.

Geiger said churches must first define the process that will guide them. They must then decide what kind of disciple they wish to make. Each weekly program must directly relate to that end result, he said, but churches must also avoid the pitfall of connect existing programs to the new goals.

“First, people should spend time with God,” he said after the workshop. “Don’t go public right away. This is a journey; you will be less effective if you cast a half-hearted vision. Then people should start with clarity. Once that has been established, lead with courage, wisdom and compassion.”

Over lunch participants discuss concepts heard during the morning portion of the workshop. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #09-1244.

Sergio Casaine, a member at First United Methodist Hispanic in Lake Worth, said he agreed with Geiger. Jesus Christ was simple in his teachings, he said, and the church should be as well.

“He (Eric) is asking some thought-provoking questions,” said First Boca member Cynthia Metzger. “I think he is right on target for our world. The message of simplicity is just what we need.”

The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office, said the workshop reminded people “of what’s essential.”

“We need to be clear,” she said. “We need to have a process and be aligned to that process.”

Fogle-Miller acknowledges that churches run the risk of trying to do too much as they grow and that it’s easy to be lured into providing activities when there is so much to offer. She said churches must scrutinize each activity and offer members only the very best.

“We need to be more simple,” Fogle-Miller said. “Every church needs to be focused on making disciples for the transformation of the world.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.