Simple Church Epilogue Part 1

Almost eight years have passed since the initial release of Simple Church, and to say that we are overwhelmed with the response would be a vast understatement. Our shock with the response is not a statement of humility (unfortunately) but the reality of the nature of the book. Let’s be honest—it was a nerdy research project. The research was extensive and the results were noteworthy; therefore, a book followed. But research books don’t tend to make anyone’s “favorite books” list.

Not only is the book a research-based book, but it is also loaded with “insider language.” Meaning we wrote the book for pastors and church leaders. The book is filled with the kinds of conversations we have during consultations, staff meetings, and strategy sessions with church leaders. We never thought regular godly church people would read the book or have the book given to them by a pastor in their church.

The book is far from perfect. It is definitely not infallible or inerrant. It is incomplete and incomprehensive. We simply reported on what we discovered in the research. Now after eight years of discussions and observations with church leaders, I am going to offer a series of blog posts on the five most significant lessons learned since Simple Church released. Here’s the first:

Churches drift.

We drift away from the core message of the Christian faith—the gospel. We move away from the essence of the Christian faith—the good news that our holy God rescued us from our sins by placing Himself on a cross in our place to secure our salvation. We drift away from the core mission of the church—making disciples. We add so many extras to the essence of who we are. We drift.

Drift is always bad. You don’t drift into physical fitness or spiritual growth. And churches do not drift into spiritual health or kingdom advancement. We drift away from those things, not toward them. And drift never corrects itself.

In relation to Simple Church, there are two common drifts in churches. The two drifts are closely related; if the first drift is occurring in your church, the second is present as well.

We drift toward complexity.

During the research behind Simple Church and in many subsequent consultations, church leaders have confessed, “I feel like a program manager. God called me into ministry because I wanted to see people transformed into the image of Christ, because I wanted to serve His church, because He gave me a passion to make disciples. But now, I just manage programs.”

There are staff teams that spend hours in meetings every week managing the church calendar. Some churches confess they feel guilty if something is not on the calendar. The calendar, in some settings, justifies the existence of the church and of her leaders.

They move in a myriad of directions never realizing the full potential of a team rallying around a singular mission. They jump from new initiative to new initiative or new vision to new vision before any of them actually takes root in the life of the church. Many churches attempt an overabundance of activities, events, and programs. Thus, they offer them all with mediocrity as their energy and resources are spread thinly and evenly across a massive menu of “stuff.”

We drift off mission.

If a church is complicated, she will not have the energy or the resources available to be highly engaged in mission. The church will spend her time existing for herself, setting up systems for herself, and communicating to herself.

We drift toward complexity. We drift away from mission. The two are related. When you are complex, you tend to be inward. There is so much to manage at the church building; there is little time to think strategically about the community. There is minimal energy to serve those in the community. At the same time, when you drift off mission, you will naturally become complex and complicated. Something else will dominate your time if the mission of God does not stir your heart.