Origin Stories Series (5/5): Why We Believe in Simplicity
At the core of disciple-making movements seen throughout time we do not find specific programs for ministry, but rather we see a collection of beliefs and behaviors that shaped these movements of Jesus. We find ourselves today in the West with some startling stats in front of us:
There are 200 million people who aren’t connected to a Church family.
43,000 people leave the church weekly.
35% of those ages 15 to 30 years old want nothing to with any form of spirituality.
Upwards of 70% of those outside the Church aren’t interested in attending a Church service or gathering of any kind (this includes smalls group and missional communities).
As we (Table Network) began to look at these statistics more and more, we knew that in order to see a true movement in the West, we could not continue doing what we have been doing for so long. The status quo in the ministry world would no longer suffice, as if it ever truly did.
These stats and numbers were headed in this direction for years, but I left the U.S. at the end of 2011 where I stepped out of a season of ministry that looked like me primarily inviting my friends, neighbors, and coworkers to come hear the professionals at my church on the weekend … and for the most part very few every actually showed up. I would spend the next two years of my life equipping everyday people to go and make disciples and see church families form along the way in South Asia.
My team placed our primary focus on everyday people, uneducated in many cases, but with a heart for their community to experience the freedom and family found only in Jesus. Essentially we “broke” many of the rules as the leaders we worked with were not trained in Bible College or Seminary, were not ordained, and many of them had just recently started following Jesus themselves.
The rules we broke were rules that have been placed by man and carried throughout centuries of the church losing its value in the world. We returned to a biblical approach and based everything off of it being simple and reproducible.
If you have studied the life of Jesus and the movement he started, he was not sitting around waiting for people to come to him, but he actively went to them. Jesus went to people who saw their need for him and in turn, the message of the gospel spread through these people. Perhaps what is remarkable is that Jesus started the movement, but designed it in such a way that it would get beyond his control and would leave it in the hands of everyday people.
It’s worth noting that perhaps the most obvious difference between the modern missions and church planting of today and that of Jesus is that there was no central organization in Jesus day, but only Jesus and his teaching. Jesus showed that everyday people were the key players in his movement, professionals need not apply.
In his book, What Jesus Started, Steve Addison points out that the purpose of a missionary movement is that people accept the message, begin to follow Jesus, share him with others, and form new communities of faith that become partners in the spread of the gospel. This is the story we are seeing unfold throughout the Table Network all over the country.
The movements we’ve seen in other countries such as India, China, and what we are now seeing in Cuba through the hands of everyday people are what in many ways we at the Table Network desire to see. This is the reason we believe in simplicity.
A former professor of mine, Dave Black, said it perhaps best when he said, “Once the idea that every Christian is a full-time missionary is accepted, the work of missions will advance with much less hierarchy -- and much less wasted money. In time, I think we will see a new equilibrium emerge in which professionally-trained missionaries will work side-by-side with an army of volunteers in a low-friction environment that enhances cooperation.”
People sometimes think we are joking when we say all you need is a heart to reach those in your community and a table and we will work with you, but in many ways we are not. We intentionally keep our approach simple because the stats I cited at the beginning of this post are not going to change if we continue to make it about a certain type of leader, shuffling already followers from one new church to the next, or about how big you can launch a service to hit that magic moment of momentum to break the 200 barrier (because that is somehow how we have come to define movement now).
In a day where the gospel is not news for many and most have zero interest in attending a church service, we are reclaiming the simplicity of good food, the Good News, and good conversation as the central focus of God’s family life. It’s an ancient, minimalist approach to forming and multiplying church families unique to each context.
1. The numbers are based on information compiled from The Permanent Revolution (Hirsh & Catchim); Exponential (Ferguson & Ferguson); and Pew Research: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/12/millennials-increasingly- are-driving-growth-of-nones/