Simple to Complex


As I was preparing to plant a church, I was inspired by what I read about Cell Churches around the world. Authors like Ralph Neighbor & Joel Comiskey used Scripture & experience to convince me that “simple” was the way to go. We started out committed to “simple.”

In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, we started our church with small groups rather than gatherings. Most of my colleagues started with an attractional gathering, but we wanted to start in cell groups. We thought we might have a celebration on occasion to bring the cells together. Keyword was “might.” I wasn’t sure if we’d do celebrations initially. The focus would be on small, simple groups/churches that could easily reproduce.

There was only one problem.

Crowds showed up.

We were shocked when over 300 showed up to our Grand Opening.

Then we were shocked when we grew to over 1,000 in the first year.

Then we were shocked when we grew to over 2,000. Then 3,000. Then 4,000.

We were listed in Outreach Magazine as one of the Top 100 Fastest-Growing Churches in the nation for 5 of our first 10 years. One year we were the 8th fastest-growing church in the nation overall & 2nd fastest-growing church by percentage gain.

Our gatherings were exploding & “simple” took a backseat to “complex.”

How could we ignore all the crowds that were coming? We needed big buildings that could hold all of us. We needed a big staff that could minister to them. We needed a big budget to fund all of this.

What began to happen is that “church” became more and more complex. More difficult to reproduce. More difficult for ordinary people to do. And much more expensive.

Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying this is bad. Just complex.

Thousands of people heard the gospel in our first 10 years. Thousands of people were baptized. Thousands of people heard teaching from God’s Word. The Lord used it, no doubt.

We just began to realize that it wasn’t resulting in generational disciple-making, which is the key to movement & the focus of the Great Commission. And without generational disciple-making, we knew there was no way to reach our entire people group.

If we truly wanted to be brave and ask the WIGTake question, this complexity surely wasn’t going to be the answer. The answer would be what I sensed the answer was early on.

Simple, reproducible, free, and something ordinary people can do.

About 7 years in, I took our Leadership Team to Dallas for a retreat. We had planned to spend time praying together & asking God to speak to us about the future of our church. As we were evaluating everything our church did, with the Great Commission in mind, I remember asking the question, “What would it take for us to see a great movement of God in America like they’re seeing in India & other places around the world?” We knew specifically about what God was doing in India because we had a missions partner there that had reached millions.

We didn’t really know the answer to that question, but we knew who would know.

David Watson.

David was one of the initial catalysts for the great movement of God that spread across India. We decided we needed to bring David in.

When we returned from our retreat, I set-up a time for David to fly to Lubbock & talk to us about what happened in India. We spent a day listening to amazing stories about what God is doing there & processing what it would look like to “raise the sails” for something like that to happen here.

We walked away from that meeting convinced that “movements” would likely be the future direction & vision for our church. We started reading tons of books, articles, and dissertations written by people who have been a part of these international movements. Around that time we connected with Stan, the guy who would become our future movements coach. And we began to develop the next 10 year vision that we believed would allow us to raise the sails to reach the million.

Some people ask, “Why would you guys change things if you were already so successful? Don’t you typically change things when they’re not working?”

It’s a good question.

Here’s the best way I can answer it.

In our first 10 years, at the beginning of each year, I’d usually preach a “vision” message where I’d go over the vision again. I’d explain why we started the church, what we were setting out to accomplish, and why we thought our strategy would get us there.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the Scripture passage used for that message almost every year was the Great Commission in Matthew 28. While pastors might argue all day long about how to accomplish the Great Commission, virtually all of them agree that the Great Commission describes the mission of the church.

Churches are supposed to be about making disciples of all the nations. Period. I haven’t found any pastor who disagrees with that yet.

As I’d share this passage with our church, I’d often say this.

The reason we do what we do at eLife is because it’s the best way, we’ve found, to accomplish what we’re supposed to be doing as a church, namely, the Great Commission. I told them that every question they had about why we did something a certain way could be answered in this way. We felt that our strategy was the best strategy we knew of to accomplish the mission Jesus had given us. But I always put a caveat in there. I would always say, it’s the best strategy “we’ve found.” And then I would say, “So, if we ever found a strategy that we thought would do a better job of helping us accomplish the Great Commission, we’d gladly abandon everything we are doing & switch.”

I preached that over & over again.

Back to the question. Why would we change things if we’re already so successful (at least in the eyes of American church pastors/Christians)?

Because we felt like we found a better way to accomplish the mission Jesus had given us.

We heard about millions coming to Christ all over the world & whole communities being transformed by the gospel. What was the key in virtually all of these places? Movements of God. Multiple streams of 4+ generations of disciple/church reproduction leading to thousands or millions of disciples being made & thousands or hundreds of thousands of churches being planted.

It was obvious to us that God was blessing these movement efforts all over the world. The only problem was that there weren’t many documented movements in America. There were tons in Asia. Tons in Africa. Even quite a few in Europe. But hardly any in America.

We couldn’t help but ask why!

Why not here, God? Why not now?

That began our journey from complex back to simple.

We’re now asking the WIGTake question, “raising the sails” for movement, and asking God that he’d do in our country what he’s doing around the world!

Welcome to the next 10!