“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacher
Seven days. That’s how much time we have to develop a new service each week. It’s been said the most challenging part of ministry is that Sundays come with alarming regularity. And it’s true. Every week our artists work hard to develop new ways to communicate the gospel and every weekend we execute that plan. And if it wasn’t hard enough to do this once, we do it 52 weeks in a row, year after year.
Many church creatives tell me the thing they love most about their job is how it changes all the time. They could be doing something completely different from week to week. And while this is true in task, it’s not really true in the purpose of what we do. At least it doesn’t change that much. Our purpose is to come up with new ways to show, sing, and communicate our message. But it’s easy to get in a rut.
There’s a trap that so many of us fall into during the week-to-week routine of communicating the Gospel. Often times we resort to finding more complex ways to say something in attempt to break out of that rut. There is a huge danger in making things complex in the name of creativity, or worse, out of boredom.
Complexity Endangers Your Message
Last year, our church creative team dreamed up a sermon illustration to demonstrate the impact of everyone in the body serving our community. The goal was to have about 20 high school kids dump ping-pong balls onto the congregation from the catwalks above.
Our pastor threw 20 balls into the crowd from the stage, explaining that represented the impact of the 20 church staff in the community. But if everyone in the body were to serve (cue the ping pong balls), we could cover the community! Unfortunately, one young man jumped the gun. Then another. Then the rest tried to catch up. The crowd was amused but the message got lost for many. Creative elements can really help you land a point, but when we make things more complex than our people can execute, we endanger people getting the very point we’re trying to communicate.
Complexity Discourages The Volunteer
Complexity implies that whatever you’re doing is—well—complex. In other words it’s not easy to execute, especially when non-professionals are at the helm. The higher the degree of difficulty, the fewer people are likely able to pull the task off—especially in front of people. We must also remember that volunteers generally serve once every 2-3 weeks and aren’t professionals, so their standards are likely lower than ours.
Have you ever been the person who made the big moment fail? I have, and it didn’t build my faith or my desire to serve. We must be careful that we don’t make things so complex that volunteers and even staff are put into a no-win situation.
Complexity Increases Failure Rates and Down Time
One morning during our services, our webcasting video system went on the fritz. We got strange artifacts in our feed, which was an enormous distraction to those listening online. Fortunately, our system is fairly simple with very few connections, so after tracing the 8-10 pieces of equipment and their connections, we were able to pinpoint the problem and work on it. I’m a fan of systems having room to grow into, but I see far too many churches overcomplicating their systems by piecing together systems with parts or extra connections.
Especially if you’re on a tight budget, beware of piecing together complex systems made out of random parts. You will pay dearly in the long run.
The most critical reason to keep things from getting complicated is your audience. Most research shows that you’ll get each person in your congregation 1 out of 3 Sundays for one service. A lot of research also tells us that people only have an attention span of 15-20 minutes.
You spent all week hearing about the message, then perhaps two or more services listening to the message, then perhaps another one as you edit the web version. You get each moment and each point communicated to you at least half a dozen times per week. But the average person gets barely a fraction of that. And that’s if they’re paying attention!
Delivering your message simply, clearly, and in an engaging way gives your congregation the best opportunity to catch the point of the moment in what’s likely to be the one time they might hear it. And that after all, is the reason we do what we do.
Rebel, at all costs, against complexity. Living, creativity, and tech are best done simply.