Complicating Simple Church
September 15, 2009

Complicating Simple Church

There’s an emperor with no clothes on running around the simple church movement!

We’re making “simple” church complicated. Let’s admit it and talk about it.

There are some really, really stellar examples of student churches producing some amazing fruit. But for those of us who might be feeling a wee bit confused and frustrated, I hope this encourages you.

Maybe some of you experience in simple church planting what I experienced with a hefty piece of machinery I recently purchased.

I bought a used riding lawnmower a few weeks ago (excuse me, I mean lawn TRACTOR). I was so excited. I admit I felt manly riding it around my yard. It felt like the suppressed, untamed pioneer farmer in my soul was finally unleashed. Alas, one trip around my .02 acre yard and it breaks down. Ugh.

After a lengthy examination over several cigarettes with my neighbor (my neighbor smoking the cigs, haha), I discover:

  1. my neighbor is a recovering backslidden fundamentalist Baptist whose teachers used to smack his knuckles with rulers, and
  2. my lawn tractor has got condensation in the carburetor.

Evidently, I have to download diagnostic charts and an engine schemata for a Briggs and Stratton 20HP engine on the internet, then take the carburetor apart and dry it out. I couldn’t point out a carburetor right now if my life depended on it. (Is the carburetor next to the carotid artery?)

I started thinking,

“If students planting simple churches feel like I do looking at this engine in my riding lawnmower, (I mean lawntractor), we need some encouragement for how we can really live this missional life on our campuses – and enjoy it!”

Here are three challenges to those planting simple churches I see at work. Student church planters feel:

  1. It’s Complicated  – We view simple church like an engineering manual. You know, lots of complicated CPM steps to follow. Students get overwhelmed, confused and frustrated.
  2. It’s Mystical – Things get so mystical and hyper-spiritual, people don’t simply gather with non-Christians around the scriptures unless they see a miracle, word of knowledge, or angelic intervention first. YES, we should pray for these things, but we can also get “emo”, weird, and, sadly, unfruitful.
  3. Alone. This may be the biggest challenge many of us are facing. At this stage of the movement, most students are pioneering the idea of students leading churches on their campus. Pioneering is sometimes hard. You get to see new things others don’t see, but you also have to blaze trails where others have not yet gone.

Remember, it can be simple and FUN to journey with God to bring the church into the dark places of our campus. There are certainly burdens and moments of stress in what God has called us to do, but remember, Jesus gives a burden that is supposed to feel light.

Waterlogged Soap

Have you ever had a bar of soap sit alone in the corner of your shower where it gets so soggy and waterlogged you can’t use it anymore? Some of us have become like that bar of soap!

We feel alone and so waterlogged with principles, formulas and weird, overly mystical beliefs about church planting, we struggle to simply use the tools God gave us for reaching non-Christians on our campus. We’re saturated by books and theories where we can analyze all 86 principles of how CPM’s spread, what barriers to cpm exist in conventional churches, etc. – while students who have been trained in these principles often get burned out and frustrated when they don’t produce any simple churches.

Let’s “dry out” a bit, get back to some basics, have fun, and get this thing working the rest of this semester!

Following Jesus is not like following an engineering manual. Nor does starting simple churches always have to flow around miracle stories so remarkable they’re sure to make it into the yet-to-be-written,The Blueprint II. It can be simple.

For those called and sent as a student missionary, your assignment is not to rush off to get deeply immersed in another church or campus ministry program and then add simple church planting on the side. You are a full-time student and you are a student missionary. Your goal is goal is to go to the lost WITH A PARTNER (so you are not alone), make disciples, and grow a simple church community around you where a church community wasn’t being expressed before (like a dormitory, apartment complex, non-Christian student group, etc). Through the year, you stay networked with your church planting mentor and other student church planting friends so you can gather together to pray for each other and encourage each other. The idea is lots of students branch out across the campuses in our nation and start lots of little churches for those who don’t go to church. Often times, people aren’t fruitful right away. But — sometimes — God shows up in a major way.

I want to restore some sense of “chill” to anyone who’s been sent out from a Student CPx or anyone who reads this who is pursuing student church planting.

When students go to start student churches and come back exhausted, confused, and feeling like failures, some adjustment and encouragement is needed. (Ok, there’s definitely a spiritual resistance component coming against us, too, but often I think we give the devil way to much credit. Jesus has got way more power than His defeated foe. I think trying to get us so confused and complicating things is part of satan’s distractions for this movement.)

See if you can relate to the thoughts of this frustrated simple church planter.

“Who is my person of peace?!! I can’t find them! OMG! I’m failing! Where do I start? I haven’t seen any miracles yet, so nothing is happening. Man, I miss big church. What’s wrong with me just attending another church anyway? Oh yeah, I’d be attractional, not missional. I just forgot for a second. Lord forgive me for backsliding and almost going back to conventional church. Whew, that was a close one. Gotta confess that at the LTG this week. [I’m joking here]. Alright. How am I gonna start a church? Oh yeah, pray for sick people. When someone gets healed, I’m supposed to go back to their apartment and start a church there. Crap, I just prayed for that guy and he says he feels worse. He definitely doesn’t want me back at his apartment. Oh well, I guess he wasn’t good soil. Yeah, that’s it. Bad soil. Ok, back to my person of peace. It’s been three months since my SCPx training. I can’t find one yet. I haven’t had the courage or boldness to open air preach. I wish I were more like Jaeson. Or Brian. Man if I could heal people and make people laugh like him, then I’d really be a good church planter. Or Aaron, ‘cause he has tatooes and looks so cool. Or Brad, man can that guy love people. Or Pam. She is so smart. She started CPM’s in China, and I’m pretty sure she raised some people from the dead, too… I’ve read The Blueprint. I’ve read Organic Church. I’ve been praying. I’ve been to SCPx. I see the cpm movements in the book of Acts. I get the concept. I can define a CPM. I blog about it. But I’ve tried and tried and no simple churches started. Maybe I have an ungodly belief holding me back. Or sin, yeah, maybe I’m just too sinful, so God is resisting me. I need to fast and pray more…I guess I don’t really have what it takes to be a student church planter.”

Dude, (yes, there are times when use of the word dude is entirely appropriate.) Seriously, if you don’t plant churches, it’s ok. This isn’t a performance thing.

But the thing is, many of us want to. And many of us feel called to.


I’m pretty sure Jesus likes the idea, too. He wants the church to grow on your campus so people can get help, hear His words and follow Him. When Jesus looked out at the crowds of people, He felt compassion for them – they were like sheep, weary and scattered, not knowing where to go for help. Jesus loves students SO much! This is why God inspired the idea to grow His church in every area of the campus. They are a way to “seed” the church in every place on the campus where people don’t yet experience Jesus yet in their daily life. This is His movement. He inspired the idea.

We can do this together!  God is with us!



Here’s a story that may not seem so complicated or supernatural. But it illustrates – simply – how some significant spiritual breakthrough can start to happen in dark places on our campuses. It shows how the three problems I mentioned above (Complicated, Mystical, and Feeling Alone) can be overcome.

Last week, Robert and I went into a new dorm at Haskell to seed the beginnings of a simple church. We just wanted to go there. It just seemed good to go. Heck, an entire book of the Bible was written (Luke) because he said it “seemed good.” Can the Holy Spirit actually be leading us when it “seems good” to do something?

First, Robert and I gathered with Chris and Jessie. We prayed and worshipped together for an hour. We prayed for each other and encouraged each other. It was like our own little simple church meeting to encourage each other and focus on Jesus prior to going out together to start new ones. We were together. We didn’t feel alone. It was awesome!

Anyway, Robert had met some people from this particular dorm we wanted to go to, but he didn’t have any solid contacts. He’d just had a few conversations with people. We had no prophetic dreams leading us there. No signs from heaven pointing to the mystical person of peace. We just felt like we wanted to try something there and see what happened. We think it’s God’s will for the church to fill the entire campus, so maybe it doesn’t matter too terribly much where we start.  I guess God will close the door if He wants to!

Robert bought some milk and some donuts. He printed out some sheets of paper with a story about Jesus and how he treated the woman caught in adultery. After our prayer and worship meeting, we split up and went to different dorms. Robert and I went into the dorm lobby about 7:30.

I was nervous. Yes, nervous. I’m 34 and I still get nervous around 18 year olds. So I’m insecure – big deal. I’m ok with that. I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything missional with Jesus where I haven’t been nervous. Have you ever used your insecurities and fears to avoid being courageous and trying what God’s put in your heart? We all have! So you’re a little insecure – welcome to reality. So was Gideon. So was the Apostle Paul. Paul said when he first came to the Corinthians, he was “timid and afraid.” (I Corinthians 2:3) Haha! We are in good company when we admit we’re afraid and timid to bring the gospel to people. We all get insecure!

Anyway, we overcame our insecurities and went into the dorm. Robert and I sat down in the TV room and asked if anyone would like to eat donuts and discuss a story about Jesus. Three people sat down. Whoopdy-do. Three people.

But the Holy Spirit came. We simply discussed three questions:

What does this tell us about what people are like?

What does this tell us about what Jesus is like?

How can we apply this to our lives?

You could see one freshman football player’s eyes come alive as he learned about Jesus. One girl there said how encouraging it was. Another guy came who I’d been praying for for a year who got saved at last years’ SCPx.

After about 20 minutes, Robert said a quick prayer for everyone. We asked them, “Was this encouraging? Would you like to do this again next Sunday night?” They all said, “Yes” that they would. Robert ended up hanging out watching TV and playing phoosball with them the rest of the night.

It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but we got our foot in the door. You may say, “but that story from the group in the TV room isn’t really a church yet.” Well guess what – it’s a SEED! That’s the closest thing to an encounter with God in ‘church’ some of those people have ever had. It was a group of people just taking the very first step together to follow Jesus.

A year or so ago, some guy impregnated five different girls in one year in that dorm. Five different girls.

A church starting in that dorm is a really, really big deal. Jesus has the answers to make people’s lives better, and we owe it to people to give them a chance to experience Jesus. He loves them and feels compassion for them! We’re gonna start some really simple forms of church, and let them grow from there. Jesus is using us to bring church where there is no church.

So, here’s a couple practical ideas.

Buy a cake. Yes buy a cake (or whatever, you get the idea.) Invite 10 people on your dorm floor to come to your room to eat the cake while discussing a Jesus story. (No, it’s not a “CPM sin” to invite people back to your room instead of going to theirs. If you live in the dorms, YOU might be the person of peace!) Add the presence of Jesus and you’ve got the early seeds of a simple church starting. Hey, Jesus fed people. He said some of them came just for the food, and he seemed to be ok with that. So what if no one comes? Try again, and keep trying.

You say you don’t live in a dorm? You commute or something? OK, try to find one nonChristian from your classes who you can start conversations about Jesus with. Ask them about their spiritual journey and if they’ve ever had an experience with God. Tell them your story. Ask him/her if they would want to read and discuss a Jesus story at lunch together. Afterward, ask if they’d like to get together again.

Try to make one disciple this semester. One. If every Christian in the world made one disciple, the Christian population of the world would double (yep, that’s brilliant.)

I once led a guy to the Lord that I met with twice a week to read the Bible, encourage each other, and pray together (like an LTG). Five months later, he brought me to another friend of his who got saved. They led another guy to the Lord together. All three are walking with Jesus today. Start with one nonChristian and encourage them to read the Bible with you. Start with one disciple.

As for feeling alone, we must serve each other and encourage each other as a family of student churches on our campuses. (The National Gathering January 1-4th will be a great opportunity to nurture this). Don’t wait for someone to come to you – use the different SCPx google group email lists. Tell stories, send encouragement. Share (briefly) prayer requests. If you don’t have one, find a partner on your campus who you can do an LTG with, or meet with other simple church planters for prayer, worship, and encouraging each other.  Call or facebook a friend to ask for prayer. Remember, it’s church planting, not church panting. We are building a spiritual family together as we continue to love and encourage each other.

So, let’s stop being so complicated. Let’s stop being so weird. Let’s build a sense of family with others.

As we do, we will bring Jesus to people – in simple forms of church for those who don’t go to church. We owe it to people to give them the chance to know and experience what Jesus has done for each one of us.

If you’ve felt like a failure, or frustrated, or whatever, now is a GREAT time to get back up and try again. Whether you fail or are successful, God is SO PROUD of each one of you whenever you speak up for His name.

Let’s stop complicating simple church. Let’s return to making it simple, fun, and doing it together with others who have a passion to grow churches on their campus!

Ask God to show you one step you can this week take to adjust your thinking and renew your passion for growing churches on your campus.  Let me know how it goes!

Erik Fish


  1. courtney

    wow! you have no idea how encouraging this post was! thank you so much for the encouragement and truth!

  2. Thomas Day

    great word bro! thank you for the practical insight and encouragement. your honesty and simplicity help in staying focused and pressing forward. keep it up!

  3. sophiemin

    Hi Erik! I loved this so much!! Thanks for this message and perfect timing too.

  4. aholydiscontent

    Great word man. Fuel for the movement for sure. We outta focus on a lot of this stuff at the national gathering in Jan….

  5. Derek Alfaro

    Wow! I laughed many times reading this. Thanks for speaking the truth into the saints ideas of success. I need this reminder every now and then, and God is faithful to give it. We will press on. We live this pilgrimage on earth for One. Love you bro. Amen.

  6. Dr. Jack AllenI

    Excellent post. I had to laugh last week over something in this vein.

    A guy I coach is trying to start a simple church. He called feeling burned out and depressed. (Quite common for church planters.) After a bit of listening, I could tell why. He was not doing simple church. He was doing a legacy church in a house. He had a children’s program, adult Bible study that he preached and taught, of course, and a youth program. I got tired just listening.

    His carb was wet! Many of our student planters think they understand the idea of ‘simple’ but their actions are REALLY complicated. After a little ‘success,’ they want to host a huge meeting and preach, and the thing breaks down.

    Realistic expectations are the very nice fix that you expressed. God does the signs, wonders, drawing, saving, etc. We just show up to have fun with whatever he wants to do. Healing? Great! Salvations? Great! Silence, rest, meditation? We need to say, “Great!” but culture had conditioned us to think we’re failing. Paul spent 14 years spreading the Gospel before he even went to Jerusalem. Do we really think there were no days off to just sit and enjoy Christ’s presence? I’m guessing there were plenty of days God seemed silent, but was just working in the background.

    As for your carb, the auto parts store should sell you some stuff to spray in there that will dry it out. Next time, don’t baptize the thing before you mow.

    • erikfish

      Lol. Good thoughts, Jack, and I’ll take the advice on the carburetor. 🙂

  7. Lauren

    hilarious! I was cracking up the whole time! but sooooo true! this weekend i’m buying a cake. yes a cake.

  8. Karen Hayes

    Wow, that was a really good article. How does a 34 year old have so much wisdom? I am put to shame! Thanks for inspiring me again, Erik! Karen

  9. Adam Reynolds

    Hey Erik,

    This is great stuff man, you are such a gifted encourager! and that’s one studly lawnmower-er, tractor. =)

  10. Jesse S

    best line…. “it’s church planting, not church panting”… that line is so you..haha

  11. Justin Gottuso

    bro… you’re right on on sooo many levels… i really hope i get to see you soon… i’m currently in Texas working at the state fair on my trek around the country adventuring with God and getting my life flipped up-side down! i hope we get time to chill and talk because everytime we do things begin to get rocked. so timely… so true… THANK YOU!


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